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Last season ended with one of the biggest cliffhangers in recent memory with one of our survivors facing the wrath of Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) famed barbed wire baseball bat named Lucille. Everyone waited with cautious anticipation to find out who was going to die and I won’t reveal it here for anyone who still hasn’t watched this past season.
Those who’ve read the comics or the countless speculation posts on the internet probably had an idea of what was going to happen but it still hurt seeing Glenn, who was killed by Negan in the comics, and Abraham, a surprise addition face their demise. It was surprising how graphic their deaths were but they helped to set the tone and establish the stakes, or at least that was what we thought at the time, and establish the character of Negan as a very bad guy and for the most part he was which gave me some pretty high hopes. It also started their relationship where Rick and the other survivors had to give them stuff.
The first half of the season was mostly subdued with everyone beaten down in general (no pun intended), especially Rick, by what had happened. They were all afraid of Negan and the Saviors so they pretty much complied to their demands. Rick was a shell of his former self which was often frustrating to watch as he let Negan have his way with him. This was also one of the biggest problems with this season which was the overuse of Negan.
Negan appeared way too much, especially in the first half of the season causing his impact to almost diminish completely after the first episode. This emphasized how one-dimensional he was where the writers kept beating us over the head with how intimidating he was until he wasn’t anymore. Rick seemingly was under Negan’s control and wanted Alexandria to comply with the Saviors but these feelings eventually wore away after Negan’s constant tormenting and the growing dissent around him.
Most of the season had different characters in different places but we all kind of knew that it would all lead up to an inevitable showdown with Negan and his Saviors. The first half of the season served to expand the world with these characters in these new places with many episodes serving as standalone episodes, focusing on certain characters in these new environments.
Those who have read the comics already know about these new environments. First, we got to see the Kingdom through Carol and Morgan. They were separated from the Negan incident at the end of last season so they had no idea what had happened until much later. Carol was burned out with her current life and all the killing she did so she just wanted to be left alone and Morgan was Morgan, he didn’t believe in killing either. They tried to make the best of their lives and did for awhile but it wasn’t going to last forever.
We also met their leader, a man named King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) along with his pet tiger Shiva. They had a secret deal with the Saviors where they gave them mostly food and other items. Their exchanges became increasingly heated meaning that something was going to happen. Ezekiel wanted to make things work to protect his people but dissent began to grow within the Kingdom as one of his confidants, a man named Richard (Karl Makinen) believed that they should take on the Saviors but he never got the support he needed.
After Negan’s attack in the premiere, Negan took Daryl back to his and the Saviors’ hideout called the Sanctuary. Those who are familiar with the show will remember a couple named Dwight (Austin Amelio) and Sherry (Christine Evangelista) that Daryl ran into a long time ago. They were both at the Sanctuary. They were taken by Negan and the Saviors and did what they could to survive with Sherry marrying Negan to save Dwight and Dwight being one of Negan’s right hand men.
Negan took Daryl in the first place because he saw potential and wanted Dwight to tear him down and build him back up again, similar to what Negan did to him. Of course that didn’t happen. During their time together, Daryl and Sherry grew closer as Sherry and Dwight grew further apart. Sherry saw something in Daryl that reminded her of what Dwight was and Sherry began to see him as a lost cause. Dwight noticed her drifting away but it was too late after she helped Daryl escape and then disappeared herself.
The last community we met in the first half of the season was the female community of Oceanside. There were only females because the Saviors killed all the men and boys, leaving the women to fend for themselves. Fearing for their lives, they escaped from their deal with the Saviors and moved to an abandoned trailer park near the ocean. They did okay, heavily arming and learning to defend themselves. Their survival depended on their existence being kept a secret so when Tara ran into them, she promised to not tell anyone else but that obviously wasn’t going to last.
