It’s a zombie show where the zombies are no longer important. There’s a lot of talking, talking, talking instead of biting, biting, biting. That’s a painful but correct assessment of The Walking Dead as it heads into its mid-season break, and the fans of the show are voting with their feet. Ratings are falling for the first half of its seventh season, and that’s likely because the horrors of the apocalypse are far in the rear-view mirror.

No longer are we running for our lives from hordes of flesh-eating walkers. Instead, we have long, drawn-out soap opera segments where we examine feudal village life and the vows of various characters to overthrow the evil dictator who has imposed his will on the city-states of this brave new world.

Sure, there’s the occasional shocker, and the situation is horrific in a pearl-clutching way. But it’s not the same show that its first seasons promised, and even if the second half of this seventh season features a war on Negan, it’s going to take an enormous plot twist to truly make things interesting again.

Maybe it’s time to get out of the woods and find an Odyssey for the crew. Perhaps there’s hope that a government exists beyond Georgia’s back roads, or some cities or nations still stand. Or maybe there’s a scientist with a cure who can’t find a way to contact others. Might there be some segment of the military that’s still fighting?

Anything would be better than continual Negan monologues, sarcasm and scavenger hunts for rusty cans of okra.  We’ve learned in this series that what dies can come back. Here’s hoping the show runners put that lesson to good use.

This week’s recap:

*** Maggie is firmly (but not officially) in charge at Hilltop. She has fans baking her apple pies, and her health has recovered to the point where she can climb ladders. But lurking in the background is Gregory, the former unquestioned leader and Negan quisling. You know he won’t gently cede his power. Yet while Maggie consolidates her status, there are still those in the Hilltop community (we’re looking at you, Sasha and Enid) who are searching for a plan to take out Negan. They just don’t want pregnant Maggie involved.

*** Back at Negan’s Sanctuary, Daryl has acted on the note slipped to him in the last episode, which told him to make a break for it. He escapes his cell, finds a room where peanut butter and a change of shirts awaits, then heads out to the motorcycles parked in the adjacent alley. He’s stopped by Fat Joey, who has been his sometimes-jailer. He tells Daryl that he won’t try to stop him, but is beaten to death with a pipe by a vengeful Daryl after telling him he’s just trying to get by. Darryl snarls that it’s not just about getting by anymore – it’s about getting it all.  Jesus arrives to witness the execution and protests briefly.  But wait – didn’t Jesus sneak in to kill Negan? Why would he object to Darryl’s violence? The good news is Daryl manages to get a motorcycle and Rick’s gun, which was in Fat Joey’s holster. Fat Joey certainly won’t need it anymore.

*** Over at Carol’s home outside of the Kingdom, one of Ezekiel’s soldiers has come to plead with her and Morgan, who stopped in to visit her on his way out of town. Richard the soldier is trying to bring them over to his way of thinking, and hopes they can convince Ezekiel that the détente with Negan can only end badly. Carol wants no part of any violent actions, and pacifist Morgan isn’t buying it either. Richard leaves in a huff.

*** Rick and Aaron are trying to figure out how to get to a supply boat guarded by a lake full of walkers, who somehow can’t be motivated to walk out of the water. There’s a bullet-ridden rowboat available, so Rick and Aaron set out, hoping to make the boat before it fills with water. They have trouble with the clutching, water-bound walkers, and Aaron is pulled overboard, only to surface and scramble onto the boat. As they scavenge, they encounter a sign left by the previous occupant. “Congrats for winning, but you still lose!” reads the sign, complete with a drawing of a middle finger. As Aaron and Rick depart, we see a pair of muddy boots emerge on the far shore of the walker-ridden lake. Could it be that the occupant of the boat lives?

*** That boat sign will prove problematic on their return to Alexandria, as the Saviors take it as a personal insult when it’s discovered among the supplies. They viciously beat Aaron for his trouble, holding back a shell-shocked Rick from interfering.  No one questions whether the provisions might be tampered with by the vengeful person who wrote the cryptic note.

*** Meanwhile, Negan is living it up in Alexandria. He’s cooking spaghetti, eating dinner rolls (and even asks Carl to “please” pass them), drinking lemonade and enjoying running water. As he sits on the porch to digest his dinner, he’s approached by Spencer. This son of the former leader wants to cozy up to Negan, and does so by telling him about the pool table hidden across the way, drinking some cognac with him, and insinuating that he, Spencer, is a better choice to run Vichy Alexandria than hot-headed Rick. Negan sees through the plot, telling Spencer that he’s got no guts by trying to pull this back-door coup. He emphasizes his point by sticking a hunting knife in his bowels and watching in delight as his entrails spill onto the street.

*** The shocked Alexandrians who have been watching Negan’s eight-ball game are horrified at this execution, particularly Rosita, who once had a fling with Spencer and agreed to a dinner date with him earlier in the day. She angrily pulls out a gun and shoots her lone bullet at Negan. But she hits only baseball bat Lucille, and his minions quickly swarm Rosita.

*** Negan demands to know who made the bullet that she fired. She heroically claims ownership, even after a knife is used to scar her face. But Negan isn’t buying it, and orders his lieutenant, who has been holding her at knife-point, to kill someone. The Savior turns and kills Olivia with a pistol shot. The sacrifice spurs Eugene to confess that it was he that made the bullet, and Negan takes him into custody.

*** Rick arrives on the chaotic scene and protests that they had a deal – protection in return for scavenging. Negan then tells him of Carl’s misadventure and his benign return to Alexandria, the assassination attempt, and the fact that order must be maintained. Game, set, match, Negan.

*** But Rick seems to have been jarred out of his catatonic complacency by the Aaron beating and the subsequent street justice on Olivia, Rosita and Eugene. He meets Michonne in the jail. She’s returned from her brief sojourn to find Negan’s base, a trip where she killed a Negan associate and took her vehicle. Her conclusion: there are too many of them, but if everyone unites, they can find a way to defeat Negan. Rick agrees, and now they must figure out what’s next.

*** Our final scene finds us back at Hilltop. There are visitors at the gate, and we see Rick, Michonne and our other key characters reunited with Maggie, Sasha and Daryl, who has arrived at Hilltop. Now they will gather and plot together, ignoring that their previous disaster at the satellite station led them to this moment.

The Walking Dead returns in 2017 (likely in February) with the following on the line: What will Negan do when he discovers Darryl’s escape and Maggie’s alive?  Will the Hilltop, Alexandria, the Kingdom and perhaps Oceanside unite in a Bravehearts moment to take on the Saviors?  Will the walkers ever again evoke anything other than annoyance as the survivors stick something in their skulls to put them down?

See you next year to find out!