Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s “Service”:

There’s really no way around the real-world parallel of tonight’s “Service.” It is not a pleasant hour and a half of television. Not that The Walking Dead is ever pleasant, mind you, but Season 7 has certainly veered closer to torture porn than ever before, and if you’re wondering about the ways in which tonight’s episode could have punched up what essentially boils down to 90 minutes of Negan gloating over Rick, there really weren’t any. Our new despot overlord was going to take his victory lap, and if we were lucky, no one would die in the process.

Andrew Lincoln really does put in some fine work at least, with notably limited expression at that, and “Service” reveals a very different side of Rick than we’re used to seeing. What could have ended up a 90-minute overture of Rick’s personal torment had a nice crescendo in the admission to Michonne that Judith was likely fathered by Shane, thereby explaining some of his willingness to submit. It’s a tough truth to face; one Rick currently sees as necessary for survival, even if it’s only a matter of time before The Walking Dead builds out his reason to fight back.

And I hope we start that transition sooner rather than later, because while Jeffrey Dean Morgan brings a fascinatingly weird energy to his inherent takeover* of the series, Negan’s gloating shtick feels more than a little strained. We’ve now seen the character in his natural habitat, but still without any of the range essential to building a personality AMC intends to keep around for a long time. It’s an odd point to make, but the current characterizations of Negan (or even Dwight) amount to little more than mustache-twirling cartoons, lacking any of the colors that justify their presence as series regulars.

*I can understand Rick’s fear of getting caught by the Saviors, but really, what’s preventing Alexandria from stockpiling weapons, food or medicine in secret? There are 1000 nooks and crannies Saviors would never look for, let alone find, and no one left behind to ensure Negan’s interests anyway.

I mean, we've been hoarding excess characters for years.

“Service” is also the fourth episode this year to stick with one central focus, meaning we’ve yet to revisit the Hilltop that garnered so much fanfare last year, let alone checking in on poor Heath and Tara (who still has yet to learn of Denise’s death), and all without any central incident uniting the disparate threads. That’s especially odd given the 90-minute runtime of tonight’s outing, which could easily have done without subplots of Michonne hunting, or Spencer and Rosita out on the road. After all, there is no small irony in Michonne’s most affecting scene showcasing her reaction to padding being burnt away.

Obviously, Rosita, Michonne and some of the other townspeople will be foremost pushing Rick to fight back against the Saviors, and it could take Season 7 time yet to establish that as a viable path. I spent the majority of “Service” looking for signs that Rick and the others had some sort of secret plan, though in all likelihood, Maggie’s “death” owes more to a possible recuperation at the Hilltop, rather than some longer con.

I do hope that the second half of the current run picks up with a more specific drive, because if this weekend has taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing to enjoy about one side languishing in terrified grief.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • No real movement on the Daryl front this week, despite Norman Reedus hanging around the edges of various scenes. Is his silence meant as continued defiance or Negan, or that they’d succeeded in breaking him?
  • I know Enid hasn’t had anything to do yet this season, but probably could have done without the thread of child rape, guys.
  • Admit it, you silently hoped Negan might take out Gabriel on a random whim.
  • I mean, they used all the RPGs for the launcher, right? You won’t just randomly come across more as you scavenge.
  • I really would have liked to see Negan and Olivia’s conversation over lemonade.
  • A fair number of Alexandria’s domestic details have been overshadowed by the whole Negan introduction, but I was a little surprised to remember Tobin was alive.
  • How exactly did Negan expect anyone to see the pile of burned mattresses? Are mattresses really a scarce commodity in the apocalypse? How many houses immediately outside of Alexandria would have replacements simply lying there?
  • Same question for bullets? Is there any reason Rick and the others couldn’t find more guns and bullets, and if caught, say they were holding them to give to Negan?

The Walking Dead Season 7 will return November 20 with “Go Getters,” airing at 9:00 P.M. on AMC.

Check Out 100 TV Facts You May Not Know!