*spoilers for The Walking Dead season 7 episode 1*
Disappointed, is an apt description for what I felt immediately after having watched the season 7 opener of one of my absolutely favourite ongoing shows. After the tears had been wiped away, I looked back on an hour of TV that seemed designed to shock without substance. The deaths were not shocking, the manner in which these characters died wasn’t either. The blatant brutality, the blasé humiliation of these people we care about, and the heroing of an absolutely despicable villain in the form of Negan, was, however. Perhaps worst of all – the pacing was annoying, the story thin, and the episode a teensy bit boring, to be honest. This felt like unnecessarily drawn out torture porn – shock without any awe.
Call me uptight, but I don’t find much joy in watching indulgent soliloquies performed by a bat-wielding caricature of a maniac while Glenn’s eye is popping out of his head, or Rick is choking on his own snot begging to be let off the gruesome task of cutting up his own son’s arm.
Where will this show go post-Negan? Where can it go? What evil will there be left to conquer? Is the dreary lesson that Rick must become Negan himself in order to survive? If this happens the story will be stuck in complete despair. Without hope and without any sympathetic drive to motivate the (in)human characters that remain.
Episode 1 of season 7 left me irritated and cold towards a show I absolutely love. A show I usually defend staunchly. Throughout six seasons The Walking Dead has told stories with much more poignancy than it has been given credit for. This episode of The Walking Dead had me sadly seeing what its critics have been saying about the show for many seasons. This was apocalyptic bleakness without hope. I know this world is horrible, but without some inkling of human goodness, that grain of possibility that humanity still might be worth saving, any purpose connected to survival evaporates very quickly. As I watched Rick stumble through walkers, on his search for the hatchet he was sent to return to his tormenter, I felt his despair. It had me wondering for the first time in six years if death to all our beloved travellers would not be the preferable outcome. And then there would be no show left to watch.
I have not given up on The Walking Dead yet. I have loved it for way too long to turn my back on it due to just one episode. I hope it becomes the show I love again now that this cheap promo-stunt of a cliffhanger is in the rearview mirror.