Airdate: October 23, 2016
Directed by: Greg Nicotero
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Scott M. Gimple (episode); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels); Frank Darabont (creator)
Six months have passed since the final episode of Season 6, an episode that left a bad taste in the mouths of many as they were forced to wait to see who Negan would choose. The episode ended on a first person perspective of the victim, Lucille coming down on his or her head, watching as the world faded to black. It felt, in many ways, to be an unfair ending to a season that was – to be honest – rather uneven at times. And while cliffhangers have a long and storied tradition in Hollywood, it still felt a little cheap. So with tonight’s big reveal, is all forgiven in Walking Dead Land?
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss plot points of The Walking Dead S07E01, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” – read more at your own risk.>>
I started watching this episode on a slight delay – about ten minutes – and as I was prepping to watch, I kept thinking, “Everybody knows. Everybody already knows who Negan kills, except for me.” Well, that wasn’t entirely true, as we don’t find out until nearly twenty minutes in to the episode. And while this might have felt even cheaper – make us wait six months, and then make us wait some more – I felt that this actually worked much better than a simple cut-to-murder opening would have been.
There were two main narrative threads tonight: the deaths at Negan’s hands, and the breaking of Rick. I’ll speak to the two deaths first.
As many people suspected, Abraham’s show of bravado, thrusting his chest forward and challenging Negan, meant that his time had come. This, combined with the fact that Denise had taken the bolt with his name on it (at least in comic-world), fit with this being his end. He took Lucille’s first blow, and then struggled back to his knees, blood streaming down his forehead. “Suck…my…nuts” – fitting final words for a man who has given us some of the best lines of the series so far (“Dolphin smooth” and “Who’s Deanna” being two of my favorite). Sasha and Rosita kept it together admirably while his head was smashed in. Not so much Daryl.
With a feral growl, Daryl leapt to his feet over Abraham’s still corpse, and laid a heavy right cross to Negan’s jaw. Negan’s men immediately wrestled Daryl down, and Negan told the group that “this shit just won’t fly.” Instead of killing Daryl, however, he forces him back into line, and takes Lucille to Glenn. This is the death that readers of the comics were expecting, but coming after Abraham’s death, it was a huge surprise – and a huge gut-blow to fans. While Abraham has become a fan-favorite over the last two and a bit seasons, Glenn has been there since the very beginning, showing up (or at least his voice) right in Episode 101, as he calls Rick a “dumbass.” Glenn has been an essential part of the TWD family for seven years now, and although readers of the graphic novel expected him to go this way, it was still a real shock.
Good call on Gimple’s part here, to be fair. By having Abraham die first (a man who was arguably already on borrowed time, due to missing out on his book death), it appeared that Lucille’s thirst was quenched; but no, Daryl – who is, after all, a wildcard and entirely a creation of the television show – throws a monkey wrench into the works, attacking Negan and drawing down more ire upon the group. I wonder if Maggie will be able to forgive him? Or will she blame Negan entirely for Glenn’s death? It’s hard to say. Glenn takes a couple of blows, and then like Abraham, pulls himself back to his knees and speaks. “Maggie,” he stammers out, his left eye bulging out and his skull shattered on top, “I’ll find you.” Negan laughs, and seems to commiserate with Glenn over how hard it must be for him to speak, before swinging for the bleachers, and putting Glenn down for good.
Following the brutal slaying of the two men, Rick is still defiant. For Negan, this is an issue. Rick tells him, “I’ll kill you. Not today. Not tomorrow. But I will kill you.” Negan takes Rick, along with Rick’s hatchet, on a ride in the RV. His purpose – to break Rick. He sinks the blade of the hatchet into the RV’s table, and turns his back on Rick, goading him into attacking. When Rick tries, Negan turns, a machine gun pointed at Rick’s chest. They go for a ride, attracting a large horde of walkers. After he explains that everything Rick thought was his now belongs to him, Negan throws the hatchet up onto the roof and tells Rick to get it back. “Bring me my axe,” he tells him, forcing him outside into the early morning mists.
Rick fights through, and climbs up onto the roof of the RV. As he does so, he keeps flashing back to the group, kneeling and waiting for Negan’s judgement. These moments are interspersed with flashes of memories from his experiences with each of the main members of the group. It felt a bit more forced with some than with others (he doesn’t exactly have a ton of memories with some of them, such as Aaron or Rosita), but it was an effective way of reminding the audience of some of the things we have gone through with the characters.
