This Walking Dead review contains MAJOR spoilers and they start right away!
The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 1
Anyone hoping for an incredibly bloody hour of murder and mutilation the likes of which we’d never seen before on The Walking Dead should be pretty pleased with the season 7 premiere, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be.” I’m actually surprised that there wasn’t a quick flashback to poor old Dr. Jenner during Rick’s meditation on top of that RV.
Speaking of the RV, Andrew Lincoln’s (Rick) early scenes with Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan) are excellent. Lincoln is better than ever in the role of Rick, showing off what he can do with the character when the spotlight’s on him. The way Rick slowly breaks throughout the episode is about as captivating a moment as we’ve ever seen on the show – and not quite as melodramatic as when the Governor destroyed the Prison in season 3.
Greg Nicotero, who returned to direct yet another season premiere, focuses in on Rick’s eyes several times throughout the episode, from the opening shots to the very last thing we see before the screen cuts to black. The shots take us through Rick’s blind rage to his ultimate surrender, and their the most poignant moments in the episode, perhaps more shocking than the big deaths of the episode.
Abraham’s death didn’t quite come as a surprise to me. While I didn’t know for sure, it seemed like the logical choice, since he was spared his comic book death in season six (the arrow through the eye that killed Denise). Straying away from the source material, it was pivotal that showrunner Scott M. Gimple and the writers gave Abraham an even better send off (the arrow through the eye is one of the book’s iconic deaths). Michael Cudlitz (Abraham) should be pleased with how he went out. He’s the answer to the question fans had been obsessing over for months. Cudlitz even gets one more go at a new catchphrase, saying, “Suck my nuts,” as Negan bashed his head in.
I’m not going to sit here and tell all of you how sad I am about Abraham. Because I’m not. I never quite connected with the character, who unfortunately didn’t have the benefit of the show’s focus for most of his run. The large main cast made it so that he was often relegated to a background character. When the the show did finally put a lens on Abraham last season, it was so he could deliver cartoonish, groan-inducing catchphrases. His love affairs with both Rosita and Sasha didn’t quite ring true to me, either. Even though Sasha and Abraham did seem perfect for each other – and even I couldn’t help but melt when Abraham shared his idea of starting a family with Sasha – that storyline felt a bit rushed. I know there were a couple of time jumps in season 6, but those aren’t enough to really establish an important relationship. I’m not even convinced with Rick and Michonne yet, and they’re a far more important couple.
The couple that had always defined romantic relationships on The Walking Dead was, of course, Glenn and Maggie. Until tonight. But even Glenn, an eyeball popping out of his skull, can’t help but go for one last romantic gesture. “Maggie, I’ll find you,” he manages to mumble before Negan finishes him off with Lucille. It’s THE heartbreaking moment of the episode, hammered down by Maggie’s look of pain and horror. By the way, how great is Lauren Cohan (Maggie) in this episode? This morning, a questionable video leaked online that showed Maggie as Negan’s victim – which was honestly too horrifying to even consider as the real thing. (Yet, it was probably her “real” death scene from the episode, since Nicotero filmed a death for every single character in the lineup in order to protect the identity of the real victims for those many months of shooting.)
I’m really glad it wasn’t Maggie, who still shows she has a lot to do in this story. Never quite breaking down to mourn, it seems that she finds a new purpose in getting Glenn’s body to the Hilltop Colony – where the couple had hoped to settle down just prior of being torn apart forever. I’m really excited to see Maggie follow a similar trajectory to her comic book counterpart. I think Cohan will kill it.
Of course, tonight belongs to Glenn, who I’ll miss dearly. He was one of the good ones, one of the few characters on the show who had never taken a human life until last season’s excellent “Not Tomorrow Yet.” Before the premiere, I sat down to rewatch season 1, just so I could go back to the days when Glenn was still just a smart pizza delivery guy with a baseball cap. What made the character so great was there from the very start – his goodness, kindness, and willingness to help – things other characters, like Rick, have slowly lost in the past six seasons. But Glenn was always the symbol of a better world, a person I think Rick must have aspired to be, even in his darkest moments. Glenn was hope for the other characters, proof that everyone could find something to hold on to in order to stay the course for a better world. I don’t think there’s a person on the planet that won’t miss Steven Yeun (Glenn) on Sunday nights.
