Before reaching its explosive finale, Season 6 of AMC’s The Walking Dead was solid if slightly underwhelming. After a tense build-up, however, we are finally introduced to intimidating new villain Negan in season 7 and a brutal cliffhanger soon follows leaving us to wonder which one of our heroes is a goner.

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Slight spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

As the sadistic Negan (played by a perfect Jeffrey Dean Morgan) swings his beloved barb-wired baseball bat “Lucille” over and over, pummelling one of the main characters to death in a purposely mysterious point-of-view shot as the end credits kick in, Season 6 concludes on a particularly dark, yet effective gimmick. The Walking Dead has always thrived on giving some of its major characters a heartbreaking send-off. Whether it was Dale getting unexpectedly devoured by walkers in Season 2 or Hershel meeting his shocking demise in Season 4, this is a show that has made an art of the bummer. Somehow, it always seems to get worse for Rick and the others, which makes for compelling, if often depressing, television.

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   © AMC

Negan is a much flashier character than we’re used to seeing in the series and, with the introduction of Ezekiel in the new season, a “King” who speaks like he’s in a Shakespeare play and has a pet tiger, it looks like Season 7 will be the most over-the-top yet. The Walking Dead runs the risk of turning into a Robert Rodriguez movie with a ridiculous amount of gore and violence but it may also be leading us somewhere unexpected so we shall see. This season certainly has the potential to be the best in a little while as the last two lacked bite. The two main plot-lines being Negan trying to “break” Daryl (Norman Reedus) while bleeding our heroes dry of all their ammunition and food and Carol’s journey.

Carol (Melissa McBride) was one of the main badass female characters in the show and there was something really satisfying about seeing a beaten housewife turn into such an intimidating killer. After seeing her own young daughter turn into a walker, Carol gradually got more and more bitter, quietly becoming numb to the constant threat of the undead. By Season 5, she was one of the most dangerous members of Rick’s group. She would later cunningly use her housewife persona to blend into a new community by making cookies, casseroles and wearing ugly sweaters, underneath keeping a cold, calculated eye on everyone around her. The character embodied the disillusionment of such a post-apocalyptic world where there is no place for hope or optimism.

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   © AMC

Then came another switch as Carol became protective of the newly pregnant Maggie after they were both captured. As if finally waking up and realizing just how messed-up the world has become, she became scared, losing the will to live before eventually leaving the group to be alone. Whether this is a progression that makes sense for the character remains to be seen but, for now, it feels as if Carol has come full circle and the show will have to handle that plot thread skilfully to avoid losing what made her so great to watch. How will she deal with King Ezekiel and will something more ever develop between her and Morgan? Only the readers of the comics know but the rest of us will find out soon enough.

The big question in this seventh season remains how will Rick and the others move forward after the untimely death of both Glenn and Abraham? Without weapons, with limited food, no Daryl and regular visits from Negan, it’s not looking good and I wouldn’t be surprised if this leads to the end of Rick in one way or the other. The Walking Dead is so good at pulling the rug from under you just as your favourite characters have picked up a bit of hope along the way that anything could happen at this point and that’s what makes Season 7 such a treat. As soon as Rick led his team to Alexandria, you knew the town would be overrun by walkers soon enough so when that did actually happen, it made for a tense mid-season finale but it was hardly a shock.

Season 6 has slowed down a bit by focusing on Tara’s own mini-adventure and Maggie and Sasha’s arrival at The Hilltop Colony but the show will no doubt pick up again soon as the mid-season finale is near and those rarely disappoint.

Episode 7, entitled “Sing Me A Song” will be out on December 4th on AMC.