Whether or not you enjoyed The Walking Dead’s sixth season, it’s hard to argue that the finale at least set up an exciting seventh season with a ton of potential. With Negan now firmly established as a formidable antagonist and the main characters in dire straights, there’s a lot to look forward to next season, but there’s also the chance that the show will screw all that up. While we won’t pretend to know how things are going to play out, season seven will be well on its way to being the best season of The Walking Dead yet if it accomplishes the following things.
10. Make Us Hate Negan
When your ostensible villain is the most likable character in an entire episode, you know there’s an issue. True, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s intentionally showy, playful performance as new bad guy Negan in the finale was going to be somewhat likable no matter what, but season seven needs to make us absolutely hate him. That doesn’t mean he can’t be an enjoyable on screen presence, but the best cinematic villains are arguably the ones you love to hate, which is the perfect descriptor for a character like Negan. We’re sure that we’ll feel more disdain for him once it’s revealed which beloved character’s face was pulversied by Lucille, but if season seven is anything less than a sustained campaign of douchery on Negan’s part, it’s going to be a pretty signifcant letdown.
9. Make Rick and Negan The Bitterest of Enemies
Building on the above point about Negan, a good way to put a clear dividing line between him and Rick’s people is to set the two leaders up as bitter rivals who want nothing more than to kill each other. There isn’t much we miss about The Walking Dead’s second season, but the conflicting leadership styles of Rick and Shane remains one of the show’s best narratives and character pairings. The Walking Dead attempted to do something similar with Rick and The Governor in the third season, but outside of a few scenes, it never truly felt like these characters were the bitter enemies they were supposed to be.
Now, with arguably the best villain to date poised to shatter Rick’s world, it would be refreshing to see the show set the two up as the greatest of enemies, with each respective victory and defeat making them hate each other even more. Rick seems to be at his most interesting when he has another character to constantly butt heads with on an ideological level and Negan could very well be the best of the bunch in this regard.
8. Do Something — Anything — With Enid
You won’t find many people who would rate Enid as their favorite character (or even like her for that matter), which is fine; not every character can be Daryl, after all. Still, the fact that Enid is widely considered to be so unlikable raises the question of why she’s on the show to begin with. There were some positive developments early on in season six that focused on Enid’s backstory, which shed light on why she is so morose all the time (witnessing your parents being eaten alive by walkers will ruin anyone’s day/life). Even her interactions with Glenn were mildly interesting, with the latter character having to convince her that having other people around is the most important thing in a post-apocalyptic world, which proved successful.
Ever since Enid came back from the brink though, she’s done nothing of consequence, to the point where she was literally confined to a closet for the entire season six finale. We don’t even really like Enid all that much, but The Walking Dead has a bad habit of keeping characters around and barely using them, so it would be refreshing if season seven manages to do something with her that amounts to more than just being Carl’s girlfriend.
7. Introduce The Kingdom
Remember those two armored guys that Morgan meets in the finale? The popular assumption is that they are from The Kingdom, a survivor community from the comics similar to Alexandria and Hilltop. When asked by a fan on TVLine whether or not this was indeed the case, showrunner Scott Gimple was unsurprisingly vague: “Those guys may or may not have been from The Kingdom. And we may or may not see The Kingdom. But if we do see the Kingdom, it’ll be a big reveal and another new world to inhabit and explore.”
While it looks like we may or may not see The Kingdom in season seven, it would arguably be a mistake not to introduce it. The Kingdom would not only expand the world of The Walking Dead even more (and also give Rick’s group some potential allies to help take down Negan), it would also inject some much-needed fun into the show. Don’t believe us? The Kingdom is run by Ezekiel, an eccentric old man who keeps a pet tiger named Shiva. Yes, a pet tiger. There are other reasons of course to hope for The Kingdom being added to The Walking Dead’s seventh season, but getting a tiger onto the show should really be the top priority as far as we’re concerned.
6. Hint At Some Sort Of Endgame
It’s easy to get the impression that The Walking Dead will run in perpetuity until our world suffers its own zombie apocalypse; the show is a moneymaker for AMC and the comics don’t show any sign of closing up shop, meaning there’s a well of content to keep adapting. However, even if you’re a diehard fan, it’s hard to deny that the show already feels like it’s passed its peak (or at least approaching it). The Walking Dead definitely still has a few seasons left in its tank before it needs to be put out of its misery, but it would be nice to get some sort of indication next season that there is an end goal in sight for the series and its characters.
The show’s main narrative thread is about survival, but after a certain point, it needs to be about how to live. Will a cure be found? Or will Rick and his group find a way to live a decent life free from the Negans of the world eventually? The Walking Dead will have to end eventually, after all, and it would be exciting to see what narrative direction the show will take us in as it gets closer to wrapping up.
