Like the fall of any great empire, the decline of The Walking Dead is well documented. While it still stands as the largest show on television, critics including myself have widely lambasted the show for the last season and a half, largely focusing on its manipulative pacing and lazy writing. The showrunners have expected us to stick around for big payoffs in the premieres and finales without offering us much more in between other than stalls, plot-convenient ineptitudes, and dialogue that spells out the obvious. And now that those payoffs have failed to be grand, there’s little reason to watch the show beside holding on to the past, like keeping a friendship that should have been severed years ago. But, despite the whiny fanatics who hop into my mentions every time I point out the show’s egregiousness, I don’t want TWD to fail. There was a time not too long ago when the show was at the very least good and even at times showed flashes of brilliance.
AMC’s official plot description for the second half of season 7 has promised “all-out war,” and that could be a huge step toward TWD getting back on track. However, a war comprises multiple battles, not just one explosive conflict to be saved for the end of the season. With Rick set to finally meet King Ezekiel, several locales will be at play: Alexandria, The Hilltop, The Kingdom, The Sanctuary, and whatever satellite bases of Negan’s are left. We should see conflict arise at most, if not all, of these settings, dutifully spaced out across the next eight episodes.
The first half of season 7 saw Rick being broken down until he’d had enough, until he’d finally been poked, prodded, and punished enough to fight back. On paper, it made narrative sense, but it was just so damn boring to watch. It will be just as tedious if the showrunners decide to spend most of this half-season gearing up for battle now that the fire has been restored to Rick’s heart. The pieces need to come together right away, and shots need to be fired promptly. Anything less expedient is unacceptable.
This may seem impossible for a show that held Glenn’s death over our heads for an entire season, held it from us until the next premiere, and dragged it on for another half hour during said episode, but there’s an internal model to be found in the season five, the series’ best yet. That season premiere picked up after yet another cliffhanger with Rick and co. held captive in Terminus. Carol came through with the quickness (and explosions) to bust them out, kill a shit ton of cannibals, and have them on their way. Terminus’ leader, Gareth, was able to escape, a threat to loom over the group. Round two could have been put off until the end of the season, in true Walking Dead fashion, but nah, that motherfucker was slaughtered in episode three. That set the stage for Gabriel and Noah’s characters to be developed, a pair of emotional deaths in Tyreese and Beth, the hope for saving the world to be shattered—and, of course, everything that went down in Alexandria.
I’m not expecting these next eight episodes to cover that much ground, but they could at least match the same pace. The players involved in the show haven’t given much credence to any criticism, but there seems to be some acknowledgement from Andrew Lincoln that the show has gone off path. “There are several episodes that I loved being involved in, and it certainly feels very much more like a show that I knew and recognized,” he told EW of what’s to come. “It’s the Magnificent Seven in the back half. Rather, the magnificent eight episodes.”
Another key to bringing back that show Andy Lincoln recognizes is bringing back fan favorite Daryl into the fold. Even before the slog of his tortured scenes at The Sanctuary, TWD lost track of what do with him. He was relegated so far back to the background in season six that I argued Negan should have killed him, if only to spare the character from being woefully underutilized while outside the gates with Aaron. Daryl works best as Rick’s deputy, the voice that’ll speak up when he’s on the wrong path. Recruiting new residents will have to be deprioritized, which should put Daryl back in his rightful place next to Rick at war. Not only is Alexandria better when Rick is tapered, the whole show is.
Almost inevitably, Alexandria will also be safer once Negan is defeated. The question isn’t if Negan will go down (he will, that’s just how this show works); it’s how many people will he drag down with him? And more than anything, I’m invested in when that happens. The first huge mistake TWD made was allowing The Governor to survive for so long. His clash with Rick, then repping the prison, went on for a half-season too long, holding the show back from developing. The showrunners need to avoid the mistakes of their predecessor and settle things with Negan by the end of this season. You may think that’s too soon for such a major villain, but I promise you (no spoilers), the comics have some great material to draw from after the all-out war.
Ideally, this will be the last time I’ll have to write about The Walking Dead and narrative pace. If the show heeds just one bit of advice from critics, it should be to speed the hell up.