With last night’s Oscar ceremony, we are late to getting around to this week’s The Walking Dead, but then again, it’s not an episode terribly worthy of analysis. It was a good episode that continued to move the plot along, which is something that The Walking Dead frequently does well early in each half season. Where the show gets in trouble is after the second or third episode, where it sets up a major upcoming event and then spins its wheels for three of four episodes.
In the first half of season six, that was Glenn’s near-death experience in episode three and the molasses-like crawl to episode seven and the reveal. In this half of season six, I am concerned — after setting the stage for a showdown between Rick and the rest of the Alexandrians vs. Negan and the Saviors — that it may be another four or five episodes before we even meet Negan. Early reports of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s casting suggested that he wouldn’t even arrive until the season finale, so there’s a possibility that we will have to wait another month before that showdown is even hinted at.
In the meantime, The Walking Dead is dangling romantic pairings in front of us, which can be concerning for a show that’s never had that much interest in romance. Rick and Michonne’s coupling was an unexpected but welcome surprise. Abraham’s love triangle with Sasha and Rosita less so. Now there’s also Maggie’s pregnancy to contend with, and Denise and Tara’s relationship (and an upcoming two-week trip for Heath and Tara), and suddenly we’re a threesome and an evil twin sister away from the Young and the Restless: Zombie Edition.
Where it works, however, is in the series’ ability to generate interest and affection for these characters through their relationships with others, and the way it creates tension and nervousness surrounding their fates. We know that Negan’s arrival will coincide with a major character death, so the way Glenn and Maggie bond over her pregnancy makes us nervous for them. Rick and Michonne’s relationship makes us nervous about Michonne. Abraham, Tara, and Rosita’s love triangle means one of them is going to die this season. Likewise, Denise and Tara — sadly — cannot remain happy forever, and as much as I like Merritt Weaver, she’s really destined for meatier, more central roles in other series.
However, the show is also very good at replacing one beloved character with another, and Jesus (Tom Payne) immediately fits the bill of fan favorite. He may not be worth losing a Daryl over, but he’s certainly equal value to Abraham.
Meanwhile, it was nice to see the series expand beyond Alexandria again, and the Hilltop Colony was a fascinating little community straight out of The Village. Self-described nice guy Gregory is anything but, and again, the series excels at creating characters we are excited about seeing die and then making us wait 6 or 12 episodes to see it happen.
They’ve got it down to a science on The Walking Dead, and Gimple and Kirkman change up the formula just enough to keep it fresh and interesting for viewers. Gregory is another version of The Governor, and Negan — I suspect — is just a more extreme version of Rick, someone so intent upon protecting his people that he lost his humanity somewhere along the way. At this point, all the characters are simply different iterations of the same archetypes. That’s OK.
Now we just have to wait … and wait … and wait, and just as we’re about to lose patience with the series, they’ll bless us with another major death that will keep us invested for another half season.