Sunday, April 2, 2017

Humans Are The Enemy Again In The Walking Dead Season 7!

The Good: Decent performances, Moments of character, Decent effects
The Bad: Entirely oppressive tone, Dull plot, Some unremarkable character moments
The Basics: In The Walking Dead Season 7, the survivalist horror once again turns to humans as the primary enemy when Negan asserts his control over the Alexandria community.

In the graphic novels of The Walking Dead, there came a point where I gave up on the franchise. That point was when the storyline shifted from the Walker threat to the massive human threat in the Story Of Survival Horror. That volume (reviewed here!) was when the books became obsessed with the Alexandria Safe Zone coming under the heel of Negan and the brutal tactics he used to keep the people there - and in other, neighboring, communities in line. I have been generally fond of the television show The Walking Dead, so I was a bit wary when the show started hinting to the presence of Negan nearby in The Walking Dead Season 6 (reviewed here!). The Walking Dead Season 7 fully reaches the point where I got tired of the books as Negan is present in full force and the sixteen-episode seventh season takes time illustrating what life under the thumb of the Saviors is like and then transitions into Rick Grimes slowly working to build a coalition against him.

Unfortunately, just like in the books, The Walking Dead Season Seven has an oppressive tone as Rick Grimes is emotionally broken by Negan and the Saviors terrorize Alexandria, Hilltop, and the new community, The Kingdom. When the episodes in the seventh season are not draining the emotional life out of the viewer with the threat of any character being summarily executed by Negan or one of his many thugs - or being tortured on-screen - the show meanders into terribly boring territory where nothing much happens. As a season, The Walking Dead Season 7 focuses almost exclusively on the human threat to Rick Grimes and his community, with minimal walker attacks. Season 7 is very much where the television incarnation of The Walking Dead commits to being a Survival Horror story, as opposed to a television show about zombies overrunning the Southeast United States.

Rick Grimes is absolutely broken the night he and others from the Alexandria Safe Zone desperately attempted to get the sick, pregnant Maggie to Hilltop. That night, Negan beat Abraham to death and when Darryl threatened Negan, he killed Glenn as well. After being tormented for a day by Negan, Rick returns to Alexandria where the Saviors take at least half of the community's possessions. Darryl is taken by the Saviors and Carol recovers from her wounds in The Kingdom, while Tara makes her way back to Alexandria - meeting a reclusive community whose male population was executed by Negan on the way.

After multiple acts of violence and oppression by the Saviors, Carl hitches a ride on a Savior vehicle and gets caught by Negan in his compound. When Negan brings Carl back to Alexandria, he kills more people and responds to Rosita taking a shot at him by threatening her life. With the body count rising and Eugene taken by the Saviors, Rick and Michonne rally to start fighting the Saviors. To that end, they reach out to Hilltop, The Kingdom, and Oceanside to create an army to fight the Saviors. But the fear of Negan has permeated the area and making new friends and getting others to step up to fight the Saviors only makes the body count rise!

The plot in the seventh season of The Walking Dead is unfortunately undermined by some key problems in the characters in the show. Chief among these issues comes near the middle of the seventh season. Early in the season, Eugene helps Rosita make a bullet, after Negan and the Saviors have taken the vast majority of the community's guns. After an aggravating moment where Olivia turns an accurate ledger of the community's firearms over to the Saviors (if they never saw the inventory, the Saviors would be unable to menace the community by looking for guns they know should be there), Rosita takes her shot at Negan with disastrous results. In that moment, the cowardly Eugene confesses to making the bullet Rosita fired and this completely undermines the intelligence and ingenuity of Eugene. As Rosita is menaced and Negan demands to know who made the bullet, Eugene has the opportunity to save himself and others by telling Negan that it was Abraham who made the bullet and that no one living in Alexandria now knows where he made the bullet or how to make them. But, instead, he (virtually) pisses his pants and confesses.

After a series of meandering episodes that belabor the oppression of the Saviors and how spread out the protagonists of The Walking Dead are following the events of the sixth season finale, the season's built-in traps are sprung as Rick and his crew begin to try to form alliances. Tara breaks her word to the women who saved her life, Maggie and Jesus begin to effectively take over Hilltop by training the people there and Morgan and Carol find themselves bringing the reluctant Kingdom to the horrible truth that Negan cannot be trusted.

As with the prior seasons, the seventh season of The Walking Dead tries to keep viewers caring about the show's primary characters. In the seventh season of The Walking Dead, the essential characters are:

Rick – Absolutely broken by Abraham and Glenn being brained before him and threatened by Negan with having to cut off Carl's arm, he returns to Alexandria utterly unwilling to fight the Saviors. After several scavenging runs intended to keep his people alive while providing material for the Saviors, his relationship with Michonne begins to suffer. When Negan visits Alexandria - to return the wayward Carl - and kills his last lingering enemy in the community, he begins to scavenge for new guns and visits other communities to try to gain new allies. He risks his life to meet with Ezekiel, of the Kingdom, and a dangerous woman whose community lives in a junkyard near the Saviors' sanctuary. As he resolves to fight, he comes alive once again,

Michonne – Upset by the first meeting with Negan, she is instantly determined to fight Negan, despite the potential consequences. She begins to explore on her own, including scouting out the Saviors' territory. She is frustrated with Rick's unwillingness to fight Negan and is excited when he finally comes around. She continues to be protective of Carl and is shocked when Rick tells her the truth about Judith,

