'The Walking Dead' season premiere recap: Who dies?
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Spoiler alert! The following contains spoilers for the The Walking Dead Season 7 premiere, "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be." To read our recap of the Season 6 finale, click here.
We will never be satisfied.
The Walking Dead took a gamble at the end of its sixth season earlier this year. The show bet that the idea of death, that a mystery surrounding who lives and who dies, would be more compelling than a death itself. It bet that keeping the audience guessing would be a better storytelling device than keeping them emotionally invested. It bet that blood and gore without meaning or reason would be enough to shock, scare and titillate.
But after the Season 7 premiere on Sunday night, it’s clear that they bet wrong.
By the end of the episode, we have our answer to the big cliffhanger (RIP Abraham and Glenn) and we have a new world order established by Negan’s psychopathy. But the hour-long journey to get there was an exhausting, gratuitous and unpleasant affair. Even on a show that traffics hopelessness and violence, enough is sometimes quite enough. The premiere didn't so much toe the line of "too far" as it leapt across it and then dared itself to run further. But for fans of the show disappointed or even angered by the premiere, the ending has left an opportunity for the show to learn and move away from cheap gimmicks and even cheaper violence. If only it could have learned sooner.
Drawing it out
The episode opens not with the reveal of who was the victim of Lucille (remember, Negan is a man who gives his barbed-wire bat a name) but with the reveal that your least-fave Rick survived. Our fearless leader, reduced to a sweaty, crying, shivering mess, vows to kill Negan for the deaths he’s just perpetrated — although at this point (just for funsies) the audience thinks it’s a single nameless death, giving no emotional depth to Rick’s agony and fury. In the abstract, it’s hard to have true empathy for what he's going through.
The pair head on a field trip of sorts to a zombie horde that serves no purpose other than to set Rick up in a (literal) fog in which he can flash back to the events of the night and also tease the audience just a little bit more about who might’ve died. As he rushes into a crowd of walkers to retrieve his axe on Negan’s command, flashes of each of the potential victims cross the screen. You’d think that perhaps Abraham and Glenn might rank first in this fever dream, as Rick has just lost them, but no, it is cheaply designed to manipulate the audience, not make sense to the character.
No dumpsters to hide under
As Rick lies down to take a breather from the super fun scavenger hunt Negan has set him on, we get The Big Flashback. Yes, finally, we see the reason we’re all here: the identity of Negan’s victim(s). And they're both the most boring and predictable of choices.
Abraham dies first, the victim of the world’s worst game of “eeny meanie miney mo.” Our favorite sergeant spent a solid portion of the Season 6 finale discussing his plans for the future, and as we learned with Noah and countless others, that is the first sign that you might be kicking the bucket soon. He gets in one final irreverent dig (“Suck my [expletives]”) before he dies, Sasha and Rosita sobbing with every blow. And while the show played coy about preventing us from seeing his identity back in April, now it’s showing us the full beating in technicolor.
But it didn’t end with Abraham. Glenn — who was suspect No. 1 all summer since this particular fate was his in the show’s comics source material — becomes Lucille’s second victim after an ill-advised burst of rage from Darryl makes Negan angry again (but Darryl's always safe). Glenn has been the moral and emotional focal point for much of the series: He’s one of the few remaining original cast members, his love story with Maggie had given the show depth and heart where it felt shallow and his optimism balanced out the bleakness and depravity of most of the other characters. And so of course, the show has exploited this, first with how often it separated him from Maggie (pro tip in the zombie apocalypse: Keep track of your spouse), to last season’s miraculous dumpster-dive. His, er, eye-popping death, however, is the most manipulative the show has ever been. As blood drips down his head from the blows he manages to croak, “Maggie, I’ll find you.” It wants to be a devastating moment. But it just doesn’t connect.
“I’m just getting started”
The choice to make Rick the emotional focal point of this episode was a mistake that threw the tone out of whack from the start, and by the time he’s sobbing over Carl’s spreadeagled body, the entire episode starts to feel like a sick joke.
Because after killing two of his people, forcing him to fight off walkers and threatening everyone else he loves, Negan still does not believe Rick to be broken enough, he ups the psychopathic ante by almost forcing Rick to cut off his son’s arm. It’s a move that apparently works well enough to allow Carl to keep his arm, as the new “look” on Rick’s face is apparently one of subjugation (that the character they’re trying to establish Negan to be would relent seems unrealistic, but it’s just one of many, many issues with this episode). The Saviors take Darryl as a hostage and Negan sends the rest back to Alexandria, where they should be ready for him to come calling for tribute.
It’s only now that the show pauses to note the effects the deaths might have on anyone except Rick. Maggie blames herself for Glenn and Sasha and Rosita quietly mourn Abraham. Rick imagines that “Sunday dinner” Negan said he’d never get to see with his post-apocalyptic family, complete with a baby bouncing on Glenn’s knee. It could have been a moving moment, but it just feels like one more gimmick.
"The Day Will Come When You Won't Be” was an exercise in joyless labor for The Walking Dead. Every moment of the increasingly cruel and graphic episode felt pained, trapped in the same circle of helplessness where Abraham and Glenn met their ends. But after freeing itself of this marketing-ploy turned plot twist, Season 7 has potential to truly surprise and intrigue us again. Plus, Carol is going to come back soon, and everything is better when she’s onscreen.
You can scroll through more photos from this season below.