“That’s not how it works, Rick. Not anymore.”
Spoiler Free Section
AMC’s The Walking Dead starts off its seventh season with an episode that painstakingly conveys a power shift with the merciless introduction of Negan, the leader of the gang called the Saviors. The episode has a lot going for it; namely, the heartbreaking scene where Negan introduces Rick and the group to his “vampire bat” Lucille, but ultimately the series continues its trend of slow-burn reveals and sluggish narrative progress.
My biggest complaint with the premiere is that we don’t see who gets the bat until a quarter-way through the episode. I can deal with the whole episode introducing Negan, as it’s clear the showrunners are keen on using this moment as a launching platform for the series to further develop, but it stands to perpetuate the narrative trend that they used in season six. After the previous season’s cliffhanger ending, it would have been nice to just get straight to the answers.
As for the big scene, it was quite a spectacle. Jeffrey Dean Morgan stands out as Negan, relishing in the utter powerlessness of Rick’s group and savoring every swing of his bat. He’s a very upbeat narcissistic psychopath, one whom I couldn’t help but slightly admire, even as he (literally) tore Rick’s group apart. His murderously spriteful attitude is cut quickly by his imposing, authoritative tone, and it’s hard to witness him debase Rick so punishingly.
While that scene is a whirlwind of anxiety and emotions, the rest of the episode essentially boils down to Negan cracking Rick, breaking down his spirit and will to lead so as to conscript him as yet another indentured supplier. Negan takes Rick on an intense and walker-filled RV trip, toying with him and throwing him around the walkers, but it takes up almost the entire episode. Negan makes each sequence entertaining enough, but basically half the episode is Rick just staring at the ground, getting served shit and being forced to tip the waiter.
Negan’s final interaction with Rick is a gut-wrenching one, but to even discuss it would be to reveal too much. Just take my word for it — Negan is disturbingly good at being able to put people in situations they never thought they would ever possibly be in. There are some pretty decent performances after Negan and his crews’ departure, with the survivors coming to terms with what just happened and moving to take care of their dead. It’s a quiet, emotional resolution to probably the most haunting experience the group has experienced so far.
Ultimately, the episode isn’t a bad one; it’s just The Walking Dead as usual. The big moments are gripping and brutal, with the makeup department deserving some special recognition again for the gore factor this time around. It’s an effective presentation of how the show’s dynamic is set to change, but after so many drawn-out seasons, I think we all would have liked to see more forward progress rather than a straight hour of torture.
Full Spoilers Ahead
Ah, the ole one-two punch! Er, swing, I suppose. This premiere was certainly full of heavy emotional blows, with not just Abraham’s death but also Glenn’s. I enjoyed the twist, as I initially was disappointed with Negan’s game of Eeny, Meeny Miny, Moe landing on Abraham, as I felt Michael Cudlitz’s character to be of less subsequence than the rest (despite his quality performance as the military tough guy). I felt like it was a wasted opportunity to really rip out the audience’s heart, like with Sophia or Hershel.
Of course, the real moment here is after Daryl attacks Negan, who responds by cracking open Glenn’s head too. It was a swift strike, and I honestly didn’t see it coming (despite knowing how the events unfold in the comic). I simply wasn’t expecting him to treat another member of Rick’s group to the same head-bashing fate.
The makeup effects for both Abraham’s nub of a skull and Glenn’s cracked, dented forehead and exploding eyeball is absolutely grotesque, and certifiably 100% metal. I’ve been seeing a lot of negative reactions to this, claiming the show has ‘gone too far,’ but don’t forget that this is The Walking Dead. It’s not a show known for pulling any punches, people. My only gripe with the dual-deaths is that Glenn’s demise completely eclipses Abraham’s, highlighting the latter character’s expendability.
The rest of the episode, while entertaining, could have been chopped up to fill half the time, allowing the episode to do more than just bash in a couple skulls and break Rick’s spirit. Murdering two of his own like that, particularly someone like Glenn, is enough to bring a man to his knees, but putting his ax back in his own hand and ordering him to amputate his son’s arm is enough to drive a man mad.
These two scenes together would have effectively translated the shift of power, making the whole trip in the RV feel redundant, regardless of how tense a sequence it may be. Freeing up that time could have allowed us to see the reactions of the survivors, and maybe get a glimpse as to how Maggie intends to enact her revenge.
The episode wasn’t a bad one, it’s just business as usual for The Walking Dead. After the criticism of season six, I was hoping AMC would get the idea that we want to see these big moments, but we don’t necessarily need to spend a whole episode teasing and drawing them out.
The season seven premiere is an emotionally exhausting and effective episode and creates a whole new dynamic for the show to work with, but The Walking Dead needs to start picking up the narrative pace and drop the cheap tactics used to maintain interest.