NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Walking Dead”, including multiple major character deaths, are present in this review
Oh, boy. This is going to be a tough one.
Words can’t describe the sheer amount of hype and anticipation surrounding the seventh season premiere of AMC’s all-star horror-drama series, The Walking Dead. As frustrating as the sixth season finale was last Spring, it did culminate in a large-scale cliffhanger that had fans across the world asking one question; “Who did Negan kill?” As the series’ big new arch-villain walked among a group of Rick Grimes’ finest champions, threatening to bludgeon one of them to death with his prized, barbed wire-covered baseball bat, Lucille, we already knew that Season Seven would be starting off with a major bang, as one of Rick’s finest survivors would meet a brutal and violent end.
Before I go on, I’m going to come out and state the obvious; This episode is really going to divide people. I took a peek at some of the reactions to the season premiere on social media, and as I suspected, there were some who adored this episode, praising it as one of the series’ best, and there were some who were furious at it, declaring it one of the series’ worst. I suppose that much hype is bound to leave people either swooning with joy, or livid with anger, and depending on your expectations for this episode, and The Walking Dead as a whole, your overall opinion of this season premiere will probably change wildly. As for where I landed? Well, I did love some of this episode!… And I hated some of it. Overall, I found it to be a mostly entertaining, very shocking, but also largely uneven start to Season Seven.
So, as for the answer to the big question that kept fans buzzing all Summer, who did meet their end at the hands of Negan’s bat? Well, it takes an infuriating 15-20 minutes to get to the reveal of who died (this is one part of the episode that was pretty awful, no matter how you slice it), but at that point, we see that the victim is Abraham. Looks like I correctly guessed the one who would die by Negan’s hand, back when I reviewed the Season Six finale last April (even if I somewhat cheated by saying Eugene was another big possibility), and the death of Abraham did largely land with the proper impact. The defiance of Abraham in his final moments, and the exchanged, shocked, distraught and eventually inconsolable glances shared between Sasha and Rosita were all realized very well, with some excellent performances from all involved.
Speaking of excellent performances, Jeffrey Dean Morgan was, needless to say, spectacular in this episode! His Negan is the charismatic, memorable and brutal villain that this series has been dying for since the fall of The Governor in Season Four. Hell, even The Governor really can’t hold a candle to Negan so far. Negan’s chipper, relentlessly upbeat disposition played a brilliant contrast with his savage, uncompromising brutality. This was further helped by Negan’s uncanny sense of honour, as he takes Rick for a ride in his R.V., then commands Rick to grab his axe from a horde of Walkers, leading to a pretty tense sequence that shows Negan not being afraid to bail Rick out of trouble, since he clearly sees him as a prized, valuable resource. It was like a twisted trust exercise, and it was a highlight sequence in this episode!
But then the show got greedy, and that’s the greatest Achilles’ heel of this season premiere; It overdoes the sadism to a point. This is a weird feeling, since it’s commendable to see the series finally embracing the ridiculous levels of gore, savagery and wanton violence that populates the source comics, which often have to be toned down for the TV series, understandably so. I have no problem with the violence itself, nor do I have a problem with the fundamental idea of Negan breaking Rick so completely by the end of the episode, that things really do seem hopeless for our protagonists. I understand that this is The Walking Dead, and this is a very violent, brutal show, even with the concessions taken to reduce at least some of the ridiculous levels of violence from the source comics.
Even with The Walking Dead though, there’s a point where the violence oversaturates the episode, and then your brain will start to check out. This is when The Walking Dead runs into an overall weakness that the show has been suffering from lately; Shocking for the sake of shocking, and letting dicking with the audience and their feelings get in the way of the storytelling. That’s something that frequently dragged down the show’s sixth season, and it still seems to be a problem with the start of the seventh. After a whole hour, including commercial breaks, of Rick being thrown around, traumatized and completely broken in spirit, and almost nothing else, it becomes strangely mundane and dull. It makes this episode into a one-trick pony that misses so many opportunities to flesh out the characters’ extreme emotions, states of mind, and how they plan to deal with their new life under Negan’s boot.
I haven’t even gotten to the matter of the second victim yet. Oh yeah, there were two victims of Negan in the end, which was kind of an interesting curveball. After Daryl decides to deck Negan in response to his killing of Abraham, Negan decides that he has to discipline the group again. Does Daryl suffer a horrific murder akin to Abraham then? Bah, of course not! This is Daryl, one of the characters that AMC is way too scared to kill off, obviously! So, Negan decides to just beat Glenn to death the same way that he beat Abraham to death. Why Glenn? Why not?!
As much as the Glenn twist was kind of interesting on paper, and did echo Negan’s infamous murder of Glenn from the source comics that this whole scene took so much inspiration from (right down to the gross moment of Glenn’s eye popping out right before his head is crushed by Negan’s blows), Glenn’s surprise murder was sadly another point where this episode didn’t work. Glenn’s death has been teased and foreshadowed to an infuriating extent at this point, since the start of Season Five, and this makes his killing at Negan’s hands feel lame and anti-climactic, despite Glenn being a part of this show since the very second episode. It felt like something that the show felt it had to do, not something that truly made sense for the story. This is another point where The Walking Dead just got greedy, especially since Glenn’s death forcibly mimicking the source comics somewhat deflates Abraham’s death to a frustrating extent, on top of further rending the wound of the controversial cliffhanger from last season’s conclusion feeling like a mere appetizer to the moment that the show seemed to want to portray most.
What else happened in this episode? Well, not much, honestly. The episode’s performances, drama, horror and shock value were all pretty insane in this season premiere, in a good way, mostly (even if the shocks and violence did lose their punch after a while), with the only other major event being that Negan almost forces Rick to chop Carl’s arm off, then just… Doesn’t? Then he captures Daryl for punching him, but doesn’t kill Daryl? What? Negan’s methodology isn’t making too much sense at this point, frankly, beyond being in charge anyway.
In fact, the episode’s direction in general was kind of weird and non-sensical at points, starting with the inexplicable decision to wait over 15 minutes to reveal Negan’s initial victim that was teased during the months between seasons. Rick’s perspective constantly being interrupted by flashes of memories, visions of the survivors getting hit by Negan (probably a way for AMC to use the fake footage they shot to conceal the true victim of Negan), and later, a strange scene of everyone eating an idyllic dinner together, were all strange, forced and tone-deaf. The scene at the end, where Maggie tries to force herself to stand up to bury Glenn, and everyone pitches in to bury both Glenn and Abraham, was a better moment though, and one that actually did have great emotional impact. At least this, followed by Rick driving off with teary eyes, was a good way to end the episode.
It feels incorrect to call, “The Day Will Come Where You Won’t Be” either amazing or terrible, since the episode is ultimately uneven, and somewhat undercut by its own hype level, leading to the show’s impossible position of having to somehow live up to the fuss around last season’s cliffhanger ending. In the end, this season premiere is fairly entertaining and certainly gets the point across about Negan, but it’s also pretty exhausting to watch in one sitting, plus there’s also no sign of The Walking Dead shedding its recurring flaws in the wake of last season’s issues. Season Seven will have to find a way to carry Negan’s appeal across a stretch of sixteen episodes, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his stellar performance do seem to be up to that task. Now that we’ve sorted out Lucille’s first victim(s) though, maybe this show should tighten the storytelling before it makes another big demonstration of our new baddie’s wrath.
- Morgan's stellar Negan performance continues to shine
- Rick's intense axe-fetching mission
- Emotional ending of burying the victims
- Structuring and direction is problematic
- Glenn's surprise death is forced and anti-climactic
- The relentless horror eventually becomes mind-numbing