Negan gets tired of waiting for Rick, and tells him to get moving, or he’ll head back and kill the rest. He fires through the roof, forcing Rick to run and jump. He grabs hold of walker hanging beneath an overpass, and rides it down as its neck stretches and then snaps. As he’s about to be engulfed, Negan gleefully shoots a bunch of walkers, giving Rick a fighting chance. Finally back at the RV door, Negan teases him a moment longer before letting him back in.
Rick, however, is still clearly defiant. When they get back to where the others are, Negan tries one more tactic. He calls Carl over, and forces him to lie down beside Rick. Drawing a line on Carl’s left arm with a Sharpie, he tells Rick to cut it off, or everyone else will die, starting with his son. Not only that, but he promises to keep Rick alive for several years, just so he can think about all the people he’s lost.
Rick struggles with the decision, begging with Negan to do it to him instead, and Michonne tries to intervene, telling Negan that they get it, they know he’s the boss now.
Negan counts down, and as he gets to one, Rick raises the axe, Carl telling him to do it. Before he can bring it down, Negan stops him, and tells him, “That’s the look I wanted to see.” Rick looks totally broken. Negan collects his men and leaves the group with their dead. As a parting shot, he orders his men to pack Daryl into a van. He says he likes him, and that if Rick and his group don’t fulfill their end of the bargain (to give Negan’s group – the Saviors – supplies), he’ll send Daryl back, piece-by-piece – or bring him to Alexandria, where he’ll force Rick to take him apart, one piece at a time.
When the Saviors leave, Maggie is the first to rise, and she reacts quite differently from in the graphic novel (there, she blames Rick for Glenn’s death, and goes after him). Here, she basically becomes the surrogate leader, telling Rick that she’s heading to Hilltop with Glenn’s body, but that Rick needs to take the rest of them back to Alexandria to start planning how to attack Negan. Rick is hesitant – he is, after all, really broken in this moment – but she rallies them, reminding them who they are and what they need to do. Sasha and Rosita have a moment, Sasha asking Rosita’s permission to take Abraham’s body. The hold hands over his corpse, finding, if not friendship, camaraderie in his death. In the end, they all help to carry the bodies to the waiting vehicles.
The episode ends with a close-up on Rick’s eyes as he drives the RV down the road, staring in the rear-view mirror at a walker shambling along the road. He feels, in this moment, more than a little dead inside himself.
This was a solid season opener. I would place it up there with Episode 501, which saw the group nearly become cannibal fodder back in Terminus. Here, the stakes were even higher, and for the first time since the battle at the prison, we lost two main characters in a single episode (granted, that is, if you want to give the Governor main-character status).
Killing off two characters is a gutsy move by Gimple, and it was a way to keep even readers of the graphic novel in suspense. Of course, things get changed up all the time from the comic, so it isn’t terribly surprising that things came out differently here once again. From a personal perspective, as much as I like Abraham – I think he’s a great character – I was just that little bit relieved when he took the first few hits from Lucille because, frankly, I’m just that much more attached to Glenn, and to a few other characters that might have ended up dead in this scene (Daryl and Michonne especially, from the group that was present). So when Glenn went down – wow, talk about a sucker punch.
This season has begun in blood and despair, with our group truly at it’s absolute lowest point. Carol, who has historically pulled their bacon out of the fire, is a hollow shell of herself (injured and off with Morgan somewhere). And to be honest, if she and Morgan had been there, Morgan would have likely been killed too. He wouldn’t have been able to stop himself from trying to talk “sense” to Negan. Rick appears to be broken. Michonne tried to negotiate for Carl. Eugene can’t even open his eyes. And the only person who is showing the internal toughness they need, is having a difficult pregnancy and just watched her husband be bludgeoned to death right in front of her. Right now, it looks pretty desperate. They need revenge, but they’re outnumbered, outgunned, and outsmarted. And, for the moment at least, apparently leaderless.
There are more stories to be told, and this feels, in many ways, like a new beginning for Rick and the group. Yes, I have some ideas where it may go, but with Gimple showing a willingness to take the show on it’s own trajectory, there’s no telling what will come next. I, for one, will be tuning in eagerly next week.
Steve’s Grade: A-
A hell of a beginning to the new season, killing off not one, but two mainstays, including the only other character present to appear along with Rick in the very first episode of the series*. Gimple is taking risks by hitting us with such a shocker – let’s see how this effects the group and it’s chemistry moving forward.
*Yes, Morgan was in Episode 101 too, but he was then missing for the better part of five seasons.