Maybe it’s the end of a very contentious and taxing election season. Maybe it’s the end of a particularly depressing year. Maybe it’s a lot of things, but there’s something about The Walking Dead that makes it feel like a chore to get through instead of a show you’d spend your Sundays looking forward to.
Since its premiere three weeks ago, a conclusion of a seven-month long cliffhanger at the end of the show’s sixth season, Negan arrives, kills Abraham and Glenn while the principal cast is forced to watch, then eventually breaking Rick down, eviscerating the Ricktatorship. It will be remembered as one of TV’s most meaningless, tension-free publicity stunts, and not just because they followed the source material, with the addition of Abraham, but the show’s long-underlying sadism was no longer constrained by dramatic structure.
After meeting a fucking pet tiger and a prolonged, equally uninspiring episode that focused on The Saviors themselves, we finally get to see some of the aftermath of Alexandria after Negan’s reckoning. While no one was expecting it to be a particularly lighthearted affair, Negan’s constant baiting and arrogance, Rick regressing into a blubbering mess akin to his first moments awake after his coma, and the rest of the cast standing around silent.
Sure, they’re in shock, but reducing them to stock background characters in the wake of their grief is the opposite of what this show should be doing right now. What’s worse, AMC and company felt it was necessary to spend an entire extra half hour hanging around while we all watched this happen.
The rundown is that Negan shows up to take “half” of what Alexandria has, while making clear that “half” is however he defines it. Instead of taking the supplies Rick set aside prior to their arrival, Negan raids everyone’s home, taking their chairs, tables, and mattresses as a leering display of power. He also comes for the guns, recalling when Rick went all in and killed an entire outpost worth of Saviors, but apparently Olivia (the inventory manager who could still be keeping her cell phone in her pocket for all we know) came up two guns short, and as a result her life is in jeopardy.
So, because no one thought to get rid of the very detailed inventory before Negan’s scheduled arrival, Rick spends the episode searching for the missing guns. He calls a town meeting to find out where they are, (which begs the question: what the fuck were the Saviors doing when this Town Hall was in session). Anyway, Rick Finds the guns. Who ends up having them? Spencer. Fucking Spencer. Fucking Deanna’s loudmouth idiot son Spencer.
Spencer, meanwhile, is on a side quest with Rosita to find Daryl’s motorcycle, and proceeds to actually mansplain their situation to Rosita, who actually watched her ex-boyfriend beat to death by Negan. Spencer managed to sit that one out. Of course, it doesn’t stop him from harping on his point, first to Rosita, then later to Rick, both times full of ignorant bravado. As contradictory as it may seem for me to actively root for a character’s death amidst a flurry of criticism over the show’s feckless sadism, there it is.
Also, speaking of character deaths, this episode spends a baffling amount of time (that is, any at all) on this ruse that Maggie had died of natural causes. They even take Negan to her grave, where he even seems to mourn, however briefly, over an unfortunate situation, carving off the tiniest sliver of humanity, which we’ll need more of if this show keeps going.
Anyway, after all this, Negan leaves, promising to come back and make it even more unpleasant in the coming episode, symbolized by a giant pile of burning mattresses that Michonne finds on the side of the road. Can’t wait.
P.S. – Rick admits that Judith is really Shane’s kid. So, S+L=J is now canon.