SPOILERS follow for anyone who hasn’t caught up with the Season 7 premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead.
Previously on The Walking Dead…!
For those not in the know, season six’s finale saw the new big bad of the series, Negan, holding Rick Grimes and his friends hostage as he played a sadistic game of “Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo” with them. The “winner” of Negan’s game was given the prize of a horrifying date with his baseball bat, Lucille, and while it was apparent that one, or more, of the crew was fit to meet the grim reaper, the showrunners decided to keep a lid on the reveal until tonight’s season seven premiere. Does tonight’s episode give us the answers we’ve been looking for since last spring? Yes, but in a way that are not as satisfactory as one would hope. Rather than getting these deaths immediately out of the way and finally putting an end to the suspense that’s been clutching audiences for many months, we’re given even more build up with scenes of Rick and Negan driving away from the site and playing a game of fetch with an axe. Considering the outcry from audiences last season to “shit or get off the pot”, it’s almost unbelievable that audiences were still left hanging for the first 15 minutes.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan continues to be the brightest spot of the series currently, offering an antagonist who is as deadly as he is charismatic. Negan chews scenery like a lawnmower, spouting one liners and crass dialogue at a rapid pace. This new villain is easily the best part of the series right now, from his swagger to the actions he performs in this episode, he manages to be electric every time you see him on screen. While Rick wasn’t able to hurl too many barbs back toward Negan, it will make for some good scenes moving forward into the season as they interact more with one another. Aside from merely killing folks close to Rick’s heart, Negan taunts him endlessly by asking him to get his axe or even, at one point, demanding that Rick cut Carl’s arm clean off. The dynamic here once again shines as one of the best spots of the episode as Negan’s mental torture of both Rick and his friends sets the stage for what we can expect in the future and it’s solid as a rock.
With all this being said, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of the episode: the deaths. Unfortunately, the impact of these deaths was somewhat lessened by the further stringing along of the reveal by padding out the scene with Negan and Rick’s banter. At one point, Rick even starts having flashbacks of every single one of his friends’ various moments in their lives, which doesn’t act so much as a recollection for Rick, but rather a reminder to audience members who may have tuned out which characters are on the chopping block. The impact of the deaths, and for those looking for blood here you certainly get that, would have been stronger if they had started the episode right off with them, but unfortunately again, they decided to take a route that may have left audiences more frustrated. Still, the deaths of Abraham and Glenn were powerful in how disturbing they were and the show must be given props for deciding not to pull any punches with how brutal Negan disposes of them both. A strength of the series has always been its no-holds-barred attitude, and at least, they hold true to that with the premiere.
Abraham is of course chosen as the first victim of Negan, with the gang leader bloodily smashing Abe’s head into the gravel. Daryl, unable to restrain himself, punches Negan right in the kisser and, in retaliation, Glenn is the next to die as a horrified Maggie looks on. Glenn’s death was somewhat expected here as he was the one to bite the bullet in the comics, though adding in Abraham first managed to swerve some expectations so kudos to the show on taking that route. While both these actors will be missed, it’s a good show of faith to the audiences that the series is willing to do away with some of their bigger cast members as this was certainly the place to thin out the herd. The reactions to their deaths once Negan leaves, along with Maggie’s resolve, manage to hit most of the right notes, though the future scene of everyone at a dinner was a bit too far in the saccharine direction for its own good. The series has always had something of a problem with a one step forward, two steps back methodology with a lot of its scenes, and this one was no different.
The other brutal scene of the episode was of course Rick being broken by Negan after almost being forced to cut off his own son’s hand. Again, another great power play from Jeffrey Dean Morgan and goes a long way to establish him as a dominant evil force that Rick and company must somehow overcome. For so long, the Team Grimes had some stumbles along the way, but mostly had a grasp on the situations that were presented in front of them, but with Negan’s introduction, we’re entering into unknown territory and that in itself could prove interesting. Unfortunately, the series still stumbles with poor pacing along the way, and while I am usually not one to include the commercials for a show in a review, here it seems absolutely necessary as you can tell the advertising had a direct hand in the overall structure of the episode itself. From the timing of the deaths to simply being pulled out of the episode with the constant breaks, the advertising here became a terrible distraction. At one point, AMC decided to place an advertisement for a Fear the Walking Dead web-series called “Passage” that almost had you believing that you were back into the episode, only to realize it was yet another commercial! Again, this wouldn’t normally be something I would mention but it was so distracting that it was impossible to ignore.
While The Walking Dead did fulfill its promise of doing away with two cast members in brutal fashion, it stumbled in putting together enough of an impact behind them. For a series that lives and breaths based on the idea of the unexpected, the show unfortunately doesn’t manage to stick the landing when it came to the bon voyages of Glenn and Abraham. The premiere was ultimately an episode with far too little substance, and while they did manage to squeeze in a number of good beats along the way, pun intended, overall it was simply not what it could have been; the show still suffers from the weaknesses it’s always had, minus a new magnetic antagonist. Decompression, time management, and character beats are all aspects of the series that need to be strengthened and one can only hope that we see more of this during Season 7 as time marches on.
Grade: ★★ Fair