SPOILER ALERT. Over the break, I, like most of you, caught myself up on some of my favorite TV shows. One of my said favorites is, of course, The Walking Dead (TWD). TWD is a thriller which consistently keeps the audience guessing about the welfare of “the group”. However, every TWD fan knows that each season of the show typically follows a similar pattern of sorts, and has since its premiere in 2010. The pattern generally begins with the gang struggling to find a suitable camp, finding that camp and then usually taking in new members. This causes its own issues within the group, but typically these issues are only relevant over the course of an episode or two. After an episode of bliss, or as close to bliss as the post-apocalyptic world comes, the group’s safety is threatened. The threat is usually another group with malicious intentions (typically led by a demented, white male authoritarian), and Rick and his group heroically challenge the opposing group, in a fight that always ends in their favor. Viewers can also count on a few undeviating factors: a romantic relationship of some sort forming, Rick Grimes going through a brief mental breakdown and the devastating death of one or two characters. Season six seemed to follow this same pattern. However, after watching the first half of season seven, I’m not confident it will end in the standard way.
The current opposing group is the Saviors, who not only torment Rick’s group, but three other groups as well. Your classic “bad guy,” Negan, leads the Saviors. Negan is a truly nefarious human, who often wears a leather jacket about one size too small, and carries a baseball bat wrapped in barbwire that is affectionately named ‘Lucille.’ Although viewers have known about Negan since the beginning of season six, we did not meet the new antagonist until the end of the season. Season seven began with the death of two main characters: Abraham, and the beloved Glenn. This was the first sign of this season’s atypical nature because in the usual pattern, the devastating death(s) often happen later in the season.
Another sign of trouble was Rick’s breakdown. Normally, Rick will exhibit abnormal behavior for about two to three episodes. Usually, Rick’s breakdowns are brought on by grief. While this breakdown is also triggered by death, it is dissimilar from the two prior. In the past Rick’s breakdowns have consisted of hallucinations, compulsive farming and erratic violence; but in this season Rick deviates from his usual habits and instead becomes shaky, unresponsive and weirdly sweaty whenever his tormentor, Negan, is present. This is dangerous because in the past, the threats of the opposing group have forced Rick to recover, but Negan’s Saviors are fueling his fall from leadership in season seven.
The suggested romantic relationship of this season is also suspect. With the ultimately foolish death of the Alexandrian’s only doctor, Denise, during season six, the romantic gaze of viewers turned from Denise and Tara to Rosita and Spencer. Rosita and Spencer had a budding relationship TWD fans could get behind, but in the end a budding relationship was all it was. Spencer was publicly disemboweled courtesy of Negan, and while Spencer was no fan favorite, his death was nonetheless startling for viewers. Shortly following Spencer’s death was Olivia’s, a minor character beginning to develop into a mildly important role. With the addition of these deaths, the final body count of the Alexandrians at the end of the mid-season finale was four.
Typically, all the characters that a given TWD season contains are Rick’s group and the opposing group. However, the total number of known groups during the mid-season finale was five: the Alexandrians, Saviors, Hilltop Colony, the Kingdom and The Oceanside Community. This was the cherry on top of the atypical cake that is season seven, since this is the largest number of groups that we have seen at one time in TWD history. The second half of the season returns February 12, and each of the aforementioned abnormal factors all suggest one thing: war. The surprising deaths, the growing number of communities tortured by the Saviors and the writers refusing the viewers even the slight pleasure of a young romantic relationship, all point toward preparing the viewer for what is to come. The next eight episodes can be expected to stray far from the TWD pattern we have taken comfort in, and the post-apocalyptic zombie world may change indefinitely.