The Walking Dead: a review

I’ve been on board The Walking Dead fan bus since the beginning of the first season.

No, I’m not an OG fan—a fan of the Image comic who started watching the show after the fact. Quite the opposite, in fact. I just began reading the comics in 2016. I’m not devouring it in one sitting. I’m savoring it. I read just a little of it every week. I’m maybe a quarter of the way through the second compendium, but the third is waiting for me on the bookshelf. I’ll be reading it for a while, I think, before I begin reading the ones not compendiumed yet.

I love the comic, and I love seeing elements of the comic that eventually were translated to the small screen, but the comic book and the show are two different things. I won’t get into all the deviations the show has made from what I’ve read in the comics so far. Just take my word for it: There are many. Plus, there’s no Daryl in the comics. No Carol, either; not really. The character named Carol was not quite the same, and she died early in the book’s run. The TV Carol is one of my favorites.

This isn’t about the comic anyway. I just finished watching the final episode of TWD: Season 7. “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life.” I want to talk about that, and all the episodes and seasons which preceded it.

WARNING. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Not to sound like a fair-weather fan, the series nearly lost me last year. Season 6 was a tough slog for me. The first few episodes seemed to drag, all that stuff about trying to wrangle the herd from the quarry. Then, we were treated to that huge misdirection where we weren’t sure whether Glenn had died for several episodes. The show seemed to flounder a bit while the group was split up and we were treated to episodes that left out a lot of our favorite characters.

There were gems here. The story of Morgan and the cheese-maker was one that I enjoyed a lot. And it was great being introduced to Jesus and, eventually, the Hilltop community. But, the entire season seemed to be about deliberately moving pieces around the board while we prepared for the arrival of Negan. Negan and the Saviors loomed behind everything like an approaching dark cloud.

I was aware of Negan, from the comics. I hadn’t—and still haven’t—read the comics with Negan in them, but discussion of the man with the baseball bat named Lucille was hard to avoid. I even knew that he kills Glenn in the comics in issue #100. I didn’t want to know that, but the Internet is an evil thing. While watching season 6, I learned that Jeffrey Dean Morgan had been cast as Negan. I knew him mainly as The Comedian from the movie Watchmen, and as drug-dealing soccer mom’s late husband in Weeds. So, Negan is coming, Negan is coming: This seemed to be the point of at least the back half of last year’s season.

And then Negan showed up, and he was great. But, we were left with the cliffhanger about who was going to be killed by Lucille.

Many viewers were up in arms about the cliffhanger. That really didn’t bother me. I was bothered more by the fact that the season failed to keep my interest until it was drawing to a close, forcing me to wait for season 7 to deliver on the tension that had been slowwwwwwly building all along.

The anticipation was paid off in the first episode of season 7, when Negan chose to kill Abraham right off the bat (pun intended), and then threw in the rightful victim, Glenn Rhee, almost as an afterthought. I was emotionally wrung out by this episode. My wife could tell that I was visibly shaken after watching it. The deaths of these two characters were brutal, by any standard, let alone television standards. I briefly felt the same shock and devastation as the characters in the series. I honestly thought I was above such blatant emotional manipulation. Especially from a television show about zombies which are never called zombies.

But, manipulated I was. And, damn them all, they had my attention again.

I enjoyed this season much more than the last. It was about getting the band back together while they licked their wounds and recovered their ass-kicking mojo. By the end of the season, I was cheering on Rick and the team as the coalition between Alexandria, Hilltop and The Kingdom, along with an alliance with the Junkyard Gang and a reluctant assist from Oceanside, were gearing up for the showdown with Negan and the Saviors. In the back of my head, a tiny voice kept whispering, “Who is going to die?”

That’s something this show—and, incidentally, the comic—keeps you asking. Not only do we know that characters we’ve come to know and love may die, the story almost demands it, like a blood sacrifice.

And Sasha died. She actually sacrificed herself, so that her death meant something. The element of surprise when Negan opened her coffin to reveal what he thought was a living Sasha to Rick and the Alexandrians, who had just been betrayed by the Junkyard Gang, but turned out to be Sasha the Walker, allowed the Alexandrians to briefly turn the tables. All for naught, it seemed, after they were subdued again, apparently beaten for good. Michonne was bloodied and battered and assumed dead. Rick was shot. Negan was about to fulfill his promise of bashing in Carl’s head in front of Rick when…

The cavalry arrived. Quite literally, since there was at least one man on horseback. The Kingdomites and Hilltoppers arrived in force, turning the tide of the battle. Shiva the Tiger was eating faces left and right. Ezekiel was brandishing his sword and saying kingly things. Morgan was fully returned to his killing form, twirling his bo staff and firing guns. And, of course, Carol and Darryl were being the badasses they always have been.

Negan was not killed, however. This was just a battle, not the war. That’s coming. Which keeps me on board for season 8. Manipulated again? Sure, but I love it.

I also love that this season ended on a positive note. Our heroes desperately needed a win. I hated to see Sasha go, but at least her death didn’t seem meaningless the way Abraham and Glenn’s did. Ultimately, the revitalization of our core group, and the growing alliance of separate groups, provides meaning to the episode one deaths.  It didn’t seem that way at the time, though.

I’m looking forward to the all-out war next season. Even though Negan is a popular villain, you and I both know that he owes us a spectacular death. We may not get it. I understand that the war in the comics didn’t end that way. Who knows? He still owes us.

I was telling Sharon, my wife, about this episode after I watched it. She’s not a fan of the show and had no idea what I was talking about (although she says she loves to hear me talk about something that I like anyway). While I was talking about guys with barbed-wire-wrapped bats and dreadlocked kings with tigers, and people with guns and swords and staffs, I realized how crazy this must all sound to outsiders. I realize how crazy it would have seemed to me if season one, episode one, had jumped off from this starting point. I wouldn’t have stayed on for the ride, most likely.

It has taken seven seasons to get to this point. During this last episode of season 7, Maggie says something about everything starting at the moment Glenn saved Rick’s life in Atlanta. There’s a lot of truth in that. I’d go back a little further to say it started with Rick alone, then continued through his initial meeting with Morgan and his son, even before Glenn, but it was the events in Atlanta that drew Rick into the larger group, and it was this group, through its various permutations, that eventually became our current cast of characters. It has been a slow and steady build, and we, as viewers of the show, share a history with these characters, through both loss and triumph. Those of us who are fans are invested in the eventual outcome of this story.

Yeah, I’m back on board. I was nearly lost, but now I’m found. Bring on Season 8.

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