One of the big themes of Season 7 of The Walking Dead is that guns are the currency of power. That hasn’t been the case when the series has focused on people protecting themselves from zombies—ammo is scarce and zombies are attracted to noise—but the conflict this season has been primarily tribal.
More specifically, it has been colonial. I noted here after the midseason premiere that the series has begun positioning Rick as a George Washington figure—an underdog who could topple the tyrant and become president of the post-apocalyptic America. In the intervening episodes, Season 7 has become an even more pronounced microcosm of the American colonial period:
- Negan and the Saviors are the British—a powerful monarchy that amasses wealth by colonizing surrounding territories and turning the locals into worker bees for the benefit of the king and his loyalists.
- Alexandria, the Hilltop, the Kingdom and other territories are the American colonies—semi-autonomous states with a common monarch and a growing discomfort with the colonial economic system but with no particular inclination to team up until the going gets rough.
- A few weeks ago in “New Best Friends” (our review here), the series introduced Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and the mysterious, junk-collecting Scavengers. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the Scavengers are something like France—a sovereign power that makes a calculated bet to aid the colonies in their effort to break free from their oppressors.
- And last week in “Hostiles and Calamities” (our review here), The Walking Dead provided the most in-depth look to date at the economic and political structure of the Sanctuary, which is an efficient machine for empire-building but is not as well-oiled as we may have thought. The Sanctuary is Britain—an empire whose wealth and power are concentrated in an autocratic king who is more susceptible to internal and external threats than he realizes.
Which brings me to guns. Recognizing firearms as a tool for insurrection, Negan and the Saviors have clamped down on them at Alexandria and are in the process of doing so at the Kingdom. Rick & Co., also recognizing guns as a tool for insurrection, have spent the last few episodes talking—and talking and talking and talking—about guns. In this week’s “Say Yes,” which shifts the story back from Negan and the Saviors to the Alexandrians, there’s more talk about—anyone? anyone? Bueller?—guns.
“We’ve got the numbers to fight now,” Tara (Alanna Masterson) tells Rosita (Christian Serratos) early in the episode. “We just need to find some guns.” “We need guns,” Rosita says at the end of the scene. “I’m gonna go find them.” Rosita finds a gun, which turns out to be a toy gun. Meanwhile, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) spend the episode on an expedition looking for guns, talking about guns and finding a big cache of—you guessed right—guns.
Here’s the thing: The series has overplayed guns as a metaphor for the coming insurrection, has overemphasized guns as the mechanism for that insurrection and has overwhelmed the last several episodes with constant contemplation and discussion about guns. It’s a drag on this week’s “Say Yes” episode.
Dating back to the season premiere, when Negan clubbed Glenn and Abraham to death with a baseball bat—a baseball bat, not a gun—Season 7 has been an engrossing story of the disillusioned Rick & Co. adjusting to live under Negan, finding a new resolve to fight and preparing to take on the Saviors. The character work has been great. The set pieces have been great. This has been one of the show’s better seasons.
The emphasis on guns, though, has become a heavy-handed distraction. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s terrific performance as Negan has has put The Walking Dead in conversation with the country’s own populist authoritarian, and the framing of the politics and economics of the post-apocalypse as a new American Revolution has been thoughtful and smart. So why does the best thing the show has going for it right now—Negan—disappear for entire episodes while everyone else stands around talking about guns?
Aside from the gun talk, there are signs in “Say Yes” that the writers’ room is thinking ahead to future seasons and to the show’s underlying theme of the trial and error of self-governance. We could see Rick emerge as the Jeffersonian who sees that playing out locally and Michonne as the Hamiltonian who sees a new nation. “Different communities, they can figure it out together,” Rick says. “Somebody’s gonna have to make that happen,” Michonne says, adding, “Somebody will need to be in charge of that. It should be you.” Rick is not so sure.
It’s a quiet, effective scene and a callback to Michonne’s “we’re the ones who live” speech in a similar scene at at the end of the midseason finale. Season 7 has invested a lot of script pages in Rick & Co. arming themselves for the conflict to come, and it’s been a rare misstep for a show immersed in visual storytelling to gum up so much of the gun story in expositional dialogue. The Walking Dead is talky for a genre show and excels at being talky when those discussions have philosophical, psychological and existential elements. The scene with Rick and Michonne casually talking about how the world could function post-Negan is a perfect example.
As for guns, though, I’d like to see a little less conversation and a little more action.