I wasn’t looking for a reason to break up with The Walking Dead, but after a season premiere that saw what appeared to be doubling down on the show’s use of significant character deaths as a narrative crutch, I was about done. Quickly, I felt better and better about my decision as I read other perspectives that deepened my disappointment in the show.
I even followed through, which is the hardest part when you make a frustrated vow to give up on something. I missed the next episode completely, but marriage is about sacrifice, and I’m not talking about my relationship with The Walking Dead. My wife refused to walk away from the show, and so I was pressured into returning to the flock. The Walking Dead was an “us” thing. I had little say in the matter. You may be able to relate.
The love/like that carried me through the first six seasons is still gone, but I wouldn’t say that I’ve been hate-watching The Walking Dead. Moreso, I’m just bored. When I see another character like Daryl or Tara in peril, all I can do is roll my eyes. I know nothing will happen. There’s a predictable rhythm that this show has established. Hardly anyone of note ever dies without a bit of foreshadowing (usually some kind of good deed that allows us to feel a little extra twinge when they get overrun by a zombie horde) and the big deaths are almost always saved for the mid-season finale or the season finale. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but that’s the loop the show is on for the most part. One of them, anyway.
The Walking Dead is in the midst of the penitent Rick loop, as well. Right now it’s all angst before the anger and the murderous stuff and thangs. For now, Rick Grimes has been reduced to an errand boy and a supplicant for survival. Negan is a part of that process, pushing Rick to the brink and his people toward an inevitable and slow (slow) eventual rebellion that will surely reignite Rick until the next time he feels the need to/has the need forced upon him to play nice. But Negan, the man who embodied The Walking Dead‘s creative laziness when he brained two beloved characters, might be the cure for what ails the show.
The point was made on Monday that the worst notions crept into the minds of viewers when they saw Negan take a shine to Judith at the end of this most recent episode. That’s good and real. Viewers are sitting on the edge of their seats, nervous that he’s going to strike even though we know, in the back of our minds, that he’s still playing by the rules laid down by the show’s producers. Negan transcends that awareness, though. For a show that has started to feel painfully predictable, unpredictability is good. And, to be honest, this new unpredictability is primarily the result of the decision to not just pay off the promise of last season’s finale, but to double down and take out Glenn. Not only was he a member of the original cast, but he was also someone that was considered safe because, of course, they wouldn’t and couldn’t kill him after the ridiculous near-death fake out from early last season.
So, to the producers whose skill I personally doubted, I eat my hat. However, I do hope they know that the memory of Glenn and Abraham’s deaths will fade and, sooner or later, Negan will have to get Lucille’s beak wet in a really surprising way, lest this disconcerting menace start to feel hollow.
Jason Tabrys is the features editor for Uproxx. You can engage with him directly on Twitter.