(Don’t go any further if you haven’t watched The Walking Dead season seven finale)
It’s official. We have reached peak Walking Dead. But wait, aren’t ratings high? Heck, yeah ratings are high. The Walking Dead is still the number one basic cable series on television. And hasn’t it be renewed to season twelve? Yes, that’s true. There’s no arguing the machine that is The Walking Dead is still chugging along. But is it still good? Is The Walking Dead still the series that had us scrabbling to our televisions like it did the first couple seasons?
The Walking Dead hasn’t been interesting since season two (the best season by far), at the most season four, when everything in the series was new and everyone was still learning how things worked in the land of the dead. Interesting things have happened since season four. None of us can forget the two episodes at Terminal. Cannibals? Yuck, right? Over all, the series has found itself in a creative lull.
Since season four the creative lull has been the wash-rinse-repeat cycle The Walking Dead has found itself in. Rick and the gang find a safe place to call home. Safe place falls to bad guy, Rick and company fight back and claim a new safe place. How many more seasons can this go on for?
A lot of genre television and movies are predictable. We know what’s going to happen next and we know how it’s going to end. If you didn’t know the Hill and the Kingdom were going to team up with Rick the moment they were introduced into the series then you weren’t paying attention. If you can’t see Gregory (Xander Berkeley) betraying everyone then you’re not paying attention. If you’re surprised when Eugene remembers Sasha’s sacrifice and turns against Negan then you haven’t been paying attention. Dwight betraying Negan could go either way. He did tell Rick he wanted to see Negan dead, he did block the Saviors route to Alexandria, but when the fire fight started he didn’t take his chance to kill Negan.
In any event, genre television and movies are about the journey. Think about your favorite rom-com (Admit it. You have one. I’ll start. My favorite is When In Rome). In the end, you know the boy and girl are going to get back together or find each other to live happily ever. We may not have known exactly how season seven of The Walking Dead would end, but we knew basically how it would end.
We knew, whether you read the comic book or not, Negan was going to live. It’s part of the wash-rinse-repeat Walking Dead cycle. “We are going to war,” Negan yells at the end of the finale. Going to war is almost the same thing the Governor said in season three and four. Negan will be around until another Negan shows up at the end of season eight or in season nine.
Has the journey season seven took us on worth the time? Sure it was. Season seven introduced us to Negan. Negan is like a 1950’s greaser spawned from the mind of Stephen King. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays him as a maniac, psychopath firmly in control of his madness. Now that Abraham is dead, Negan has the best lines in The Walking Dead. Morgan had us all believing when he tells Sasha she has “beachball sized lady nuts” and that even if she had a dick he would have feelings that he was mad. Having Jeffrey Dean Morgan in season eight won’t be a bad thing.
What’s bad is viewers tune in just as much to see who lives and who dies than what happens next. Writers didn’t pull any punches when Negan beat Glenn and Abraham to death. Season seven was chock full of Negan practically making love to Lucille. Sasha’s death, as noble as it was, seemed pretty weak compared to other notable deaths in the series.
Sasha’s death didn’t matter much in the end, but we did get a few tender scenes showing how Rick’s gang is a family brought together by unusual circumstances. Yes, we’ve been down that path a time or two during seven seasons of The Walking Dead. There’s bound to be plenty of more deaths of minor characters. Fans and showrunners can say the show is edgy and creators have no problem killing off characters. Would showrunners really kill off Rick, Daryl, Michonne, or Carl? Highly unlikely.
What’s bad is that there may be no place else for the series to go. Season eight will see Rick fighting Negan and Rick and the gang fighting the Junk People. Constant fighting, sprinkled with a tender hearted moment or two, is the only thing a series like The Walking Dead can do. Imagine for a moment Rick and company find an oasis where peace reigns, Carl doesn’t have to stay in the house, and Judith grows up relatively normal in post-zombie ravaged America? Got that image in your head? It’s a pretty nice image, but it doesn’t make good television. It’s the way you end a series, not how a series gets to a twelfth season. The only thing The Walking Dead can rely on is the wash-rinse-repeat story cycles.
Will The Walking Dead last until season twelve? I hope it does. The journey so far hasn’t been without reward. There’s been some incredible television episodes coming out of the series and the zombie makeup keeps getting better. We thought the well walker was pretty sick until a beach full of barnacle covered zombies came after the group. However, the real fear of the walking dead is the series becomes stale and keeps repeating: wash and rinse, wash and rinse.