One of the cool things about “The Walking Dead” is that the show is constantly re-inventing itself; by splitting each season in half, AMC has essentially allowed themselves to pack two mini-seasons into every one season. Why is that such a good thing? Because it allows the story to evolve according to the state that the characters are in at any given point in time; and never has the hit zombie series been more tonally in line with the characters than in the now-airing seventh season.
To say that the Season 7 premiere was downbeat would be a massive understatement. We all knew that something horrible was coming, but actually watching Glenn and Abraham meet Lucille was utterly disturbing and downright depressing. By the end of the episode, we were as broken as Rick and the rest of the survivors; of course, that was very much the idea, but many viewers nevertheless vowed to never again watch the show. They complained that the series had become “misery porn,” for lack of a better term, and they weren’t exactly wrong about that.
The first half of Season 7 was highly depressing, as Rick was reduced to a shell of his former self in the wake of Negan making his presence known. Our heroes had become beaten down victims, and it damn sure wasn’t fun to watch. But the mid-season finale offered a glimmer of hope: Rick got his mojo back and the whole gang reunited inside the walls of the Hilltop Colony, vowing to take back their independence and bring the fight directly to Negan. It was one hell of a satisfying moment, paving the way for a new batch of episodes that promised a massive tonal shift.
We’re now four episodes into the second half of Season 7 and indeed the show has once again evolved into something completely different than it was when the season started. The back half of Season 7 has been, tonally speaking, worlds apart from the front half, and the shift couldn’t have come at a better time. Just as the show was starting to become a bit too oppressive, the mid-season break allowed the writers to change the game, and I’m not sure there’s ever been a point in the show’s history where it’s been so much fun to watch. Granted, “fun” has never been the name of the game when it comes to “The Walking Dead,” but fun is precisely what it needed to be after turning off many viewers by being so, well, hard to watch.
Last night’s new episode primarily centered on Rick and Michonne having sex, killing zombies, eating chili mac ‘n cheese, and foraging for supplies; they even made a pit stop at an abandoned carnival that quickly became one of my all-time favorite episode settings. There was a very light tone to the whole hour, as Rick and Michonne gleefully (and easily) dispatched zombies and mostly acted like they didn’t have a care in the world; even when they fell through a roof, they couldn’t help but laugh. Sure, the threat to their lives and the lives of their loved ones was still present and addressed, but it mostly took a backseat to a side adventure that was something of a vacation for Rick and Michonne. Rick’s goal was to spend a few days away from the harsh reality he’s rarely afforded the luxury of escaping from, and when you think about it, that’s what the second half of Season 7 has been all about: a vacation, more or less, from the most depressing show on TV.
In the past four episodes, we’ve seen Eugene play Yars’ Revenge and make a homemade bomb; we’ve met a bizarre community that lives in a junkyard and has its own language; we’ve come face-to-face with a fortified heavy metal zombie that quickly became an undead icon (bring on the toy, McFarlane!); and we even saw Rick and Michonne work together to kill literally hundreds of zombies at once in a Ghost Ship-inspired moment that totally blew our minds.
In other words, we’ve seen some of the show’s most all-time fun moments since Season 7 returned last month, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve been having a total blast with all the wackiness. The episodes have put the characters we love into situations and locations we’ve never before seen them in, and they’ve showed that fun can still be had in a show that seemed totally stripped of any and all future joy just a few months back. I was sure, post-Season 7 premiere, that the show (and characters) had been irrevocably broken on many levels, so seeing Rick battle a gladiator zombie in a junkyard arena and have some fun at the carnival has been an unexpected treat that I’ve enjoyed the hell out of.
As we build to the all-out war that’s not far away, we can pretty certain that “The Walking Dead” is about to get traumatic again. Important characters are going to die. We are going to be depressed once more. And we are probably going to shed some tears. But for now, we’re taking a vacation away from the horror. And right now, a vacation was just what the doctor ordered.
After all, even the post-apocalypse can’t be depressing all the time.
Here’s a sneak peek at this Sunday night’s new episode…