So, in the end, this half season was passable, if only barely. The season premiere was wretched, the worst the show has ever offered. Episodes in the middle of the season have ranged from actually very good (“The Well”) to halfway decent (“The Cell”) to rather mediocre (“Swear”). Overall, the quality of the season varied wildly, and while it was decent enough, it was certainly the worst the show has been in a while.
The structure of the season has also been pretty interesting. Creating stand-alone episodes by location made it relatively easy to tune in and not become bogged down by the mindless wandering of 20 different characters. Focusing on different communities was a fascinating way to show how different groups and societies operate, and how that difference can cause great conflict. The worst episodes were usually the ones that jumped around between storylines, and the best episodes were the ones that focused on new communities without using Negan too much. It’s entirely possible that, now that we’ve gotten the “Negan is the supreme leader” plotline out of the way, the next season will be more consistently interesting, because if this mid-season finale is any indication, Negan’s unchecked brutality doesn’t seem to correlate with an increase in quality for the show.
So how does this episode hold up? Not particularly well, even though a couple of the moments during the stand off with Negan were fairly effective. Spencer and Olivia both ended up dead during the episode, Spencer being gutted by Negan when he tried to take control of Alexandria and Olivia shot through the face when Rosita was unwilling to tell Negan that Eugene was the one that made the butter. Neither death was that effective: Olivia’s death was sad because she was a horribly underserved character who was perpetually harassed by Negan, and Spencer’s death…well…who really cares? Spencer was never really a character on the show; nobody really knows anything about him aside from that he’s angry about Rick being leader. These character deaths really aren’t working anymore, not because we’re desensitized to them (Spencer being gutted was pretty gross), but because we’re not watching actual people here. We’re watching one-dimensional sacks of meat cut up for our amusement.
As for the story, it’s really being pushed to its natural conclusion. Rebellion is on the rise (though Rosita’s act of rebellion is written so poorly that it’s absurd), as Negan’s acts of cruelty are pushing people over the edge. It looks like the second half of the season will focus more intently on rebellion, which is great, as it will deviate from the passive acceptance of cruelty to combating oppressive regimes, but there are still quite a few unaddressed issues concerning the season so far. Negan is still kind of a bland character, and the standalone episodes, as interesting as some of them were, didn’t do a great job enhancing the characters that inhabited them.
However, it is worth noting that the season really did improve after the abysmal first episode. I was one of the critics that thought that there was no way The Walking Dead could bounce back, that it would be a train wreck from here on out, and I was thankfully proven wrong. The Walking Dead still has some life left in it, even though the comic books continue to supply bland violence and call it genius. As long as they continue to experiment like they are now, trying new storytelling structures, isolating characters by location, playing with non-comic ideas, The Walking Dead may continue to keep its relevance. But it is going to have to try a little harder than it is now.
What did you think of the mid-season finale? Who is going to die in the back half of the season? Let me know in the comments!