Spoilers below for the first half of The Walking Dead's seventh season.

One of the biggest (and most gloriously disgusting) monoliths on TV these days is The Walking Dead a show that seemingly draws just as much criticism from its massive fanbase as it does genuine acclaim. Season 7 has been particularly notable in that respect, with an adherence to limited-focus episodes used to broaden the world around Rick's group, and the show's ratings droop is becoming as widespread a conversation topic as Negan's victims were before the premiere. And while I kind of understand all that, I don't fully get it. To me, Season 7 has been as great as any in many ways, and here are 5 reasons why it's better than naysayers are giving it credit for.

Negan Is A True Monster

Though audiences got a glimpse of Negan in the Season 6 finale, that was a mere shadow of what Jeffrey Dean Morgan's new villain was capable of. Negan is a combination of all the negative flavors of humanity: he's a bully, a liar, a misogynist, and a murderer, among other things. (Though he's apparently not too bad at cooking spaghetti.) Rick & Co. have faced villainous horrors before - that's generally how it goes when taking on a pack of cannibals - but never anyone so intelligent, so strategic and so successful at leading a population of similarly evil underlings. Negan is the epitome of antagonism, and his domination during the first half of Season 7 is unparalleled in The Walking Dead's TV history.

Every New Location Is Interesting

Alexandria was the first place that Rick's group were enveloped in a situation where the successful future of civilization seemed like a non-impossible outcome. But it's not the only community out there with a foundation for the future, and Season 7 introduced both the highly anticipated comic location The Kingdom, which is led by the colorful and highly intriguing King Ezekiel, and The Sanctuary, which serves as the dingy headquarters for Negan and his Saviors. As well, Tara's standalone episode introduced a version of Oceanside that didn't resemble its comic source material, but it still offered up an interesting new side to Negan's villainy. (He killed off all of Oceanside's male residents.) And now that they've all been brought in successfully, the show can now dig deeper into each community.

Smaller Characters Got Time To Shine

While Season 7 spent some episodes' runtimes adhering to major characters like Rick, Michonne and Daryl, these eight installments gave many lower-tier characters due time to remind audiences why they're around, such as the forever underused Jesus. Though I can't fully defend Tara's Oceanside adventure taking up an entire episode, it was pretty necessary to develop Tara as much as possible, while also finally bringing Heath back (only to take him away again). Sasha and Rosita have both been planning their revenge against Negan in interesting ways, and Father Gabriel finally turned into someone enjoyable. And that's not mentioning Steven Ogg's mustachioed Savior Simon, Ezekiel's cockstrong soldier Richard, the complicated Dwight and his ex-wife Sherry and more. Sucks that Aaron's biggest moment so far involved him getting pummeled.

The Story Provides Constant Conflicts

Many times in the past, The Walking Dead has been derided by fans for being too slow in moving from one plot point to the next one, which comes with the territory when the territory is mostly trees. But Season 7 has been an endless line of conflicts for Rick's group, right from those early skull-crushings. The smaller-scale episodes were solid about giving the in-focus characters ample strife and hardships to deal with, particularly Daryl's entire stay within The Sanctuary. The Maggie vs. Gregory angle is, while slow-ish, moving along smoothly. Everything about Tara's time within Oceanside was rife with tension and potential consequences. Even The Kingdom, where things are the most hunky dory of all, has an angry Richard attempting to start a war behind Ezekiel's back. Things are always complicated.

It's Setting Up A Better Future

Even if you truly didn't like anything that happened during the first eight episodes of Season 7, it still doesn't take away from the fact that the show is building up to an "All-Out War" in what is arguably the most sensible way, and that war will be amazing. We will get to see Rick muster enough confidence and bravado to task Ezekiel and Jesus/Maggie with helping him pull everyone else together to form a plan to try and take Negan down, and it will presumably feature all of the horrible schemes gone wrong that Rick's group has been responsible for in the past 6 1/2 years. I don't even want to see Negan get defeated in the Season 7 finale, since he's one of the show's best elements, but it will be stellar to watch the good guys make him worried for once.

The Walking Dead will return to AMC for the remainder of Season 7 on Sunday, February 12, 2017. To see what else is coming to the small screen in the near future, head to our midseason premiere schedule.

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