I think I vaguely understand what the show runners of The Walking Dead were up to for the first half season. Doesn’t mean that I think they executed it with panache or anything like that, but I think I have a vague clue what they were trying to do.
From their brutal and bloody first encounter with Negan himself onwards, the remaining characters have been trapped in a semi-Faustian deal that’s probably best summed up as “You give us what we want and we don’t brutally massacre you”. Hope seems non-existent, there’s no sign of a way out, things just drag on from day to day, waiting for their regular visit from Negan’s Saviours who they hope won’t feel the need to kill anybody this time.
There’s something of a similarity with watching this season. Things have mostly dragged on, characters have been missing for lengthy periods, storylines have largely failed to progress to any significant degree. Negan swings by Alexandria from time to time to basically be a dick to everybody, reinforcing just how powerless they are in the new regime. Entire episodes have been devoted to specific locations, both new (Ezekiel’s Kingdom, Negan’s Sanctuary and the female-only Oceanside) and old (the Hilltop), but, other than learning about them in the case of the new locations, not a lot actually happens there. Possibly to really emphasise just how dragged-out their existence is, episodes have been extended, not that the additional run-time has been used to move things along, but just to hammer home the point that the post-Apocalyptic lifestyle is one long drag.
So it comes as something of a relief that the mid-season finale actually packs a bit of a punch, as events transpire to force Rick into a new mindset, that capitulating to Negan as completely as he has is a fool’s game and that it’s not enough to just survive, he and his people need to live. And to do that, they have to fight. There’s a renewed sense of vigour among the characters that, after half a season of labouring under tyranny, they’ve made the decision to do something about it. They’re relieved, even knowin the potential cost, and so, I suspect, are the audience, now freed from the grind of the last few episodes.
So that, I think, is what the show runners have been up to; they’ve been trying to put the audience in the place of the characters. Whether this was a good idea is questionable; certainly the audience figures since the season opened have not been flattering (while still being on a level that most other shows would kill for – this is The Walking Dead, after all). Audiences, after all, are not actually trapped in a post-apocalyptic world (not yet, anyway) and can rise up against their oppressors, so to speak, by simply turning off their TV sets. But at least now things can get moving. Alexandria and the Hilltop are teaming up and it can only be a matter of time before the Kingdom gets wind of what’s happening. Oceanside, with its isolationist policy, may balk, but you’d have to think, given that they’re the only group out there with access to serious firepower, that they’ll have to come on board eventually (the mysterious observer in the mid-season finale may well be the first step in this).
The Walking Dead can be a slow-moving show sometimes; they’ve amply demonstrated this all the way through, starting with the farm-set second season, and when it’s running slowly, it can be a frustrating show to watch. But it inevitably does pick up speed eventually, and it feels like this is happening again, that the slow first half of the season has come to an end and now the real game begins. Hopefully this will prove to be the case…
Oh, and is it me, or is clean-shaven Negan WAY creepier than stubble Negan?