Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s “Sing Me a Song”:

Season 7 has not been kind to The Walking Dead. Moreso than the cruelty and anticlimax of its premiere, the scattershot approach to individual episodes has robbed us of any real narrative momentum, to the point the ante-penultimate episode of 2016 did little more than catch us up with ancillary characters not seen since Season 6, and establish yet another community that might come into play next year. The good news, at least, is that “Sing Me a Song” finally starts getting Season 7’s act together for the midseason finale, despite leaving more than a few threads open-ended.

First and foremost, the idea of pairing Carl and Negan is an interesting one; The Walking Dead was never going to kill off either, and “Sing Me a Song” gives us a chance to see different sides of a villain whose only traits thus far have been gloating and posturing*. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a wonderful performer, and while I feel he missed a chance to showcase more of Negan’s humanity in the moment he sees how his teasing hurt Carl, we at least got to see a few more colors beyond all the bat-swinging taunts.

*I had this ruined for me, so I’ll pass along the favor: try not to notice how often Morgan’s characterization of Negan involves leaning backward as a display of excitement. You will never unsee it.

Most notable perhaps is the fascination with Rick, that Negan blows right past punishing Carl for his outburst, and takes to him in a “cool stepdad” sort of way, hoping to impress the boy with his dominion. And then there’s that delightfully bizarre scene of the two palling around the house in Alexandria, culminating in Negan visually supplanting Rick, down to the casual white t-shirt and embrace of Judith on the porch. It’s an odd mix of insecurity and playfulness that Morgan weaves into the hour, and if you don’t mind all the scenery-chewing, it’s probably the most interesting Negan has been all season.

Minus that one time he leaned forward, I guess.

The other benefit to “Sing Me a Song” dropping the piecemeal approach was the ability to move a few pieces into place for next week’s midseason finale, with varying degrees of success. We don’t really learn what Rick and Aaron found in that cordoned-off ranch, nor what Michonne  hopes to accomplish by a face-to-face with Negan (whose switch to Alexandria probably negates Michonne’s role in the finale), but I did like the candor of Father Gabriel calling Spencer on his petulant griping against Rick’s leadership. There’s definitely a powder keg of sorts heading into the finale, between Rosita’s lone bullet and Spencer’s apparent confidence for an unspecified plan with Negan, and for once, the 90-minute runtime actually gave a bit of breathing room to set that up.

Obviously there’s a lot still in play for next week, considering we haven’t checked in on Morgan, Carol and Ezekiel back at the Kingdom for several weeks, and it certainly seems as if Daryl’s escape will be forthcoming. There’s also everyone left at the Hilltop, and maybe even Tara or Heath; enough to keep reasonably optimistic that Season 7 will leave its midpoint in an eventful place. I realize that confidence in the midseason finale isn’t a strong showing of praise for “Sing Me a Song” itself, but I did appreciate the chance to go just a little deeper into Negan’s mindset and the Sanctuary, as occasionally gross and sadistic as it was.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • I’ve said it before, but should we presume Michonne’s “Farmer in the Dell” as an intentional reference to Omar Little? And what exactly what meant by that lingering closeup on her walkie-talkie?
  • The camera didn’t make a note of it, but I appreciate the background detail that all of Negan’s wives raced to comfort Amber immediately after he left.
  • Like the sand walkers last week, I have to question the logistics of how that hunter actually died while standing up on the hunting platform.
  • No more discussion of a baseball bat’s privates, please.
  • Anyone familiar with the comics knew what happened to Dwight’s face (as Daryl seemed to put together tonight), but was this the first time the show actually explained it for the TV audience?
  • What was the match taped to Daryl’s note for? To burn the note, perhaps? And who are we presuming sent it, Jesus or Sherri?

The Walking Dead Season 7 will return December 11 with midseason finale “Hearts Still Beating,” airing at 9:00 P.M. on AMC.

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