Maggie – After Glenn is executed by Negan, she hides out at the Hilltop, with Rick telling Negan she is dead. At the Hilltop, she begins to get tired of how Gregory kowtows to the Saviors. She and Jesus begin to work together to train the Hilltop community and keep each other alive. She does not blame Darryl for getting Glenn killed and she is eager to fight the Saviors rather than live under their heel,

Darryl – Recognized by Negan as a threat, he is taken to the Saviors compound and kept imprisoned. Dwight attempts to break him, but he remains unbroken by the Saviors. When his life is menaced and an opportunity opens, he is freed by Dwight's ex-wife and he is kept hidden at the Hilltop. He learns that Carol is alive and lies to her for her own mental health. He is eager to fight the Saviors,

Carol – After fleeing because she does not want to kill for those she loves, she is mortally wounded. Rescued by Morgan and people from The Kingdom, she wakes up in Ezekiel's community. Ezekiel has an arrangement with the Saviors that his people do not know about and Carol refuses to join his community, living just outside his community. When she is visited by Darryl and The Kingdom suffers some losses, she has Morgan tell her the truth about what is going on outside her cabin and she has to make an important decision,

Carl – Shocked by how Negan killed his friends and used Rick to menace him, he becomes determined to kill Negan. Given the chance, though, he is unable to kill his new enemy and Negan begins to mess with his head. Returned to Alexandria, he is shocked to still be alive and he eagerly joins every raid that might give him a chance to get revenge,

Father Gabriel - He talks Rosita down from recklessly attacking Negan. As Alexandria starts to take the lead in creating an army, he acts as the community's ambassador to one of the new communities in the area,

Tara - Out on patrol during the carnage from Negan's introduction, she loses Heath to a Walker attack and ends up at an isolated all-female community. There, she struggles to convince the women there not to kill her and she goes free, returning to Alexandria with the secret of Oceanside and its stash of weapons. When Rick opts to fight, she makes the difficult decision to break her promise to Oceanside to get weapons to fight the community that murdered her girlfriend,

Sasha - Shaken by Abraham's murder, she moves into Hilltop with Maggie. But when Rosita wants to kill Negan, she joins her on a suicide mission to stop the despot before he can kill more of their friends,

Eugene - As Negan exerts control over Alexandria, he gets the bullet manufacturing factory running enough to make Rosita a bullet. When Negan learns of his talents, he is taken captive by Negan and he joins the Saviors to save his own life and protect himself,

Rosita - Deeply angered over Negan and Abraham getting killed before she had real resolution to her relationship with him, she becomes frustrated by Rick's capitulation. Determined to fight, she had Eugene make her a bullet and when she misses him, one of Negan's minions scars her face. She hates Negan enough to launch an attack on him in his territory rather than live under him,

Aaron - The prime scavenger for Alexandria, he and Rick find a boat with supplies in the community's first major post-Negan victory. He is beaten by Negan's people and stands up when Rick does to try to keep his loved ones safe,

Morgan - Determined to keep Carol alive, he takes her to the Kingdom, a community close to where she collapses. He begins to train some of the residents at The Kingdom in his zen ways . . . with disastrous results. When Ezekiel and his chief security advisor, Richard, differ on a course of action in dealing with the Saviors, he is put into a moral bind that tests his pacifism,

Enid - Shocked at the loss of Glenn, she follows Maggie to the Hilltop after Carl's attempts to "protect" her upset her. She takes care of Maggie through Maggie's early pregnancy,

Dwight - The Savior who Darryl met before, he returned to the Saviors when his attempt to flee failed. Horribly burned by Negan, he falls back in line with Negan to save his life and the life of his wife. Tested by Negan with the care of Darryl, he falls back in line. But when his wife is used by Negan and he is goaded by the evil leader, he starts to break. Upset by having to run down defectors, he starts to question his place in Negan's community,

and Negan - After killing two of Rick's closest allies and breaking Rick, he tries to turn Darryl. He dispenses justice in his community with brutality and a de facto caste system. When Carl visits him, he torments the boy and returns him to Rick before dispatching the last of Deanna's sons. He is harsh and somewhat unhinged, but dangerously charismatic.

On the acting front, The Walking Dead is dominated by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Morgan plays Negan and every moment he appears on screen, he steals the show. While Andrew Lincoln plays broken Rick with unsettling accuracy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan keeps the show watchably by delivering the craziest lines with plausibility. Danai Gurira (Michonne), Sonequa Marin-Green (Sasha) and Christian Serratos (Rosita) each have moments where they step up to deliver powerful performances that make their characters vital, but unfortunately those moments are set between long stretches in the season where there are unremarkable performances or character moments.

The result is that the seventh season of The Walking Dead meanders between horrible people doing heinous things and the boredom of watching oppressed people being beaten down, which makes for an unfortunately average season of television.

For other works from the 2016 – 2017 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Thirteen Reasons Why - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 3
Iron Fist - Season 1
Love - Season 2
Santa Clarita Diet - Season 1
A Series Of Unfortunate Events - Season 1
One Day At A Time - Season 1
Travelers - Season 1
"Happy Fuckin' New Year" - Sense8
The OA - Season 1
Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life
"Invasion!" - Arrow
"The Ghost" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Duet" - The Flash
"The Fellowship Of The Spear" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Star-Crossed" - Supergirl
Luke Cage - Season 1
Stranger Things - Season 1


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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