Why The Walking Dead Season 7 Failed
The Walking Dead Season 7 finale, The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, notched 11.3 million pairs of eyeballs in the all-important 18-49 demographic. That's a steep 20% drop in viewers from the Season 6 conclusion. This number still represents the highest rated show on television, but the trend downward is clear. The show debuted Season 7 to near record ratings, but then fell 34% precipitously by the last episode. Overall, these latest episodes had the third worst viewership behind the first two seasons respectively. The Walking Dead is losing audience share because after a fiery start in 2016, it devolved into drawn out mediocrity.
This critique of season seven is a pure judgment of the show. The Walking Dead comic series, what inspired the season, where it may go in Season 8, all of these subjects are covered quite brilliantly by my colleagues. I write the weekly recap of the show. Almost ten days after digesting the finale, I can finally look back and pick apart where the season went wrong. There were flashes of greatness. Who didn't sink into a sea of despair as Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) beat Glenn (Steven Yuen) and Abraham's (Michael Cudlitz) brains to a bloody pulp? It's a damn shame that somber reveal didn't lead to better outcomes. What we got was a fairly straightforward and obvious storyline pulled like a wet noodle across sixteen episodes of The Walking Dead.
The Saviors are the big baddies, so let's start with the top dog, Negan. First, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is fantastic when he's doing dastardly deeds. Popping heads like zits, melting faces into pizza dough with the iron, taunting Dwight (Austin Amelio) about his wife, emasculating Rick (Andrew Lincoln), this is Negan in his element. What baffles me utterly is how the writers continually have him lenient when it makes absolutely no sense.
In the thread between episodes seven, Sing Me a Song, and eight, Hearts Still Beating; Negan discovers the existence of Judith. He then leaves Rosita (Christian Serratos) alive and in Alexandria after she tried to kill him. I understand his like for Carl's (Chandler Riggs) moxy, but why would he leave Rick's children and spare Rosita. He'd already killed Spencer and had Olivia shot. Rosita should have been made an example of. If he'd taken Judith and Carl prisoner to the Sanctuary, Negan would own Rick like a bad case of herpes. If his entire goal is to have the settlements under his thumb and earning, why not take what Rick holds most dear to control him. Negan's benevolence and lack of foresight is not befitting the cutthroat nature of his character.
Rick's behavior in season seven is beyond absurd. The entire arc of his character is having been whipped into submission, then slung back to ass-kicking speed to lead the rebellion against the Saviors. It's understandable that watching Glenn and Abraham die because of his leadership failure took a confidence toll. But as Eugene (Josh McDermitt) remarks quite candidly to Sasha in the finale, the Alexandrians killed like thirty of their people, so it's not even a proportional response by the Saviors.
Rick survived Shane, the Governor, cannibal hipsters, and legions of the undead to this point. It was tediously slow watching him regain his footing against Negan. It took until episode four, "Service", for the Saviors arrival and Rick's total capitulation. I'll address the meandering storylines between the settlements later. It was a mountain of filler as Rick embarked on his re-arming and coalition building odyssey. His discovery of the bizarre Junkyard Settlement, then complete faith in their leader Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) is ludicrous. How he could hand an arsenal of weapons to these people, let them behind the gates, and not expect to be betrayed? What motivation did they have to fight for Alexandria or proof of loyalty did they exhibit. Their duplicity was obvious to the audience and should have been to Rick as well.
Some of the worst aspects of season seven was the slow milking of the storyline on multiple settlement fronts. From the introduction of the Hilltop and Kingdom, there was never a doubt that these settlements would join the fight by season's ends. Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan's (Lennie James) soul searching was near excruciating to sit through. These characters sank into a melodramatic pit. Carol in her little house got old really fast. Why would Daryl (Norman Reedus) keep Carol in the dark about the Saviors and the fate of Glenn? Ben was a lamb to the slaughter from the moment he appeared. It was entirely contrived for him to die and turn Morgan against his pacifist ways. Carol and Morgan are two of the ultimate survivors. They've been a part of the show since season one. It's ridiculous to think they would walk away to rediscover themselves over such a long period on the show.
I don't care what the talent says in interviews. I knew Sasha was dead once it was announced that Sonequa Martin-Green had won the lead role in Star Trek Discovery. The same went for Jon Berthal, Tyler James Williams, and Steven Yuen. These actors aren't sticking around to fight zombies if they're starring as leads in new projects. Sasha and Rosita's foolish mission to kill Negan played out nonsensically from the start. First, it's laughable how long it took the lead characters to find out where Negan and the Saviors were located. Sasha and Rosita could have stayed at that lookout for weeks. Sasha, defined as the best shooter amongst the Alexandrians, saw one lousy shot at Negan then decided to go kamikaze. She created the urgency of her death. It makes zero sense logically, unless you have to write her character off because of the Star Trek series.
The flashback between Abraham and Sasha in the finale was like an emergency brake to the action. Just when everything was coming together, there's a sappy reunion that could have easily been cut out. Sasha was already on a suicide run. She didn't need a dredged up memory to seal the deal. Her scenes with Abraham, then Maggie on that log, were poorly done. That's twenty minutes from the finale that could have been cut. I appreciate the need for her to have a poetic ending. It could have been done as a succinct lead in to her turn as walker; not a constant, boring throwback throughout the episode.
The Walking Dead kills characters for shock value, then struggles to replace them with ones who connect to the audience. Insert Andrea, Hershel, Beth, Abraham, and Glenn here. Only Rick, Carl, Daryl, Carol, and Morgan remain from season one. One of them has to be toast soon, and I wouldn't count on any of the Grimes. Glenn was my favorite character. He wasn't easily defined, had heart, courage, and humor. Something the other characters sorely lack. I had a feeling he would be Negan's victim in the premiere, because he was so well liked by the audience. They'd toyed with us before and the comic of his death was widely publicized. Abraham's loss was unexpected, but I honestly don't think that character resonated as much. The producers could have gotten away with the heartbreak, if the episodes after made you feel something more for the remaining characters. It didn't for me, so I honestly couldn't care less who bites it from this point on. Did anyone shed a tear for Sasha's demise? This is the chief flaw as well to Fear the Walking Dead, the characters don't hold an emotional attachment. Why watch a show if your favorite part is gone?
Season 7 was lacking. The quibbles stated may amount to mission creep. It's difficult for any show to remain crisp for so long. The difference here is that the long-running comic can be a guide. The all out war set-up looks promising for season eight. The dearth of action and molasses slow pace of season seven could be easily forgotten. I'm sure the execs at AMC and showrunners view the ratings dip with concern. Scott Gimple's proclamation that the show could last for twenty years is a pipe dream if the audience keeps declining. That's conjecture as they are still the number one show. I sincerely hope the show destroys expectations in season eight, as it did in season five. We'll find out when The Walking Dead returns later this year on AMC. The rumors of Glenn's return via flashback in The Walking Dead Season 8 better be speculation. They can't take Glenn away from us three times.