It’s not about the individual episodes. It’s about the big picture.
This season of “The Walking Dead” has caught more shit from fans than perhaps any other. After a near record-breaking premiere that took the show’s horror to a whole new level of disturbing, ratings for the hit AMC series began to dip considerably – and think-pieces across the web announced that the series had become, in its seventh season, a shell of its former self. Of course, anyone who’s been around these past several years knows that none of this was new. The ratings always dip between premieres and finales, and viewers are constantly bemoaning the show’s slow burn storytelling.
But like always, “The Walking Dead” won many of those disillusioned viewers back with last night’s mid-season finale, which paid off all of the storytelling that began on the unforgettable night of October the 23rd. After spending the season fractured and apart in the wake of Negan beating in the heads of both Abraham and Glenn, our beloved group of heroes finally came together inside the walls of the Hilltop Colony, their emotional reunion kick-starting a brand new chapter in the saga. If you found your eyes welling up with tears when Rick and Daryl embraced, you sure weren’t alone.
The reunion was an earned moment of raw emotion, to say the very least, and as has always been the M.O. of the show, it only meant what it needed to mean because of the slow-paced storytelling of the previous episodes. Many viewers have spent the last several weeks complaining about the fact that the group has been split apart, but those with a patience for the show’s storytelling knew that was for a reason. Why were they apart? Because them coming back together was the overarching story being told in the first half of season 7. And when it finally happened, there was no doubt in this fan’s mind that “The Walking Dead” had just completed its most exceptional story arc to date.
We all have a tendency to review individual episodes of TV shows as they air, but the problem there is that episodic television is always about the bigger picture that those episodes collectively paint. You wouldn’t, for example, read the first chapter of a book and write a review of what you read, but it’s somehow become standard procedure for us to judge single hours of television. Sure, this season’s episode of Tara on the island of badass women wasn’t the show’s best to date, and maybe you were bored when so much time was spent on Rosita and Eugene’s mission to make a bullet. Maybe you didn’t even care for the Hilltop episode, which again took the focus away from what you wanted to see most. But as part of the bigger picture, it’s undeniable that those “boring” episodes meant something. They weren’t filler. They were all building to last night’s incredible finale.
Rosita’s heartbreaking attempt to kill Negan would have meant nothing if we hadn’t gone on her journey with Eugene, nor would we feel as connected to Tara if it weren’t for the episode that put the spotlight squarely on her. And without spending so much time apart, the triumphant reunion of the group wouldn’t have had the emotional power that it had last night. That’s storytelling. That’s how it works. And if you give up on “The Walking Dead” whenever it takes its time to tell a story, to give us horror fans something more than mindless blood and guts, then you’re doing both the show and yourself a disservice. The reality is that the series has always been story-driven, and last night was one of countless reminders that the writers damn sure know what they’re doing.
When the seventh season premiere aired back in October, many people seemed to give up on “The Walking Dead” because it had become too depressing. It had become, in their own words, “misery porn.” Indeed that episode was the show’s most truly depressing to date, but again, it was because of that fact that the winter finale, full of hope as it was, worked so damn well. Over the course of the past two months, us viewers have been subjected to as much abuse as the main characters have at the hands of Negan and his Saviors, and emerging from that darkness last night, if only just a little bit, felt like some form of catharsis. Seeing the group back together and once again confident in their united ability to survive was a triumphant moment as a viewer, and it was because it was such a far cry from the horrifying Season 7 premiere that it moved me to tears.
“The Walking Dead” has always been about hope. About having hope in the face of an utterly hopeless situation. Rick, Michonne, Daryl and all of our fictional friends embraced that hope once more last night, and it made for one of the show’s all-time best moments – a moment that wouldn’t have meant anything had the show not taken its sweet time building towards it.
From where I stand, the only real fault of “The Walking Dead” is that it dares to tell slow-paced stories in a time when nobody has the patience for storytelling. And thank god it does.