And we’re back. Guess what everyone – Negan killed some folks. Yes, that’s right, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the man who took this show by storm in the form of the delivery boy of a frustrating cliffhanger ending to season six of The Walking Dead, bashed some people’s brains in with his bat. That is of little surprise, as it has been several months of waiting for this show to deliver an answer to a question brought upon by a cleverly constructed hype machine, as opposed to a legitimately good reason to hold out on a devoted audience. Well, while I don’t have the ratings in front of me, I’m sure this strategy worked. It’s just a shame the episode, for all its uncomfortable violence, felt pretty bland.
Yes, there was an answer to the “who dies” question, which took two commercial breaks to get to, but once getting to that conclusion, where else did the show really have to go? Well, obviously it became a time for the series to both continue on, as we got even more of the menace that is Negan and an extended time period of Rick and the gang weeping over the deaths of their friends. It is not that this doesn’t make sense, but looking at this episode – what did it really have to offer?
I ask this, because the show’s seventh season premiere is essentially inviting viewers to tune in to watch a couple main cast members get their heads smashed in. No matter what else is going on around that major event, this is what people are coming to see. To make “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” a better episode, it would need to really go out of its way to make a grand statement that hasn’t been a part of the show already. It doesn’t, but some could argue that Negan is the embodiment of that grand statement.
Here’s a character who is a horrible person, but is also having a ball goofing around amidst the gallery of sad faces. There is not much to take away from Negan so far, other than the fact that he demands complete respect and is an intimidating presence with a level of intelligence that allows him to get what he wants. While no one should be rooting for him, Morgan is having a blast playing this kind of evil and the character is instantly more enjoyable to watch than almost the entire cast. It would be something to think that Negan will allow the show to finally find a way to get around some of its repetitive trappings. Sadly, I doubt that will happen.
I will be happy to be proven wrong, but looking at just this episode, I saw something I’ve seen before: key characters die and Rick and the gang grieve over it, reassure themselves with the possibility of hope and move forward. What makes it different is the placement of an event like this. Rather than shock the audience with a surprising death, the series capitalized off of audiences waiting for it to happen. In fact, it was so confident in taking us that direction that it could wait two commercial breaks to do so, as I mentioned. Once getting past that point, however, what was left? Well, we got a lot more bluster from Negan and further attempts to break Rick’s spirit, before letting the group regroup from all the horrific things that just happen.
So let’s get into the details. Abraham was killed first. It’s sad, but the character had little purpose left to serve that didn’t involve the show creating new drama for him to be involved in. I’ll miss Michael Cudlitz’s way with words, but he went out like a champ. After that, Glenn was killed as well. Given that many expected this to begin with, the surprise came from turning Abraham’s death essentially into a fake-out. Making things more traumatic was the level of detail that went into Glenn’s face after the first hit, but at the end of it all, these two were the casualties. Steven Yeun will of course be missed.
Later on, following the mini road trip Negan takes Rick on to ideally get him in line, Carl is placed under threat. The idea of Negan forcing Rick to cut off Carl’s arm or face even worse consequences was pretty rough. It was also a highlight, as it not only took Rick down a lot more pegs from his confidence level, it showed what kind of thinker Negan is, given his eventual mercy. This will no doubt have a role in how we perceive a number of characters directly involved in all of this down the line.
Other things happen to fill in the runtime, including a really silly final moment that flashes forward to a now-impossible future, but there is nothing to dig further into, which is part of my problem. Again, this was an episode that was going to be inherently flawed from the outset, as it largely revolved around forcing the fans to watch (presumably) one of their favorite characters be bludgeoned to death. This means fans can at least take a breather, now that this event is out of the way (and more fun can likely be had with Carol and Morgan elsewhere next time), but what a huge ordeal to contend with, seemingly for the sake of a season premiere ratings record.
The thing is, it would not be impossible for this episode to have been better. Instead of prolonging the executions, getting it out of the way and not doubling-down on the grieving opens the episode up to better possibilities. The problem is The Walking Dead has always been big on letting music and montage-style editing do a lot of the work for the writers. It’s an easy way out of crafting something better, more layered and more complex. That can be fine, but seven years in (with a show that found its footing in the third season no less), one would hope some new tricks could be utilized.
Does this episode deliver what was promised? Of course it does. It’s also well-acted, shot and all those other things. It is just too bad this feels like an extension of last season’s finale, rather than the start of something fresh. Next week has promise, as this episode shows the season now has a bottom to grow from. As The Walking Dead has proven to be the rare show that constantly tries to counter its nihilistic mission statement with a semblance of hope within the main characters, this episode may have been about seeing some friends die, but it does allow many to look forward to more screentime for the guy with the bloody baseball bat.