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Without Daryl, The Walking Dead is starting to flatline

Sigh. After last week’s snoozefest of an episode centered around Tara and Heath (no offense to those actors, who were shortchanged), hopes were high that this week, The Walking Dead would offer up some good momentum going into the midseason finale. Only, that’s not really how things played out.

Once again, The Walking Dead delivered a generously long episode. In earlier seasons, that’s something I would have traded my eyeteeth for. I’m fairly certain the refrain I’d repeat each week was something along the lines of, “Gah, I wish the show was longer!”

And then this season came along, and AMC keeps delivering precisely what we wished for all the seasons before: episodes that are extended by anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. So what’s the problem? Well, now they seem too long.

When episodes drag on and nothing really happens, they start to feel like filler. Both last week’s episode and this week’s episode are excellent cases in point. If I were going to play devil’s advocate, I suppose I have to give this week’s episode a little credit — it did lay the groundwork for what could be some potentially explosive situations in next week’s midseason finale.

After failing to assassinate Negan but killing two of his men, Carl ultimately winds up back at Alexandria with the villain, who discovers the existence of baby sister Judith. In that incredibly creepy way of his, Negan idly talks of killing Rick and Carl and making a life in the suburbs as he kisses Judith on the head.

More: Carl’s days may be numbered on The Walking Dead

How will Negan handle this situation once Rick returns? How will Rick handle seeing Negan with little Judith? Sure, that might shake things up.

Then there’s Michonne, who we find out has been luring and killing walkers so she could build a roadblock with their bodies. In doing so, she manages to ensnare a Savior to take her to Negan’s lair.

Spencer has also been quite busy, essentially trying to wrangle Father Gabriel (who was likable for the first time ever this week) into a plan to overthrow Rick. When Gabriel calls him an enormous shit and bails on him, Spencer finds a walker with a note leading him to a ton of supplies. Back at Alexandria, he says he is going to give them to Negan and “that’s not all.” Very cryptic, very douchey.

Let’s see; what else? With so many storylines spinning at once every week, everything seems to get diluted. Oh! There’s the continued building of tension between Dwight and Negan — partially over Dwight’s wife Sherry, whom Negan takes extra pleasure flaunting in front of Dwight. After Negan takes a hot iron to Dwight’s friend Mark the same way he did to Dwight’s face, Dwight seems fed up once and for all.

Near the end of the episode, a note with a key attached slides under Daryl’s door urging him to go now. Could this be Dwight’s handiwork? Or could it be Jesus, who miraculously disappeared after hitching a ride atop the Saviors’ truck? Hmm, we shall see.

More: The Walking Dead must know we could all use a little more Jesus in our lives

This brings us to a crucial junction: Daryl’s first real opportunity to escape.

Looking back over this season thus far, the only episodes that really stand out are those in which Daryl played a pivotal role. There was obviously the premiere, with Daryl’s outburst leading to Glenn’s death. It goes without saying that was gutting.

There was also the first episode showing us what life has been like for Daryl as Negan’s prisoner, and that was similarly brutal. Seeing him suffer and almost break was more than most fans could bear.

So now we are here, and Daryl seemingly has the chance to flee. But will he take it? The Daryl of old wouldn’t have thought twice about it. In fact, he may never have stopped trying to escape. This new Daryl, though, bears the weight of those who care for him and whom he cares for. He’s much less cavalier with his life… or theirs.

Plus, there’s the problematic issue of his imprisonment. Has Negan succeeded in breaking Daryl’s spirit? The fact that he spoke up at the sight of Carl would suggest otherwise, but it’s entirely possible that faced with escaping and incurring more of Negan’s wrath, Daryl will simply decide to stay put.

More: Rick’s truth bomb on The Walking Dead proves things can always get worse

Unfortunately, if that happens, we may officially have to put The Walking Dead on life support. Do ya hear that, Norman Reedus? We need you. Pick up that key, get out of that compound and go back to kicking ass like the Daryl we know and love. The life of the show may depend on it.

What do you think? Can this season survive without more Daryl?

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

Walking Dead deaths slideshow
Image: AMC

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