UPDATE: The last half of Season 7 of TWD was some of the worst television ever made. After watching since Halloween 2010 when the show premiered, I gave up and read spoilers online instead of bothering to watch, apart from the predictable and lackluster season finale. AMC needs to give Scott Gimple the message (ideally in the form of his Walking Papers... get it?) that TWD is a lucrative AMC brand and not his personal (un)creative playground.
Last spring, the producers of The Walking Dead committed a major blunder in leaving us to wait months to learn who Negan killed. It was a cheap stunt, and the fans who were furious (myself included) had every right to be. It was bad storytelling, period. Afterward, the producers trucked out several arguments for why they did it that way, and each was more ludicrous than the last. Worse, did they really believe they could keep that big a secret? In May, I started cruising online for spoilers to get the answer I was cheated of, and thanks to the spoiling work of others, I had the correct answer by June, not long after the filming of Season 7 commenced.
On Sunday, TWD returned with an episode for which I had already read a complete and accurate synopsis. And it was great. Losing the element of surprise may have lessened its impact on me a bit, but that did not "spoil" the show. In fact, the Season 7 premiere managed to win me back ... even if I now lack faith the writers will continue to deliver.
In making excuses for his blunder, showrunner Scott Gimple said that when we saw the season premiere, we would understand why. And I do. Unfortunately, he gave us that lousy cliffhanger for a lousy reason. I may not be a NY Times bestselling author, but I write books that get good reviews, and I know something about storytelling. I know about messing with an audience. On screen or page, it's not much different. Clearly, Gimple at some point got married to the idea of telling the story of these deaths and the subsequent "breaking of Rick" in a certain way, namely, by picking up after the deaths and then jumping back in time to show them.
We saw that narrative technique executed (pun intended) on Sunday. It worked brilliantly. Bravo. The episode managed to win me back to the show after it had pretty much lost me. Too bad that in order to mess with his audience in this positive and effective way, Gimple first had to manipulate us in the worst, cheapest, most inexcusable way, with one of the worst-written finales and lamest cliffhangers in all of television.
It's a no-brainer that any story, whether it's a novel or a season arc of a TV serial, should begin in way that grabs the reader/viewer and makes him or her want to continue. It also goes without saying that the same story's climax, or final act, ought to deliver. What would reviewers say of a novel that started with a spectacular bang and ended with a disappointing fizzle? Easy: that writer failed. In order to start their next story arc with a bang, Gimple and company ended the previous one by spitting our faces. Cliffhangers can and do work. But a good cliffhanger still needs to give more than it withholds. TWD's cliffhanger gave us nothing and withheld everything.
In retrospect, it's 100% clear to me that instead of that garbage Season 6 finale they gave us, which was comprised of 90 minutes of driving around in the woods, the Season 7 premiere should have served, in some modified form, as the Season 6 finale.
That would have been vastly better storytelling and avoided the well-earned outcry that stripped a great many viewers of their faith in the intentions and abilities of the show's creators. TWD will have to earn back my trust this season. I almost know they'll screw up, but here's hoping they've learned their lesson and will manage not to screw up in quite the same way again.