Contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 7
It’s that time of year again, when the summer months are light on bloody, zombie related mayhem and when the world at large is deprived the glorious sight of Rick Grimes’ bearded face. Thankfully the wait until the start of season eight will be a little less fraught this time in the absence of an almighty cliff-hanger, as the start of a full blown war against The Saviors has officially commenced.
It seems that yet again The Walking Dead has divided critical and fan reaction, not just to the season seven finale, but to the season as a whole, so it was reassuring for those of us who love the show when Greg Nicotero told us recently that “We’re going to write the show we want to write and if people react to it, or they don’t like it, it’s not going to change. We are absolutely dedicated to telling the story we want to tell and I don’t know any artist that would ever want to be influenced by somebody saying “Oh you used the wrong colour on that painting…” Really? Well that’s the colour that it is, sorry!”
And rightly so – if you take the finale for example, there are multiple ways to view it, for me it was a success and a damn exciting one to boot. Yes the Sasha cutaways might have been a little on the excessive side, but she’s been a great character for years and deserved a decent send off and it was one that also gave Michael Cudlitz a more sympathetic end, after Abraham’s behaviour made him slightly vilified before his head was caved in, softening his death.
The Sasha-turned-zombie-in-a-coffin outburst was also a great kick start to the war, not just because there’s always more of an emotional punch to seeing a beloved character swapping sides to the undead (Shane, and Hershel’s decapitated, snapping head spring to mind), but because we finally got to see Negan’s swagger and bravado swiftly stop when he was in danger of having his face eaten – the ensuing mumbling was also great.
Interestingly viewers seemed annoyed by the Michonne death fake-out, which was clearly not a real consideration for anyone other than the characters hearing the scream. The real power in her situation came from seeing the mighty M grotesquely having her face smashed in, with the potential for irreparable damage and no one seemed to acknowledge it, or be upset by the sight. Rosita meanwhile hasn’t quite dodged a bullet in the literal sense (quite the opposite in fact) but I suspect due to Christian Serratos’ real life pregnancy there will be plenty of bed rest for Rosita next season, even if the character has reached the point where she deserves to be killed off after a string of irrational behaviour.
Now I’ll always hold my hand up as someone who looks for the good in everything I love, on some occasions it will lead to accusations of being blindsided, but the long awaited moment when Shiva (Ezekiel’s pet tiger) was finally unleashed on the battlefield actually made me yell with joy. Who cares if it knew who was good and who was bad? Who cares if it was CGI? In that moment, the sheer excitement and release from seeing Carl and Rick saved by a shitting great tiger was utterly fantastic. If your problem in a show about shuffling corpses is how a tiger pledges its allegiance, it’s probably time to move on.
And therein lies the rub. As a fan of the show since day one, I’ve remained utterly invested and will sit week after week on the edge of my seat, packed full of adrenaline, moved when characters I love are hurt, killed, or re-united and nothing has changed in that respect. There have been more than a few accusations that season seven has been all filler, but as I’ve said before the emotional resonance and investment only comes from taking time with your characters and there’s a lot to be said for viewing a season back to back as a complete story, rather than judging it as being drawn out over sixteen weeks. Season six, for example, felt immaculately paced and incredibly thrilling, yet it was hard to get the sense of time when the events that happened over a few days were taking weeks of air time and after seven years, to quote a wise Randall, viewers need to ‘shit, or get off the pot’.
To digress for a minute, it seems that year on year there are comments from viewers who have had enough of the show for one reason or another – outrage when Glenn didn’t die, then outrage when he did, bemoaning ‘X’ character for having a solo episode… Some people appear to be tuning in just to express negativity at a time when television programming has never been so strong and plentiful. If The Walking Dead no longer does it for you, there have rarely been so many decent alternative viewing options. That’s all part of fandom, to some extent, but one hope for season eight might be that it brings us all more or less back on the same page and quells the habitual complaints.
Contextually, talking of solo episodes, I want to spend forty minutes learning how Morgan achieved enlightenment, because when he crushing a man’s brain with his bare hands at a later date, you can feel how visceral his regression is. Personally, all I find it takes with The Walking Dead is a little patience and the pay-off is that much greater.
Season eight should prove to be one of the most explosive and thrilling to date, as all-out war is finally at hand and it will be great to see exactly how vast and wide The Saviors and their much mentioned outposts spread. We know that they have great numbers, whereas Rick’s allies were hoping that a surprise attack would cut the Negan-shaped head off the snake, as the Kingdom, Hilltop and the as yet passive, but very much de-armed Oceanside might not have the sheer force to overthrow his forces.
Meanwhile there’s a hope that, although Michonne is temporarily down, we could see some old school Rick and Daryl action as there’s no need for either of them to hide anymore and we’re well overdue some quality time with the same partnership that faced off against a tank invasion a few years ago.
Where Carol fits in at this point remains to be seen – her new affiliation with Ezekiel might still yield a romantic entanglement, but I’m still convinced that taking up arms again can’t end well for her, especially after her psychological breakdown.
Dwight may have bought himself some more time and some of our commenters were very much in favour of a total character redemption (apparently they’re much more forgiving than I am!), though it will be a dangerous time to be working as a double agent around an already suspicious Negan (please let Eugene’s poison faux-pas result in a violent death by the bat he fears so much).
Speaking of cowards, Gregory looks to be the ‘little birdy’ that tipped Negan off about the planned mutiny, so my prediction that his treachery would have him killed by Simon is looking less likely, with Maggie in prime placement to remove him from play.
Whatever the eight season of The Walking Dead has in store, we can expect its divisive glory will continue at full tilt, all I ask if that we get to see Shiva saving the day once more by eating a few heads, as few moments in the history of the show will beat that glorious entrance.