Tonight’s episode is exceptional for more than just the big deaths, though. The acting is remarkable. “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” showcases all of the great talent on this cast, including newcomer Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who proves once and for all that he was born to don the leather jacket and bat. Morgan plays the role of Negan with relish. You can tell he’s really having fun just completely going off on the other actors – he’d only just met the rest of the cast by the time this was filmed, by the way. Again, his scenes with Lincoln are some of the best this show has ever delivered, especially when they’re alone in the RV. You can tell that Morgan and Lincoln really worked on the dynamic between these two characters, and the way Negan gets into Rick’s head is nothing short of haunting.
Morgan has a masterful command of every single gesture and line of dialogue in the premiere. He carries much of the episode, using the first thirty minutes as his pulpit to teach a defiant Rick a lesson. Negan is every bit as sadistic as his comic book counterpart. Creator Robert Kirkman should be very proud. There’s a bit of credit to be given to Gimple and the writers, too. The scenes they created specifically for the show, such as the ones where Negan forces Rick to go get his ax and later almost makes him chop off Carl’s arm with it, are absolutely excellent. I think the writers, like Negan to Rick, impressed upon us that they aren’t fucking around. Rick vs. the fog walkers and the Carl mutilation scenes are by far my favorite of the episode.
In fact, there isn’t much I didn’t like about the episode. One thing that sort of bugged me was the amount of times the camera focused in on every character in the lineup, even after Abraham and Glenn had already died. As if the eeny meeny miny mo scene from the finale weren’t bad enough, Nicotero approaches this episode with the same “who’s it gonna be!” attitude to camera work that made those final moments of season 6 so goddamn annoying. And by the time we get to the slow motion cuts of every character’s face, it’s just a bit much. I didn’t need to watch Aaron (Ross Marquand) be sad while the Saviors walked away in slow motion, for example. Luckily, the episode course corrects eventually, putting all eyes on Maggie. (Seriously, how good is Lauren Cohan in the final ten minutes of the episode?!)
The other thing is something that can’t be helped, and I can’t hold it against anyone working on this show: some of Negan’s “censored” lines just aren’t as good as what Kirkman originally wrote for the comics. The show’s Negan is still quite good at finding ways to be as vulgar as possible while also being creative with his word choice, and Morgan does his absolute best to be a mix of terrifying and hilarious, but the lack of fucks and other incredibly crude lines from the book is a real shame. Morgan would totally kill Kirkman’s most colorful language. Still, if you haven’t read the comics, I doubt you noticed anyway.
So here we are – it’s almost surreal to say – an episode into a whole new season of The Walking Dead. The show’s kicked things off right – as the show so often does year after year – and we can all finally sleep at night knowing who Negan killed with Lucille. I hope that season 7 can keep up its momentum a bit better than past seasons have. There isn’t a premiere I haven’t enjoyed since I started reviewing this show back in season 5, but I’ve always kind of been let down by the time the midseason finale comes around. Hopefully that won’t be the case here. The last thing a season with Negan, a dude with dreadlocks and a pet tiger, and plenty more deaths to come should be is boring.
– I was sort of glad we didn’t get that one scene from the comics where Maggie starts beating the shit out of Rick for failing to protect them and fight back, although I kind of really wanted to see Lauren Cohan go there. But things were already as bad as they could possibly be in an hour of television.
– The moment between Sasha and Rosita is nice. I expected them to fight too, but watching them haul away Abraham’s corpse with Eugene is even more heartbreaking.
– That imaginary dinner sequence where everyone is alive and happy is really kinda lame, but also I teared up a little.
– The fact that Daryl’s the one that dooms Glenn to die will have big repercussions for him. When Daryl inevitably escapes the Sanctuary (hopefully), I’ll be interested to see how his relationship with Maggie changes.
– Speaking of which, is there nothing else these writers know how to do with Daryl but separate him from the rest of the group? I mean, this must be like the fourth or fifth time, right?
– Why is Rick’s signature weapon suddenly an ax? I can’t be bothered to remember why he doesn’t have his revolver with him.