Recurring Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Sonequa Martin-Green, Danai Gurira, Lennie James, Josh McDermitt, Chandler Riggs, Christian Serratos, Alanna Masterson, Melissa McBride, Tom Payne Lauren Cohan, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan
We know the deal by now. The Walking Dead’s best moments are few and far in between. As with most second halves to the season, there is a strong lack of great moments to boast about. Most of the time, the writers seem to be killing time, before we get to the meat of the story. This is exactly what happens here, Rick deciding to take on Negan, but needing to slowly assemble both weapons and an army. However, Negan is so all-seeing, this tactic is a slow-burning one, meaning that, after the brilliant opening half of Season Seven, we have to settle for a more patient kind of thrill.
That being said, there is a comfort to this structure now. Season Seven is arguably the first time the series have truly felt in control of itself and, just like the first half, Season Seven continues to be, at the very least, dependable. In many ways, it has almost grown into a soap, where we are willing to sit down and watch a slow-burner, where each character develops slightly. Rick and Michonne actually get some time to be a couple. Lennie James struggles to stick to his own rules. Sonequa Martin-Green has a wonderfully deep character arc. The early days of Walking Dead might have been more explosive, fun and budget-chewing, but no one really got developed. Most characters were little more than red shirts, people whose job it was to be as likeable as possible, before they got chomped by a Walker. With Season Seven, it is quite nice to simply stop and learn a little about who each character actually is. It’s not even the main cast, but almost everyone. The characters we have never stopped to know too much about are brought out to explore for a bit, the series taking a chance now we have some time away from the action, to make everything more three-dimensional. We get to discover what kind of a man Xander Berkeley’s Hilltop leader is and if he is going to be a help or a hinderance in the fight against Negan? Dwight, played so well by Austin Amelio, it is hard to tell if we like him or loathe him, has a wonderful character arc, where our opinions of the character are constantly shifting. Pairing him and Negan together and we are miles away from the clunky times since the Governor, where we never had a decent villain. But fear not, this is hardly a character piece now – the show simply isn’t afraid to slow down. There are decent enough scenes where we get to cower at the horror the writers are capable of. In fact, the Walkers are given more to do than they have been in a while. Negan was great last time, but I was worried the show would play that card too often. Thankfully, he is kept up the writer’s sleeve more this time around, saved for special moments (wait for when he learns one of his men is planning on raping a prisoner), and the show is allowed to try and find new places to hold our attention. A lot of the budget clearly goes on a scene where Rick takes out a horde on a motorcycle. There is also a horrific battle in a scrapyard with a ‘modified’ walker. And while a few will groan at the development, the topic of ‘zombies with guns’ is well done, bringing a tense middle season episode to us, the kind of meaty viewing that staves off complaints that the Walking Dead is just plodding along once again.
The main reason the wait isn’t frustrating is because the Walking Dead have followed the most important rule for once: the finale has got to be worth it. And the end episode to Season Seven is a beauty. Gluing both halves of Season Seven together gives you a heart-stopping arc of Negan’s cruelty. It opens with the horrific killing of Glenn and Abraham and the introduction of the new terrifying world the characters now live in. Season Seven then shows us various acts of rebellion, all meeting different levels of disaster. Failure is mandatory, it seems. And just when the show hits the end of Season Seven, and we think Rick finally has Negan in his crosshairs, the writers rub their hands together in malicious glee. I won’t spoil anything, but one twist throws everything out into the open wonderfully. The finale has everything a Walking Dead climax needs: action, a major character death and sheer terror. Just like the opening, Negan’s introduction, our hearts are in our mouths. It is a beautiful scene, with one shot that is just amazing. Roll on Season Eight.
Final Verdict: A slower form of thrills, but the Walking Dead feels far more comfortable with its content.