For many fans of The Walking Dead, Season 7 was a challenge. It focused heavily on new themes and characters, and oftentimes felt very little like the series that became a cultural phenomenon back in 2010. After a controversial cliffhanger in Season 6, and an even more polarizing premiere in October, the series’ seventh season got off to a rocky start. While it had a few killer moments, the series never quite found its footing in Negan‘s brave new world.
Though The Walking Dead still boasts strong ratings, some fans did begin to abandon ship as Season 7 wore on. There could be a number of reasons behind the series’ subtle decline in popularity. Between the loss of key characters, an increasingly dreary tone, and a chaotic storyline, the most recent slate of episodes failed to keep fans excited to tune in.
Here are 10 things The Walking Dead got wrong in Season 7.
1. They botched the rollout
The hype surrounding Season 7 of The Walking Dead was almost ridiculous. The previous season’s stunning cliffhanger ending left just about every main character’s life hanging in the balance. And millions tuned in to find out who Negan had taken down with his beloved bat, Lucille.
Unfortunately, despite the hype, the Season 7 premiere was more or less a letdown. After toying with our emotions for more than 13 minutes, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” finally spilled the beans on the big death mystery. We watched, in horror, as Negan beat both Abraham and Glenn to a pulp.
All told, it was a solid seven minutes of gory, horrifying television. But the rest of the episode left much to be desired. It focused on Rick Grimes’ complete demoralization, and set the stage for the emotionally draining episodes that followed.
The issue with not only the premiere, but the entire season, was that its tone and content didn’t match the energetic marketing push leading up to the seventh season. The advertisements that enticed viewers to tune in featured a grinning Negan and a “You won’t believe what happens next” motif. In reality, the first half of Season 7 was TWD‘s bleakest yet.
That’s not to say the series needed to be a super-charged adrenaline fueled Negan-fest to keep fans satisfied. But AMC and The Walking Dead ended up over-promising on excitement and a “game-changing” storyline that never really materialized.
2. The Negan problem
It’s one thing to introduce a new villain on a series like The Walking Dead. It’s entirely another to build a season’s worth of stories around him. Negan is, without a doubt, one of the most memorable characters on TWD. But the series’ creative team made a huge gamble when they chose to reorient the show around him in Season 7. And unfortunately, the gamble didn’t pay off.
Maybe they overestimated how much fans would like the sarcastic, sadistic leader of the Saviors. Or maybe they just didn’t quite figure out how to fit him into AMC’s version of The Walking Dead. While Negan’s villainous ways marked a decisive turning point in the series, in most cases it wasn’t a good one.
Negan was billed as being the worst villain yet, but thus far, aside from offing a few beloved characters, he hasn’t been nearly as interesting as, say, Shane or the Governor. If anything, his chest-beating cruelty has proven to be irritating. Despite the fact that he isn’t quite the supervillain he was made out to be, his smirking, self-aggrandizing approach to the apocalypse has become a large part of what the series is about these days.
That doesn’t mean that the series will continue to suffer as long as Negan sticks around. But it does mean that TWD needs to figure out how to make Negan work within TWD‘s universe, and not how to make it all about Negan.
3. Relying on shock value instead of storytelling
The Walking Dead has always relied on its plot’s twists and turns to keep fans engaged. The same could be said of nearly every TV show ever created. But as of late, the series’ creative team has given these moments a bit more weight than they’re worth.
This trend began in Season 6, when fan-favorite Glenn Rhee was seemingly killed off, only to return a few episodes later. That plot development didn’t go over well with fans, who felt TWD‘s writers dragged the reveal out too long. Instead of reevaluating their take on shocking fans, though, they doubled down in Season 7.
First, there was the reveal of Negan’s victims. Then, there was the fact that their deaths were gorier and more graphic than arguably any other characters’ on the series. Later, in Episode 12, it appeared as though Rick Grimes had been bested by a hoard of zombies, until he popped up after a few tense moments.
The way the series has handled its major character deaths — real or fake — turned into a major problem, narratively speaking. That’s because it’s relied so much on making them into buzzed about, must-see moments. Ultimately, that doesn’t help bolster the series’ dramatic impact. It’s devalued the emotional punch that comes whenever we see our favorite characters bite the dust.
4. It became predictable
The Walking Dead has always been good at killing off its characters. But at this point, there seems to be a formula of sorts that fans can expect to play out as a season progresses. We usually lose a character or two right before the midseason break, and perhaps a more important character during each season finale. In Season 7, that was true — Olivia and Spencer were the earlier casualties. And poor, brave Sasha met a heroic end, with a little help from Eugene, in the finale episode, “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life.”
The problem with these deaths isn’t that they happened. It’s that they felt telegraphed — because we knew that somebody was going to die. For a series that seems to rely so heavily on shock value, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how the shocking deaths now feel so commonplace. But by following the tried-and-true pattern once again in Season 7, The Walking Dead showed that it needs to genuinely rethink its narrative structure.
