Friday, December 16, 2016

TV Review - The Walking Dead Season 7 Part 1


  The Walking Dead concluded the first half of its seventh season this week with our group of intrepid zombie apocalypse survivors still under the cruel thumb of super bad guy Negan and his band of Saviors but finally having found the resolve to fight back after a half-season of appeasement. The prospect seem bright for a more action-oriented second half of the season with Rick Grimes’ group of Alexandria survivors fighting a guerrilla war against the Saviors with the possibility of help from the Hilltop and Kingdom colonies.

Season 7 of The Walking Dead was almost all talk...

  Of the eight episodes in the half-season, at least half were so-called ‘bottle episodes’, named as such because they had little relation to the other episodes and could be placed almost anywhere in the season with little loss in continuity. Episodes 2 and 3 were the introduction to the Kingdom and a study in contrast between Daryl (prisoner in a cell) and Dwight (prisoner of being Negan’s right hand man) while Episode 5 showed Maggie and Sasha slowly taking over the Hilltop Colony and Episode 6 detailed Tara’s adventure in the Oceanside camp populated of all the women in a town where the men were killed by the Saviors. All four of these bottle episodes were slow moving with minimal action that could have fit in a single episode instead of 4 plus hours. The best of the breed was the Hilltop episode with the great Steven Ogg’s portrayal of Negan’s right hand man Simon displaying the mix of menace and humor that could have been a model for Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan character.

After Carl kills two of Negan's men, Negan punishes him by --- talking to him...

  Negan is the star of this half season. He gets the season started off with a bang by clubbing Abraham and Glen to death and brags about how tight he and his henchman Dwight got after Dwight took his punishment (an iron melting half his face) and gave his wife to Negan for a past transgression in episode 3. In Episode 4 Negan lords his power over Rick and the Alexandrians by rolling into the town, taking whatever he wants and making Rick thank him for not killing anyone. Episode 7 and 8 are almost all Negan. After surviving an assassination attempt by Rick’s son Carl, Negan takes Carl under his wing, showing him the benefits of his power (everyone kneels to him, he has multiple wives, he ‘irons’ another henchman’s face, etc…) and seemingly tries to strike up a friendship with the youth that just tried to kill him. Instead of killing Carl, Negan takes him to Alexandria and sets up shop in Rick’s house, even playing with Carl’s infant sister Judith. Episode 7 was 90 minutes long with most of devoted to Negan trying to show Carl how ‘cool’ it is to be Negan.

Even one of Negan's best scenes is more talk than action.

More talk surrounding some incredible action...

  Episode 8 finally brings the action that had been missing since the first episode. There is a great zombie scene as Rick and Aaron make their way to scavenge supplies from a houseboat in the middle of a zombie-infested lake. Negan finally shows some actual villainy when he guts Spencer, a member of Alexandria that suggests Negan kill Rick and put him in charge. When yet another assassination attempt goes awry, Negan interrogates the town to find out who made the handmade bullet and orders his henchmen to kill a member of the community. He gets his answer after one kill (bye bye Olivia the supply counter). This turn of events makes Rick realize that there is no appeasing Negan and he rounds up his group to get ready to fight for their freedom, hopefully in the second half of the season.

  The Walking Dead is based on the comic book of the same name. This is a great strength in that the plots are battle tested and much of the audience is already familiar with the characters. It is also a great weakness when the television show tries to follow the comics too closely. In many ways, Negan is the centerpiece of the comics, arriving in issue 100 and still a main character 60 issues later. His popularity in the comics has led the showrunners to have the television show follow the comics in an almost slavish fashion to the detriment of the show as a whole. While Negan’s wisecracks and oscillations between being a joker and a menacing figure work in the pages of the comics I don’t see any depth to the character given the extended time I had to watch him in four of the 8 episodes he was featured in. I didn’t see any method to his madness of trying to convince Daryl to be one of his soldiers and especially trying to befriend Carl after having some of his crew assassinated by him. I wonder how this went over with the savior crew to see people who murdered some of their number being recruited by the top man. The only two moments where I saw Negan as truly evil was when he suddenly killed Glenn in the season opener and when he told his henchmen to ‘kill somebody’ when none of the Alexandrians would admit to making the bullet Rosita used to try to kill him. Other than that I saw Negan as a cross between the Fonzie and Ralph Kramden of the zombie apocalypse – a cartoonish buffoon. I don’t think Negan is transferring well to television and not having the main characters in over half the episodes is no doubt the cause for the ratings falling to the lowest in four years.

If only this was the Negan we saw all season!

  What appeals to 160,000 comic book buyers may not be the ticket to keep 15 million pairs of eyeballs glued to the television set every week. I hope the showrunners will pick up on that in future episodes and show less of Negan and more of Rick Grimes and company. There is already enough comic relief on the show. The slow moving hissing and growling zombies that seem to show up out of nowhere and surprise our survivors at every turn always gets a chuckle out of me. If that wasn't enough slow moving Tara outran the gunfire of at least a dozen warriors from the Oceanside community trained on her while Carl stows away on a truck specifically to kill Negan, guns down two of the Saviors with a stolen machine gun, and with his sights trained on the big bad himself doesn’t pull the trigger. In episode 8 Daryl escapes his prison cell and is seen by Fat Joey (a Negan henchmen). Even though the two are 20 yards away from each other and Joey has a gun and Daryl a crowbar, Joey starts pleading for his life while Daryl runs up to him and beats him to death with the crowbar! There is enough comic book stuff to laugh at without having the villain of the piece spouting more one-liners than Rodney Dangerfield.

  There was just enough action and pacing in the last two episodes of the half season to keep me coming back for more Waling Dead in February but my patience is being sorely tested with the way the show has taken to focus entire episodes on minor characters while leaving the main characters unheard from for weeks at a time. It is possible that the seasons are being written not to be seen every Sunday but to be binge watched like a Netflix series. The problem is that I am watching it every week and so were seven million people less from the start to the end of the half season.