It's probably not the adjective AMC would like to hear, but The Walking Dead is mercilessly headed toward its midseason finale Sunday on what's been an uneven, boring and frustrating seventh season. The viewership has responded in kind by, well, shrinking. The series' ratings have dipped to their lowest in four seasons.
The show can't point to one thing being wrong with the seventh season — there's been several. Negan has been a disappointment; Jeffrey Dean Morgan's natural charisma can only go so far with horribly cheesy dialogue. Rick has been crying most of the season, turning the character into his own internet meme. The narrative itself is increasingly disparate, devoting entire episodes to characters and settings we may never visit again (see: Oceanside). "Easy Street" happened and we must never speak of it again.
Where does The Walking Dead go from here? It can start to fix itself in its midseason finale by avoiding what drove the series down in the first place: cliffhangers.
Season seven left a bitter taste in the audience's mouths before it aired a second of footage, due to the way the show capped off season six. It spent half a season building hype to its introduction of Negan — and frankly, Morgan's entrance was, at first, an unsettling delight. But then it became increasingly clear that the person on the receiving end of Negan's bat wasn't going to be shown until next season; at the time, a six month hiatus.
The Walking Dead still hasn't recovered from this mistake. The show's execution of the moment — which ended up being a double whammy off of Negan's bat with the death of Abraham, followed by Glenn — was technically impressive, but by holding off for several months the moment lost its emotional weight. For a show that's incessantly toed the line between attempting to be a prestige drama and mindless zombie fare, it was a bad look that satisfied neither.
Considering this wasn't the series' first brush with a poorly manufactured cliffhanger (remember Glenn and the fucking dumpster?), fans would hope the latest backlash would be a cautionary tale for AMC moving forward into season seven. But a recent quote from Josh McDermitt, who plays Eugene, gives pause. "We certainly end the midseason with a bang," McDermitt told Entertainment Weekly.
This likely isn't just a figure of speech. The last we see of Eugene, in the previous episode, he's helping Rosita create at least one bullet after Negan and the Saviors confiscated their weaponry from Alexandria. Rosita clearly has her sights set on shooting Negan after he killed Abraham, but it's not going to go well for her. Morgan, for one, has already confirmed that he'll return for season eight.
Given it's recent history, it's not a stretch to imagine The Walking Dead heading into its midseason hiatus with a "bang" from Rosita's gun, followed by a black screen rolling to the end credits (one can already picture the audience outrage on Twitter). That doesn't mean it's going to happen, of course. However, there's a small step the show can make to salvage it's seventh season: Don't employ more cliffhangers and frustrate an already disappearing viewership.
We've been in the Golden Age of Television for a while now, but recently we've also been treated to an uptick in compelling dystopian dramas. Think of the likes of Westworld, Black Mirror, The Leftovers, The 100, 3% and AMC's own Humans. This is a crowded subgenre — more crowded than it's ever been. There's a few ways The Walking Dead can fix itself (TV Guide gave them six), but here's a simple one for Sunday: Show something happen without resorting to gimmicky twists.
Thankfully, with the show's comic book source material, there's a pretty simple solution — emulate an iconic moment from Negan's second trip to Alexandria. That's when Negan kills Spencer after he tried to convince Negan that he'd make a better leader than Rick. The conniving, behind the back nature of Spencer's conversation led to Negan asking whether Spencer had any guts, before finding out the literal answer for himself.
That wouldn't be enough to salvage the dumpster fire that is season seven, but a satisfying, action-packed midseason finale would be necessary progress for The Walking Dead heading into its next hiatus. With the viewership at its lowest in years, the show is looking vulnerable for the first time in its history. They need some positive momentum — AMC is, rather fittingly, no longer on Easy Street.
The Walking Dead's midseason finale premieres Sunday, Dec. 11 at 9 p.m. Eastern on AMC.
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