5. It was really depressing
Of course, a series about a zombie apocalypse isn’t going to be a laugh-a-minute endeavor. But Season 7 of The Walking Dead felt hopelessly, tirelessly, and endlessly bleak. And not in a this-is-the-human-condition-at-work kind of way, but in a why-are-we-subjecting-ourselves-to-this-emotional-torture kind of way.
In the closing moments of the seventh season premiere, Rick imagined his friends and family sitting around a dinner table, laughing and enjoying themselves. As he did, we heard Negan taunting him, reminding him that there would be no happily ever after. That defeatist, depressing mentality permeated so much of Season 7’s major stories.
We’ve seen Rick Grimes go through plenty of ups and downs over the years. And obviously, he was eventually able to pull himself together. But seeing him so broken for so long made the entire series feel defeating. Watching Rick, Michonne, Maggie, Daryl, and the rest of our favorite characters struggle under Negan’s thumb was painful in a way that seemed like it would never end.
6. There were too many players
In the early seasons of The Walking Dead, the series’ scope felt very limited. As walkers overtook the roads and seemingly destroyed society, we watched Rick Grimes’ crew sit around a farm and stare at maps for several episodes. These days, the series has taken the opposite approach. The characters have traveled across several states, spread out, and met several other groups of survivors.
The problem in Season 7 is that there are now way too many characters to keep track of. We have Negan’s Sanctuary, Gregory’s Hilltop, the Kingdom, and, of course, Alexandria. There’s also Oceanside, the all-female colony that Tara encountered, and Jadis’ Scavengers, who inexplicably have their own language.
The expanding ensemble makes sense, pragmatically — after all, Rick is promising a war with Negan and they’re going to need a lot of foot soldiers. But in terms of keeping fans connected to the actual characters, it became a bit of a problem. We lost track of many major players for long stretches of time. The newer characters, like Ezekiel, were given grand introductions complete with plenty of exposition rather than being gradually developed over time.
Ultimately, Season 7 made our connection to the characters and their allegiances feel muddy at best. And that will make it harder to stay invested in their fates when Season 8 rolls around.
7. The special effects weren’t up to par
The Walking Dead has been consistently praised for its special effects, and with good reason. After all, the FX team, led by Greg Nicotero, has managed to make a zombie apocalypse seem like a thing that’s actually happening on our screens. In Season 7, they expanded their horizons a bit, but may have bitten off more than they could chew.
Shiva, Ezekiel’s tiger, was mostly an impressive display of CGI skills. But many of the other effects The Walking Dead brought to life were less effective. In “New Best Friends,” Rick stood in front of Jadis’ impressive camp — but it was obviously created on a green screen. In “Say Yes,” he tried to kill a deer that was hilariously fake as well. Sure, these moments are small in the grand scheme of things, but even little slip-ups like this can bring us out of the show’s reality.
8. The timing was all off
At its best, The Walking Dead grabs our attention and refuses to let go. Unfortunately, episodes like that were few and far between in the series’ seventh season. On more than one occasion, TWD would dangle the possibility of an enticing plotline in front of us, only to switch gears the following episode.
It introduced us to Ezekiel and the Kingdom, and then ignored them for so long that we almost forgot they existed. It showed us Carl’s decision to sneak into the Sanctuary, then wasted the next hour showing us what Tara and Heath were up to.
Instead of keeping us engaged with the myriad plotlines that emerged in Season 7, this method had the opposite effect. As soon as we were invested in one character’s story, we lost track of them. And in the end, when they all converged to fight against Negan, it was hard to remember how they’d all gotten there in the first place.
9. The writing was weaker than normal
No one would ever argue that The Walking Dead is a realistic series. Fans have been willing to forgive plenty of innocuous plot holes over the years. But in Season 7, the storytelling felt especially sloppy. That’s largely because it became more difficult to understand the choices the characters made.
Sure, Rick was traumatized after his initial encounter with Negan. But it was incredibly difficult to truly believe that he wouldn’t have at least considered stashing a gun offsite before the Saviors showed up to collect his supplies. Yes, Gregory was technically the leader at Hilltop but why did Jesus and his people let him continually run the colony into the ground to appease Negan? And perhaps most importantly, what incentive does Jadis have to join forces with Rick when they seemed to be doing just fine on their own?
The Walking Dead relies heavily on world building and it asks us to suspend our disbelief so we can enjoy the characters’ journey. But these questions add up over time — and they make the world crumble over time.
10. Not all that much happened
At the beginning of Season 7, AMC told us that The Walking Dead was “just getting started.” Apparently, they meant that literally. Because in the 16 episodes that comprised the last season, very little actually happened. Negan killed Abraham and Glenn. Everyone was traumatized. He belittled and abused the other colonies. Eventually, after he came knocking on their door and tormented them enough, they decided they were ready to fight.
Realistically, that entire storyline could have been condensed into half a season. We spent several hours waiting for the moment that Rick, Maggie, Daryl, and the rest of the crew would finally start to fight back. In the end, we barely got a taste of their retaliation.
While the prospect of a more action-oriented Season 8 is appealing, it doesn’t negate the frustrating impact of Season 7’s glacial pacing. Once again, we’re left to wait for a real, substantial payoff and in many ways, it feels like we’ve already been waiting a very long time.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox
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