Warning: There are spoilers ahead for “The Walking Dead.”
Sunday’s episode of “The Walking Dead” finally gave a lot of fans what they have been asking for in a rather slow-moving season. After several episodes which have focused primarily around single character story arcs, the season’s seventh episode was a return to showcasing some of the series’ main characters.
While the episode’s main focus was certainly on Carl and Negan, we also saw glimpses of Daryl, still being held captive at the Sanctuary; Rick, who stumbled upon a strange boat with Aaron; and Michonne, who’s on a one woman hunt to track down Negan against all odds.
We even got to see a few other characters including a much more confident Father Gabriel and Spencer who were off searching for goods.
For those who may have been bored by last week’s episode, which focused heavily on one of the series’ side characters who hasn’t had a lot of screen time recently, it felt like a slight rejuvenation to a season that has been dedicated to showing off and introducing the series’ larger world.
Episode seven may be exactly what the show needs at the moment.
Since the season seven premiere, in which it was revealed who the show’s new villain killed off in the season six finale, the ratings for “The Walking Dead” have been on a downward spiral.
Here’s a quick look at this season’s ratings:
Season 7, Episode 1: 17 million (the series’ second-highest ratings ever)
Season 7, Episode 2: 12.5 million (It’s noted that the series takes a larger dip in the season’s second episode ratings than usual.)
Season 7, Episode 3: 11.7 million
Season 7, Episode 4: 11.4 million (It’s mentioned that the show’s main competition, “Westworld,” sees a rise in viewers while its viewers decline again.)
Season 7, Episode 5: 11 million
Season 7, Episode 6: 10.4 million (The series hits a 4-year low in ratings.)
While those numbers are still high — numbers any other network and series would kill for — they’re lows for “The Walking Dead.” The ratings are at their lowest point since season three.
Critics haven’t taken kindly to recent episodes either. According to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, season seven has had the series’ weakest reviews. Season 7, episode 6, is now one of the show’s worst-reviewed episodes of the series. A week prior, Erik Kain, a Forbes’ contributor called the season’s fifth episode the show’s worst.
Except for the third episode of the season, most of the first half of this season hasn’t revolved around Rick, Michonne, and the series’ main characters. So far, we’ve had four episodes out of the season’s first seven that have been focused on introducing new locations and many new characters — the Kingdom, with Ezekiel and his pet tiger Shiva; Negan’s Sanctuary with his Saviors; more of the Hilltop, where Maggie now resides; and Oceanside, a community of women with a full armory.
In short, season seven has been dedicated to world building and heavy character development — all good things which, I expect, shall pay off in the second half of the season. But for fans who aren’t glued to the comics, and can’t forsee where the show is heading over the course of the second half of the season, it can certainly seem like the show may be dragging a bit because there have been so many episodes centered around few characters.
While “The Walking Dead” has had one-off episodes for characters before, like Morgan after his return last season and the Governor back in season four, the show may want to take more cues from HBO’s hit “Game of Thrones,” which also juggles a large cast of characters.
That show very rarely dedicates its full hour of television to one singular character. Instead, the episodes contain several story arcs per episode.
One fan on Reddit even made suggestions as to how “The Walking Dead” could have integrated multiple story arcs throughout each of the season’s first seven episodes. Other than leaving the first episode the same, episode two wouldn’t have just focused on The Kingdom. It would have also included Maggie at the Hilltop and teased some of Daryl at the Sanctuary. Those storylines would have played out over the next several episodes. Tara’s singular detached episode would have been woven into the season starting in episode three.
It’s an interesting look at how the season could have been edited differently. I wouldn’t be surprised if a fan actually re-edits the past few episodes similarly after the season comes out on Blu-ray. You can read all of vI_M4YH3MZ_IV’s season seven breakdown here.
While the show may continue to have episodes dedicated to one or two characters, after the ratings for the first half of season seven, “The Walking Dead” will likely opt for episodes with more characters in the future. It’s something I imagine we’ll see more of in the series’ second half of the season regardless.
Sunday’s episode was a perfect example of how to balance servicing one character, Carl, while still showing what is going on in the world around him. The showrunners easily could have cut out Michonne, Rick, Rosita, and Spencer from this week’s episode to solely focus on Carl’s relationship with Negan, but they made it work. Of course, the episode’s 90-minute runtime helped.
And that’s one of the problems the show may be having right now. Maybe the world of “The Walking Dead” is simply becoming too large with too many characters. That may explain why this season has already delivered two 90-minute episodes. There’s no word yet on whether the show’s mid-season finale will also be 90 minutes.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we see many more extended episodes of the show moving forward, especially since “The Walking Dead” is AMC’s biggest show.
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