You know what always gets in the way of bashing someone in the head with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire? A man eating tiger.
I’m willing to chalk “the tiger save” up to a little creative license (both in the comic and in the season finale), but I’ve got to ask: Why did it take so long for that big cat to get down to business?
The second half of Season Seven was much like the first in terms of the slow pacing , but with much less violence and carnage. Although producers Gale Anne Herd and Scott Gimple and Greg Nicotero took different stances publicly about whether or not the violence from the first half of Season Seven would be toned down, it appears that Herd was being the most truthful, as there was markedly less violence and gore than the first eight episodes.
Speaking of pacing, the producers engaged in the type of stalling that would make Games of Thrones show runners blush. This trend is possibly due to the rapidly dwindling story cache that Robert Kirkman has left on the comic book shelf. There are two major story arcs left at this point, but if the series continues, the story-line will begin to sprint past Kirkman’s industry standard of twelve issues a year. Regardless of the reason behind the slow-down, the entire season dragged. After the explosive and controversial start (which sent many fans heading for the exits) surrounding the “Who Shot J.R.?” opener, episode after episode built up the fact that Negan and his Negan clones were “badder than bad”. The second half of Season Seven introduced numerous new groups of survivors and potential allies (and an overly optimistic new “zest for life” that seemed to infect Rick’s merry band), yet the story continued to spin its wheels, plodding to the eventual “showdown at the Negan Corral” in Season Eight.
The glacial pacing left viewers waiting for something to happen. When was Ezekiel going to bring the Kingdom over to the side of the righteous? When was Maggie going to wrest control of the Hilltop from Gregory? Was Carol every going to wake up from her self-imposed exile? Which group would come to Rick’s aid first? We get these questions answered in the finale, but it literally took 15 episodes to get here.
And in terms of new groups, no group of survivors was sillier than “the Scavengers”, who seemed to have walked off the set of The Road Warrior. With their new English dialect, apocalyptical fashion sense, and ridiculous names (Jadis, Brion, and Tamiel), I half expected Lord Humongous to walk out from behind a trash heap and proclaim that “Nobody gets out of here alive!” It is understandable that Rick would need to find like-minded individuals to combat the massive army that Negan has at his disposal, but venturing into this odd territory did not add to a cast of likable or more importantly, believable characters (and a heel turn in the season finale didn’t help in making them any more interesting…)
The most engaging story-line this season was the continued progression of Lennie James’ Morgan. His visible internal struggle with “crossing the line” was evident every time he was on screen and it is due to James’ talent that he out shined everyone else in his scenes at the Hilltop. While others members of the cast tend to quickly descend into melodramatic performances, James knows how to play a conflicted man and his work this season was certainly worth watching. In a show where characters constantly come and go, James was the only one to step up as an integral part of the cast, unlike Christian Serratos’ Rosita or Sonequa Martin-Green’s Sasha who failed to capture the audience’s sympathies or cheers with their additional screen time over the course of the season (a weak argument can be made for Sasha, although all of the tricks designed to make the finale more artistic and moving, ripped directly from the Lost play-book, ended up being underwhelming in the midst of all the gunfire and the viewer’s quick psychological switch to caring about the safety of more essential characters such as Michonne, Rick, and Carl).
Where does The Walking Dead go from here? Ratings have been dropping consistently this season and even with the monster debut episode, the average is the lowest since Season Three. It appears that next season will be “the All-Out War” continuation (which lasted 11 issues in the source material), but I find it hard to believe that there are enough story elements to fuel an entire season of episodes in Season Eight. If so, that’s a lot of action over the course of 16 episodes, and there are only so many times that you can use a CGI tiger…