Here’s The Walking Dead‘s problem: it can’t maintain narrative momentum to save its slow, shambling undead life. It, along with shoddy character work in places, are what keep The Walking Dead from entering the upper echelon of prestige genre entertainment, something Game of Thrones did on the way to its recent Emmy win for best show.
I know how it sounds coming from a guy who, at the premiere, preemptively called the season the best yet. It’s doubly ironic because I felt the same way about Season 5 before it ended the thrilling Terminus arc after three episodes to spend time with boring Beth in a boring hospital with boring cops. Season 6 saw the zombie herd and the Wolves’ attack (also in three episodes) before hitting its wall.
The show experiments with structure and time, giving character threads in dedicated bottle episodes. This episode takes it to a whole ‘nother level, giving us copious amounts of time with Daryl and a trio of new characters who don’t even get names, who are being pursued by their former “friends.” Our window into their predicament is the same as Daryl, confused and without much context (SIDENOTE: According to the Internet, their names are Dwight, Sherry and Tina. There is a Dwight who is a member of the Saviors who plays prominently in the coming conflict between our leads and them but its unclear if this is meant to be the same Dwight, if that is his name at all. .
Their “friends” are suspiciously similar to the Saviors, the henchmen of their recently-cast leader the Big Bad Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, set to debut in the season finale). They speak about fleeing with what they “earned” from those who wanted to force them to kill. This party’s led by a guy named Wade who casually chops off the arm of lackey Cam when the idiot gets bit and then follows up with the genius line: “Walk it off.”
The Abraham/Sasha scenes at the office are such an echo of the Daryl/Carol scenes in last season’s sixth episode “Consumed” I’d call plagiarism if it wasn’t the same show. As it stands, it’s a callback but not a noticeable or needed one.
Speaking of last season, it’s uncanny how similar the structure is to Season 5; coming roaring out of the gates only to run right into a wall (made of storytelling exhaustion or budget deficits, we know not). The show’s attempts to work on said shoddy character work goes awry – the last two episodes are examples – and we the audience are left in stasis waiting for the next goalpost to hit.
Episode 7 is usually setup for the mid-season finale. In the sense that it’ll be plot relevant, it’s exciting. But when that’s the low bar that’s been set, something is very wrong with how the story is being told. Perhaps the problem is also audience and format. Binge-watchers are conditioned for instant gratification. Is it right? I don’t know, but it is the current reality storytellers face. I feel the brilliant “Here’s Not Here” (my review here) was unfairly maligned as a finger to the audience after the previous week left fan favorite Glenn’s seemingly dead beneath a horde of zombies.
It’s probably a narrative necessity to deal with the shallow Alexandrian residents reacting to the Wolves’ attack and to give a showcase episode to Norman Reedus and Michael Cudlitz, two of the most capable members of the ensemble. But nobody said that it had to reek of filler.