Last year, after Negan played T-ball with Glenn’s and Abraham’s heads, Sonny Bunch paid backhanded tribute to the show by marveling at how it had reproduced in its viewers precisely the sense of hopelessness that its characters suffer during the zombie apocalypse. “The Walking Dead has accomplished exactly what it set out to do: break its audience’s spirit and get it to emotionally identify with people living through an interminable apocalypse,” wrote Bunch. “Like Rick and his friends, we now see that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. We struggle to keep going. Eventually weariness at all the hellishness and hopelessness will overtake us and we’ll just give up and the show will blink out of our existence. The sweet release of (the show’s) death will be welcomed.”
As The Walking Dead nears the end of its seventh season, showrunner Scott Gimple is looking toward the future—the very, very far-off future. At PaleyFest this weekend, Gimple revealed his hope that The Walking Dead could run for two decades.
“We are trying to do 20 years. The [Walking Dead] comic has certainly done it, and I look forward to every issue,” Gimple said. He also pointed to The Simpsons as an inspiration: “The Simpsons has been on 26, 27 years, so that’s a challenge—so O.K., challenge accepted. Done,” Gimple said.
Yeah, the difference is that the Simpsons had a decade of genuine greatness, followed by a decade and a half of mediocrity with occasional greatness. TWD had two or three years of genuine mediocrity, followed by several seasons of badness with occasional mediocrity. The idea of this zombified show roaming the television landscape aimlessly for another 15 years, feasting on a dwindling audience, is a little too on-the-nose as a meta version of its own premise.
But as to last night. It was hit and miss. The bonding moment in the woods between the Grimes gang and the Oceanside crew, where they come together to slaughter a group of conveniently timed walkers, has to rank as one of the show’s most embarrassing moments. Didn’t we see Rick and Michonne handle a group roughly this size at the amusement park two episodes ago armed with nothing more than clubs? And what the hell are these people doing wasting ammunition they’ll badly need for their coming war with the Saviors — especially knowing that the sound of gunfire might attract attention from any Saviors who happen to be within earshot? Instead of the hokey “unity” moment between the two communities, the writers could have turned it into thrilling chaos by having some of the Oceansiders seize the moment to attack Rick’s crew, followed by hand-to-hand combat among the humans with zombies descending on all sides. Romero did a virtuoso job of that dynamic with the ending of “Dawn of the Dead.” But maybe the writers were boxed in by their dopey “important characters can’t die in unimportant ways” rule. Obviously no member of Rick’s gang is going to die ignominiously from a zombie bite in the woods while fighting with some Oceanside rando; only the Oceansiders will take casualties in a scenario like the one I mentioned. In which case, what’s the point? Without genuine suspense, you might as well stick with the nonsensical turkey shoot we ended up with.
The best part of last night’s hour was Negan’s bizarre chivalry towards Sasha after David tried to rape her. There are recaps floating around today wondering how Negan, a man with a harem of sex slaves, could fail to see that he’s a more egregious rapist than the man he killed. I thought his blindness was a plausible insight into how a monster might justify his monstrosity to himself, though. It’s not clear if he sincerely views his slaves as “wives” or if he sees his relationship with them as distinct from rape because it’s based on a quid pro quo, namely, if they “marry” him, he agrees to take care of them and to spare their actual husbands’ lives. For Negan, it seems, “rape” happens when violence is used but not when it’s merely threatened. Physical force is a no-no, but coercion is just fine. Or maybe that’s overreading it; maybe, Negan being Negan, “rape” to him is simply when any man in the compound attempts to force a woman into sex without his permission. It’s an authority thing, not a force/coercion distinction. Either way, this is the first time I can recall him demonstrating some sort of moral code, however warped it might be. He specifically tells Sasha during their conversation, in fact, “We’re not monsters.” Since when does Negan care about that? It’s an interesting complement to the episode from a few weeks ago in which Eugene began assimilating into the Saviors’ authoritarian society just as Dwight finally reached the point where he could take no more. Even the man who sits atop that society, whose word is law, feels obliged to hide his rule-by-whim behind some sort of moral code. The suggestion is that even Negan, the show’s most cartoon villain, can’t quite fully bear to face how capricious his villainy is. That rang true to me as a commentary of how authoritarians operate.
One other detail I liked was Eugene slipping Sasha the poison pill he had crafted for Negan awhile back, at the wives’ request. Clearly Sasha was begging for a weapon not because she wanted to kill herself but because she wanted to ambush Negan the next time he visited her cell. But that wouldn’t have worked; again, this show insists on grand deaths for its grand characters. After so many weeks of build-up to the final battle between the Grimes crew and the Saviors, Negan’s not going to get shanked by Sasha in a cell before it begins. There is a chance, though, that he’s going to end up swallowing one of those pills — by Eugene’s handiwork, if I had to guess, not Sasha’s — which I think would be a fitting end for such a brutal character. At this point, having Rick or Daryl kill him with their bare hands would be little more than checking the box. We all expect a vicious end for him at the hands of one of the show’s heroes. A more poetic end would have him finally brought down silently, by subterfuge perpetrated by the show’s meekest character. That’s the ending I’m hoping for. We’ll see.
Just one episode left now. Odds that we’re going to get resolution to the 18 or so different subplots still hanging out there: Slim. Exit question: Er, why does Negan keep letting people from Alexandria who try to kill him live? I get that he likes their courage or their “moxie” or whatever, but Daryl punched him in the face before the Glenn/Abraham murders — and survived. Carl showed up at the compound and killed one of Negan’s men, and nearly killed Negan himself — and survived. And now Sasha came running into the compound on a suicide mission to take him out — and she’s been spared too. At some point this guy has to be pissed off that these people keep trying to murder him, no? The whole point of his ruthlessness, I thought, was to keep the people around him terrified and compliant. Try to kill him, though, and you’re off the hook. What?