By Lissa Harris

Because I have loved The Walking Dead for five and a half seasons, I’ll start with the good.

Daryl and his bazooka are awesome. His character continues to be the greasiest bad ass on the planet and the moment he took out Negan’s bikers with a missile was a rallying point for all who watched. In fact, the scene leading up to Bazooka Daryl was intense and emotional.

It was the deeply thoughtful and action-packed scenes we’ve gotten used to seeing the last five seasons. The first episode of the mid-season finale was off to a good start. But it was all downhill from there.

Episode 9, “No Way Out,” picked up right where they left off back in late November. Rick and other residents had covered themselves with walker guts and were attempting to escape among the thousands of walking dead unnoticed. We saw this before in season one, in the Episode 2, “Guts,” when the characters must find a way to escape an overrun Atlanta. In this season’s mid-finale, “Start to Finish,” Rick recalls this successful strategy and suggests it to the remaining residents of Alexandria.

Of course, they are disgusted but agree to go along. We leave them as they are exiting the house to walk among the dead. Then the camera focuses on Jesse’s very fragile son, Sam. He looks terrified and calls out, “Mom?” End of scene.

We were left to wonder, for almost three months, what was about to happen to them now that they’ve been discovered. But Sam’s slip-up apparently had no effect because it’s never mentioned in the mid-season premier. Wait, what? That, my friends, is what’s known as “lazy writing.”

“Start to Finish” also gave us a climax of sorts on the characters’ opposing philosophies, which I wrote about in November. This discussion was communicated most beautifully in Episode 4, “Here’s Not Here.” The episode highlighted Morgan’s transformation from insanity to peacefulness via the help of a man who believed that people could live in this savage world and still hold onto their humanity.

It was this debate that seemed to drive the entire first half of season six. In “No Way Out” we got the answer: If we all work together, we can achieve a new civilization and a society worth fighting for.

But isn’t that what all the nearby gangs think? I’m sure the Wolves believe that by working together they are achieving an ideal society, same as Negan’s gang, judging from the first scene of the episode. These gangs don’t believe in everyman for himself, they work together for their own version of the “common good.”

Our heroes are only realizing this now, and express it with the cheesiest of dialogue. In Gabriel’s epiphany, he states: “God will save Alexandria because God has given us the courage to save it ourselves.”

Cut to a scene that slices through the edits as quickly as our heroes slice through walkers. A cute trick but not enough.

Rick’s big moment comes in his monologue at the end. A touching moment until he declares to an unconscious Carl that he wants to show him “this brand new world” that Deanna showed him. I would have been more engaged if I knew exactly what that vision entailed. It’s still relatively unclear what Deanna had planned other than to build more walls and a school.

I would have been more impressed if Rick had decided he was going to travel the world lighting lakes on fire in an effort to eliminate the entire walker species once and for all. And then create an International Public Health Policy on how to dispose of the newly dead.

I’ve never been a viewer impressed with blood, violence or shock alone. Pair that blood, violence and shock with serious plot and character development, and a commentary on the human condition that makes me rethink my very existence and you have me hooked for life. The Walking Dead used to give that to me.

Yes, one could argue that we have become desensitized to violence, but a good writer would anticipate that and continue to up the game in smart ways. That’s what Vince Gilligan did with Breaking Bad.

I could forgive Greg Nicotero for being distracted by his work on Fear the Walking Dead, the series prequel. But that show is lackluster as well. Maybe they should let Scott Gimple, who wrote “Here’s Not Here,” re-write the remainder of the season’s episodes.

I don’t know. But I don’t like where this season is headed. Bad dialogue and cheesy emotion are not what I’ve come to expect from one of my favorite shows. My only hope is that Carl’s physical deformity will prevent him from wearing that stupid hat in future episodes.

There were some quality moments: Denise’s terror as she realizes she has no choice but to partner with the Wolf gang member and Abraham and Sasha’s tension right before they are saved by Daryl. But overall, there was nothing stellar in this week’s mid-season premier.

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