The following will contain spoilers from the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead...
The question that we all wanted to know and not know has been answered this past Sunday with the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead. That question being who Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) killed among Rick Grimes’ (Andrew Lincoln) group. It turned out that the madman didn’t just kill one, but two beloved characters; Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun). Let’s be clear, this episode was brutal, raw and frankly, it went overboard in its portrayal of violence and depravity.
That isn’t to say that the episode “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” isn’t without its merits. Technically it was well done, well acted, well shot; it emoted tension like you wouldn’t believe. But the bottom line is while it was too gruesome, it had the air of a bad car wreck. You want to look away but can’t help but look. However, you often wind up regretting watching what was on the screen because it was so gratuitous to the point that it bordered on torture porn. Did we really have to see Negan repeatedly bash in Abraham and Glenn’s skull until mush was left? Sure, creator Robert Kirkman and the showrunners probably wanted to convey some message about helplessness and the ugliness of violence. The problem isn’t just the violent display of Negan’s sadistic violence, but what went on before and the presentation.
For months, we had to wait to find out who was Negan’s victim. The season 6 finale was overhyped (as was the season 7 premiere with all the images of Negan and his barb-wired bat Lucille) and we were all expecting to see Negan kill someone. But we didn’t. Instead we had to wait for months to find out that the reveal largely followed what happened in the comic books. In The Walking Dead #100, Negan bashed in Glenn’s skull, but Abraham had been killed beforehand issues past. So “the Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” threw off viewers with Abraham’s death.
The only problem with that death was that it was very telegraphed in season 6 of The Walking Dead. Abraham has had a death wish for much of the season. He seemed aimless with little to live for. In the season finale though, he began to muse about a life where he can settle down…a dead (forgive the pun) giveaway in The Walking Dead that he is doomed. This happens to all characters who find a measure of peace (look out Morgan, you’re next), except Rick. Another clue was when he told his friend Eugene Porter (Josh McDirmett) that he’s come a long way and become capable of taking care of himself. It was a way for the two men to say goodbye to each other and it was obvious by that small scene that Abraham wasn’t long for the world.
As for Glenn, his death had been teased for over a season, most infamously with last season’s fake death scene in the third episode “Thank You”. Remember that? He was on top of a dumpster surrounded by walkers and he fell on top of them, fated to be walker food. Or so we thought. Episodes later, a copout showed how he implausibly escaped death. Before that, we all were shocked and dismayed and more importantly we grieved for Glenn Rhee. We had time to process his death only to have that taken away from us. Now we get spat on by the showrunners to just have him killed abruptly in the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead. The sting of death is now missing. Honestly, Glenn’s actual death feels somewhat hollow and aside from the grossness of the bludgeoning, his death scene paled to his somber fall from the dumpster.
“The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” was more effective in conveying how Rick gets broken by Negan. The former deputy sheriff was a bit too high in his britches lately over how he and his group will overcome any challenges. Naturally, he was set up for a rude awakening and boy, did he get it. By the episode’s end when Negan gets him to nearly cut off his son Carl’s (Chandler Riggs) arm to appease the warlord, Rick is a whimpering, defeated man. To be honest, that was more disturbing to see than elaborate makeup f/x. Rick has largely been the rock of The Walking Dead. Even when he went off the deep end, you could tell that he was one tough character, but now he is beaten psychologically. It just proves that he is human and most of us would be in his shoes if we were in his situation, but seeing him agonizing over having to chop off his son’s arm was too much to witness.
From this moment on, The Walking Dead has reached another turning point. Even though it has already been renewed for an eighth season, there is a sense that an endpoint may be coming. What else can happen? Negan taunts and pushes until Rick gets his mojo back. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) goes on a warpath. Now new characters come onboard. But how much longer will the show continue to hold our interest? How many more ugly deaths will come before everyone collectively says “Enough, end this already”? Those answers may come sooner than we think.