5. Feature More Standalone Episodes
While it had almost no bearing on anything else that happened in season six, from an overall quality standpoint, the Morgan flashback episode “Here’s Not Here” was one of the best of the season and possibly the show as a whole. By focusing on a small cast of characters and just a few locations, this episode felt like a breath of fresh air because it broke from The Walking Dead’s usual storytelling mold.
The show has done a few episodes similar to “Here’s Not Here” in the past, and while they haven’t all been triumphs, they represent a nice change of pace in seasons that can sometimes feel monotonous with their adherence to the same few story beats. While the Negan story will no doubt prove to be season seven’s main focus (as it should be), we hope that The Walking Dead features an episode or two that break away from this narrative and go against the grain, if only for variety’s sake. Personally, we’d love an episode devoted just to Negan and how he put together The Saviors.
4. Improve The Pacing
Every season of television has its peaks and valleys as far as pacing is concerned, but The Walking Dead’s sixth season in particular felt like it had far more low points than high. The main problem that has plagued the series for awhile now is that many scenes simply drag, or feel like they’re just included to kill time. All things considered, 16 episodes really doesn’t translate to that long of a season, and yet it often feels like The Walking Dead writers can’t come up with enough compelling content to fill that space. Even in individual episodes, there’s an issue that crops up again and again where the episodes are front or bottom-loaded, with long stretches of uninteresting material in-between.
We’re not asking for the show to be all action all the time, as that can quickly become tedious as well, but just for the scene-to-scene pacing to improve by having character interactions actually mean something, rather than just being used to pad out an episode. Considering season seven looks like it will depict an all-out war between Negan’s Saviors and Alexandria, there’s a good chance that the pacing will be better than ever.
3. Make Us Care About These Characters Again
While the cliffhanger that capped off this season’s finale was definitely that episode’s most disappointing aspect, one thing that doesn’t seem to be brought up enough is that, despite Negan coming across as a remorseless, terrifying individual, it was a bit difficult to wholly sympathize with Rick and his group’s predicament. While there are exceptions (we’d be really upset if the likes of Glenn, Maggie, or Michonne met an untimely end), it’s getting harder and harder to be truly invested in these characters.
The main problem is that the latter half of this season depicted most of the characters committing terrible acts; ruthlessly killing the Saviors was an understandable and justifiable act, yes, but it also made the Alexandrians less sympathetic as a result. We also haven’t seen an important main character killed off in awhile, so it could just be that some members of this group are starting to overstay their welcome. Whatever the case may be, The Walking Dead’s large group of protagonists need to become characters worth investing in again if the show hopes to engage its audience on an emotional level. Kicking off the season with a major character death will likely go a long way in this regard, but that will just be the start of what should be a sustained campaign to win back our sympathies.
2. Balance Out The Misery
We are perfectly aware that The Walking Dead is not meant to be a happy show, but would it kill the writers to inject a little more levity into their scripts? While it’s true that a show about the zombie apocalypse isn’t doing its job if it doesn’t mire its characters (and viewers) in near-constant levity, there’s no reason The Walking Dead can’t take a moment every now and then to balance out the misery with something lighthearted.
To be fair, season six actually gave us something resembling a “fun” episode with the Rick and Daryl-focused episode “The Next World,” but moments such as Daryl balking at Rick’s music selection are few and far between. We’re not looking for The Walking Dead to suddenly become a family sitcom, but a break every now and then from the show’s usual bleak tone would go a long way in making it an enjoyable viewing experience overall.
1. Stop Toying With The Audience
The Walking Dead’s sixth season will be remembered as the one that introduced us to Negan, but it also has the distinction of being the year in which the show treated its audience with disdain. It all started with Glenn and the now-infamous fakeout with his death in the first half of the season. Ending an episode with a cliffhanger that teases a character’s death is a familiar device that has been used by countless other TV shows, but The Walking Dead took things to a whole other level by waging a war of counterintelligence against its own fanbase. The show did everything it could to make viewers think Glenn was dead without actually confirming anything, going so far as to remove actor Steven Yeun’s name from the credits.
While that whole situation was bad enough, The Walking Dead one-upped itself with the finale’s frustrating (and pointless) cliffhanger that, rather than make fans excited about the next season of the show, has seemed to inspire resentment in many circles for what has been widely deemed a “copout” ending. This sort of mean-spirited toying with the audience needs to be abandoned in season seven. Cliffhangers are a useful plot device, but only when used properly. Just tell us a story that we want to be invested in.