Thursday, November 17, 2016

TV Review - The Walking Dead Season 7 Episodes 1-4


The promos and premiere for season 7 of The Walking Dead held the promise of unprecedented action...

  The Walking Dead kicked off its much anticipated seventh season last month. The reason for the anticipation was the arrival of the comic book’s signature villain Negan to the television show along with Lucille, his barbed wire covered baseball bat. Negan made his debut in the comic’s 100th issue by beating Glenn to death with Lucille. Season six of the television show ended with our intrepid band of zombie apocalypse survivors trapped in the woods on their knees surrounded by Negan’s army while Negan pondered whose head he was going to bash in with Lucille. The decision to leave the actual death as a six month cliffhanger leading to season seven was very controversial but paid off with 17 million viewers for the debut which was the second most viewed episode in the history of the series.

  The initial episode was done in a flash forward/flash back vein, beginning after the clubbing with Negan trying to convince Rick (the main character and leader of our survivors) that he and his crew’s only choices in the new world order was to either work for Negan by giving him half of everything they own, make, or scavenge or be clubbed to death by Lucille. Eventually we discover that Negan’s victim was ex-soldier Abraham whose last line in the show was to tell Negan to ‘suck his nuts’ while getting his head bashed to a pulp. It looked like Glenn had once again escaped the baseball bat fate that had been hinted at in previous episodes. Unfortunately, after one of Rick’s crew (Daryl) takes a swing at Negan, the punishment for this transgression became clear when Negan spun around and suddenly bashed Glenn to a pulp as well.

...but a promising start led to plenty of talk and inaction.

  Rick held out on being part of Negan’s operation until the end of the episode until he was forced by Negan to either cut his son Carl’s arm off with his ax or watch every survivor be shot to death. When Rick is swinging his ax to cut off the arm, Negan is convinced that Rick understands his new role and spares the arm, leaving the survivors in the woods with a truck and the knowledge that Negan and crew will be by their Alexandria compound in a week to collect their tribute with Darryl being held hostage in case of any second thoughts.

Episode 2 brought a lot of talk and little action...

  The episode was riveting with deaths to main characters, plenty of zombie action, and loads of suspense. There was a lot of promise for the season ahead. Then episodes two and three threw all the momentum into reverse with a pair of the slowest moving episodes of the series. Episode two showed us Morgan and Carol in the realm of the Kingdom, King Ezekiel, and his tiger Siva. It took an entire hour for us to learn that the Kingdom is also paying tribute to Negan.

  Ezekiel is a former zookeeper whose relationship with Siva has led to his adoption as the leader which he encourages with his Shakespearean intonations learned from his community theatre experience. He and Carol are attracted to each other enough that Carol has agreed to live near the kingdom if not in the ‘kingdom limits’. There was a minimal amount of zombie kills and one fistfight and that was it for the action.

Another episode with all talk and no action but we get to learn all about Dwight...

  While I was disappointed to have an entire episode devoted to character development, it was nothing compared to episode 3 which took place in Negan’s compound and focused on Dwight (one of Negan’s lieutenants) and zombie apocalypse survivor Daryl who is confined to a locked dark room and fed a daily dog food sandwich. We first met Dwight in season six when he was on the run from Negan’s crew and repaid Daryl’s help by stealing his motorcycle and crossbow. After that Dwight has proven to be a major bad actor as one of Negan’s minions. He put a crossbow arrow through Doctor Denise’s eye and shot Daryl at the end of season six.

  In this episode we learn that Dwight can make a mean egg sandwich and returned to Negan with his wife after stealing Daryl’s motorcycle and crossbow. Dwight’s life was spared in return for his wife leaving him and becoming Negan’s wife although Dwight did have his face scarred with a hot iron to show everyone who was in charge. Other than that, the entire episode was about Negan’s attempts to cajole or scare Daryl into joining his crew. Daryl refuses even though all he has to do is say ‘I’m Negan’ when asked who he is. This was another episode with minimal zombie action (Dwight is attacked by some wayward zombies while chasing down an escapee from Negan’s compound) and totally devoted to character development.

  Character development is all well and good but having two straight hour long episodes primarily devoted to it makes for some dull television watching. When I saw the teasers for Sunday’s fourth episode of the season I had hopes for the plot moving forward in an action-oriented sense – the episode was 90 minutes long and featured Negan and his gang (also known as the Saviors) heading to Rick’s Alexandria community to take half their stuff. I thought at the least there would be some random violence on behalf of Negan against the Alexandrians (most of whom are as disposable as red shirts on Star Trek) and at most a gun battle between the Saviors and the Alexandrians.

This was about all the action in episode 4...

  My hopes for an action oriented episode were dashed yet again when nearly the entire 90 minutes featured the complete capitulation of Rick and the Alexandrians. The only action came when Negan clubbed a pair of zombies and Rosita fought off a pack of zombies in order to get a handgun (Negan had taken all the guns in Alexandria). In the end the Saviors drive away with most of the stuff in Alexandria and Rick and his crew are left in despair with a small consolation of Rick confessing that the baby Judith he has been calling his daughter for the past four seasons is the product of his late wife’s affair with his late best friend Shane.

  Instead of action, the showrunners of The Walking Dead seem to be angling for character development and tension. Every episode since the season premiere has been heavy with the threat of violence on the part of the Saviors or Negan which is defused when the parties being threatened give in. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan is more cartoonish than threatening with his constant jokes and veiled threats making his extreme violence in the season premiere seem more an outlier than his standard method of operation. Negan and the Saviors are thoroughly unlikeable and it will be a pleasure to watch them get there comeuppance which needs to happen sooner than later. I get it. They are sadistic thugs. OK. Can we stop showing me how sadistic they are and get on with the action? Please? This lack of action seems more appropriate to some British drama that should be on Public Television instead of the zombie apocalypse. Seeing the sagging ratings (Episodes 3 and 4 were the first episodes in three years to have under 12 million viewers) makes me feel I’m not alone in being pretty bored with what should have been a great seventh season. I’m not ready to give up on the show yet but with the fall segment of the season over time is quickly running out to rekindle my enthusiasm before the show take a two month break.