After months of speculation, heated online debates, and trying to find any scrap of possible information it finally happened. We finally know. Not only has Negan’s bat fallen, but the uncompromising season 7 premier episode of The Walking Dead has delivered on every one of its promises to utterly change the entire landscape of the show. Any show with this number of seasons under its belt needs something to shake it up and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), tyrannical leader of The Saviors, has done just that with not one – but two – of the most utterly sadistic, graphic, and merciless deaths ever to air on original prime time programing.
As Negan would say, “BRING ME! MY! SPOILERS!” (and they are below,)
We do indeed find out whom Negan killed at the end of the season 6 finale but not before Negan takes Rick on a nightmarish joyride in the Winnebago to utterly break Rick’s soul and reduce him to a grovelling slave. We see our hero tormented with hordes of zombies – including the hapless victim that the Saviors hanged at the end of last season – and even with his own hatchet (which Negan emphasizes now belongs to him). During this nightmarish trek the audience are mercilessly teased with just who the victim might have been as we see Rick borderline-hallucinating his memories of them. When reality finally catches up, we are no less ready from all the anticipation.
In the finale, we saw a defiant Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) offer himself up to serve as Negan’s victim and in the end, the iron-fisted Savior does indeed choose the mighty soldier to taste Lucille’s wrath. Abraham, defiant til the end, dies a worthy death. But Negan had to take things one step further and torment Abraham’s former lover Rosita (Christian Serratos) with the fact. This provokes an enraged Darryl (Norman Reedus) into striking Negan.
The Savior warlord then proves he does not make idle threats and delivers what he said he would do if anyone lashed out.
We all thought that surely Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) would be safe since he suffered the death in the comics and it seemed like his death would therefore be predictable. But just when we thought everyone was safe Negan literally struck again. What followed was a painstaking, gruesome reproduction of Glenn’s baseball bat murder from issue 100 of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic, right down to his eye popping out and Negan laughing about it, impressed at his own handiwork. And while some had predicted that Negan would in fact take two victims instead of one, it is safe to say that for most of the world it was a soulcrushing, traumatic reveal and it shows how deadly the stakes on this show – a show where no one was ever truly safe to begin with – have become.
Of course Negan is not done. He continues to punish Rick by nearly forcing him to amputate his own son Carl’s (Chandler Riggs) hand. When he finally lets the broken, shattered remnants of the group go only Maggie (Lauren Chohan) has any fight left in her and we are given a tragic impromptu funeral for the fallen.
Ever since Negan’s introduction he has proven a divisive figure and there was so much speculation about who his victim might be. Perhaps adding a second crushed skull to the mix was the only way to keep the horror fresh and truly amplify Negan’s threat. But every touch in this episode is designed to break the viewer as surely as Rick is broken. Pay close attention and you’ll even see a Savior in the background taking a photograph of Glenn’s pulped head to add to the wall of Negan’s victims: a wall which Glenn himself once stared at in horror as they raided the Savior’s base what now seems so long ago.
Naturally, the premier episode, titled The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be, leaves us with further questions and we know that the struggle with Negan is only just beginning. Rick is a broken man, Darryl is a hostage, and two of the family’s linchpin members are now just puddles of red mush on the ground. How can they go forward from this?
It’s impossible to convey they sheer horror and brutality expressed onscreen in this episode in mere words. The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be has to be one of the most awful things ever aired on basic cable. It’s bound to be controversial and keep passions high. How will The Walking Dead ever top this, and can our hearts and minds handle it if they ever do?