Last year, AMC’s The Walking Dead sparked an outrage. The gory season 7 premiere threw away beloved characters in the name of archvillain Negan, and audiences followed suit: by the time the midseason finale rolled around, ratings had dropped 40 percent.
Now the show has returned for the second half of the season. It’s an opportunity to chart a new course, to correct the mistakes it’s made, and convince viewers that the story of Rick Grimes is still worth following. The only question is whether the series can pull it off.
Welcome to The Walking Dead Redemption Club.
Nick Statt: If last week’s episode was any indication, The Waking Dead is now going to reel in all of the various storylines it cast out in the first half of the season to prepare for the finale. We know Tara is likely going to bring Rick to Oceanside to shore up some more support for the rebellion against the Saviors, and that will likely take up a whole episode between now and the season finale on April 2nd. Tonight it looks like we’re finally returning to the Hilltop with Maggie, Sasha, and Daryl, with Rosita’s Negan assassination plot hanging over the whole affair.
It shouldn’t be surprising at this point that the show’s formula is a slow, season-long build-up toward a big, bloody showdown. Way back in seasons 3 and 4, it did the very same thing, with its eventual confrontations with the Governor. What’s more telling to me is that viewers have this all pretty figured out. The show hit 2012 viewership levels with “Say Yes” two weeks ago, and last week’s excursion at the Kingdom saw the show’s first rise in ratings since the back half of the season started in February. It wasn’t by much, but it tells me that viewers would much rather watch The Walking Dead when it’s nearing a beginning or an end, instead of all the filler we get in between. I’m just hoping the show has learned from its cliffhanger mistakes.
Bryan Bishop: I know we were pretty split on aspects of last week’s episode, but I think we’ll always agree that The Walking Dead works best when there’s some urgency behind the whole thing. The show’s been derided as The Talking Dead since… well, honestly, since the first season, but that just underscores the fact that the show has a whole lot of potential upside in these last few episodes.
What’s going to happen with Rosita and Sasha? Is Eugene an ingenious schemer, or a cowardly turncoat? Does Negan have even more dad jokes he’s ready to unleash before killing somebody off? Let’s get past this preamble and move on to the show itself!
Bryan: I don’t think I realized just how much I missed Lauren Cohan as Maggie in this show until the opening shot of last night’s episode. She walks into focus, taking up the frame, as the show not-so-subtly reminds viewers that Yes, Maggie is alive, and Yes, Maggie is a character you love, and Yes, we’re finally going to give Maggie something to do. Sorry it took so long.