"It ain’t just about getting by here. It’s about getting it all." — Daryl, "The Walking Dead."
"The Walking Dead" wrapped up the first half of its seventh season last Sunday. As those who regularly follow this blog know, I frequently have enjoyed writing about the show and its themes. But this season, I haven't mentioned it much.
Season six left on a gruesome cliff hanger. And six months later, when the show returned, it was clear it had changed. It wasn't the level of violence in the premier, but rather the way it was presented. I thought it was in poor taste, and I wasn't alone.
I struggled with many of the subsequent seven episodes in the first half of the season as well. And, again, I wasn't alone. In looking at the mid-season finale, the numbers showed that 27 percent of viewers had left between seasons. That is a large chunk who I don't believe will be coming back.
But what does it mean going forward? Those who are devoted to the comics attest that this season is closely mirroring the story from the comics. That's an indication that, for hardcore fans of the material, this season is meeting expectations.
It's the casual fans — those devoted to the TV series — who seem to have been turned off by the latest plot developments and story. And it's unclear if those could ever be brought back into the fold.
I have never read the comics, which is probably part of the reason I was put off by the developments in this season of the show. In fact, after watching 85 minutes of the 90 minute mid-season finale, I was considering quitting. Then, in the final few minutes, Rick saw Daryl, they embraced, and something happened. I was moved. I remembered what drew me to the series in the first place.
"The Walking Dead" is, by necessity, a bleak world. Those who've watched the show accept that. But there has to be some kind of hope to move forward. That hope was largely absent in the first eight episodes of the season. We saw it only in glimpses, and not enough to keep going.
But that embrace, and all it signaled, were hope of better days ahead. "The Walking Dead" may never get those lost viewers back, but it can keep the viewers it still has. And it can stem the tide if it leans into that sense of hope. I think that's what those closing moments were all about.
It's always darkest before the dawn, but I think those final moments were the first peaks of sunshine. Let's hope that in February the dawn returns for good.