The Hilltop was a precarious situation. Their leader, Gregory, wasn’t much of a leader and was a real pushover when it came to the Saviors. He was just a general sleazebag that always did what was best for him. This was the most evident through his many exchanges with a Savior named Simon (Steven Ogg). Gregory was not exactly thrilled once Maggie showed up (since they had a doctor) with Sasha as he thought their presence would put the Hilltop, but mostly himself, in danger. The longer they were there, the more Gregory’s grip slipped away. He was the leader of the Hilltop by default because nobody else wanted the position. Not long after Maggie arrived, the residents began to see her as a leader, unbeknownst to her.
We all knew it was going to happen but it wasn’t until the first half of the season that enough was enough for Rick and finally decided that they should take on Negan and the Saviors. They did spend a lot of time with buildup and world-building which was sort of compelling but these early episodes almost felt like filler. Because they introduced all of these communities, Rick and the gang had to convince the Kingdom and the Hilltop to join their cause. They initially said no but we all knew what was really going to happen. Also during this time, we were introduced to one more community of dirty, weird-talking trash people known as the Scavengers as well as their leader Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh). They were willing to help if Rick and the gang got guns for them (Oceanside had plenty of guns).
Now lets run through some odds and ends:
- Carl snuck on a truck to infiltrate the Sanctuary, Negan was kind of impressed but still let him go back.
- Eugene was taken by Negan during his last visit to Alexandria and we got to see more of the Sanctuary through his scared eyes and invoking his sense of self-preservation, he joined the Saviors.
- Rick and Michonne went on an fun adventure to find guns.
- The death of someone close to Morgan turned Morgan off from his pacifism and paved the way for the Kingdom to join the fight.
- Sasha and Rosita were impatient with Rick and tried to do their own thing, leading to Sasha sacrificing herself.
- Gregory got embarrassed publicly and left the Hilltop, paving the way for Maggie to become their leader.
- Rick and the gang got all the guns from Oceanside which satisfied the Scavengers.
- With nothing left, Dwight joined Rick’s gang and faced the expected skepticism.
Ever since the gruesome premiere, the season has been painstakingly building up to a battle between Rick’s gang and the Saviors. Over the previous 15 episodes, we were beaten over the head with Negan, we met all the characters and communities involved, we witnessed the hardships they faced from the Saviors, and saw them rally together. As mentioned, all these stories were sort of compelling to watch but they probably didn’t need 15 episodes to do this. They were establishing the stakes but it was easy to get restless as a result.
With that said, even the battle (not final battle because that was never going to happen here) was delayed. It was already announced that actress Sonequa Martin-Green had signed onto a new show so she was going to leave somehow so the finale went out of its way to give Sasha a send off which took away from the finale. She sacrificed herself to save Rosita, causing her to be trapped at the Sanctuary with no way out. As he was with all the others who’ve stood up to him, he was impressed with Sasha so he wanted her to join him and attack her friends back in Alexandria. Of course she didn’t join him for real but used this as an opportunity to take some poison pills and wreak havoc as a Walker.
Once the battle actually came, the Kingdom and the Hilltop joined in but it was rather underwhelming as the buildup didn’t quite justify the result. Again, it wasn’t the final battle as this season was a means to set up an extended war between these groups in the upcoming season. At least there wasn’t a cliffhanger this time around.
The acting was good across the board despite the uneven story and writing. The story definitely had high and low points but it wasn’t the fault of the acting. When there wasn’t action, the season had plenty of emotional moments that were handled admirably but they generally tended to bog things down. The standouts had to be Melissa McBride and Lennie James whose characters both evolved over the season, wavering between killing to not killing to killing again. After 7 seasons, the core actors have developed great chemistry which made it slightly more bearable. The balance between action and drama has favored the latter over the last few seasons and that was still the case here, even more so, finale battle aside.
Overall, this was a decent season, serving as more of a prequel for the war to come. It spent more time than it probably had to building up to the eventual battle near the end of the season through filler standalone episodes. The emotion of the season was sort of compelling but it did start to get repetitive, leading to restlessness. Once the final battle came, it was rather disappointing but the war to come looks to be exciting but let’s hope the writing doesn’t ruin it.