Tuesday, October 25, 2016
The Walking Dead
Season 7, Episode 1
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. It’s been a long hiatus for Walking Dead fans. (Catch a tiger, by its toe.) Six months ago, 14 million tuned into the sixth season finale to watch Negan’s long-teased first appearance, and to find out who would become Lucille’s first victim. (If he hollers, let him go.) But of course, we never found out. Negan swung, screams echoed, and the episode ended before we could see who had finally met their maker. (My mother told me…) By now though, most of this is old news. As soon as the finale aired, fans and critics erupted in near unanimous disapproval of the twist, accusing showrunner, Scott Gimple, and director, Greg Nicotero, of ruining one of the series’ most iconic moments (…to pick the very best one). But the time for anger has passed, and the answer we’ve all been waiting for has finally been revealed. So buckle up, because The Walking Dead is back. And you. Are. It.
“The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” the title of the season seven premiere, is actually a clever callback to season one’s CDC episode, a plot point that’s been largely, and noticeably, ignored since then. When the group prepared to leave the exploding CDC, Rick Grimes thanked Dr. Edwin Jenner, telling him that he’s grateful for the latter’s help with escaping; to which Jenner replied, “The day will come when you won’t be,” implying that zombie apocalypse life will eventually become so hellish, that death by instant incineration will seem sweet by comparison. But for all the danger that Rick and co. have faced, they’ve always managed to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Until now.
|(Photo Credit: AMC)|
Any way you slice it, this was a rough one. There’s really no other way to put it. No matter how many hours you spent watching YouTube videos analyzing the camera angles during Negan’s lineup scene. Or, how many Reddit threads you dove down, over the summer, while rumors were leaking left and right about who was, or wasn’t, on set during season seven filming. I don’t think anybody could have been fully prepared for what happened. For the past six years, The Walking Dead has been a winding road of death and loss. Sure, some deaths were less impactful than others (especially in recent seasons); but for the most part, you can plot the arc of this show based on who died and when. And that’s no less true for the character we lost Sunday night.
Say what you will about The Walking Dead and its repetitive storytelling and shallow character development. But for all of its flaws, the reigning #1 rated show on cable is still able to manufacture these moments that make us tune in and refuse to look away. The fact that one of the series’ most memorable moments happened seven years into its run speaks volumes to The Walking Dead’s staying power as one of the few remaining “appointment viewing” shows on television.
Was the execution perfect? No, of course not. Like most, I still believe the writers would’ve been better served showing Negan’s victim in last season’s finale. But, the reality where that was possible is not our own, and all things considered, I think Greg Nicotero and Scott Gimple did a good job of picking up the pieces. Admittedly, if you take a step back, and look at this episode from a broader view, it is kind of weird. Narratively, it plays out more like a finale than a premiere (obviously), bringing closure to multiple storylines, while establishing another. But we get a laser focused introduction to Negan, which helps set the table for what we can expect from the rest of this season.
|(Photo Credit: AMC)|
And what we can expect is a whole lot of Negan. This week was the Jeffrey Dean Morgan show through and through, as most of this episode centers around the psychological beatdown that Negan bestows upon Rick. Morgan’s performance as Negan, the lone bright spot from last year’s finale, is on point. And, for the first time since Jon Bernthal’s Shane Walsh in season two, The Walking Dead finally has an antagonist worth their weight in zombie guts. Unlike the Governor, who was portrayed as nothing more than a violent madman, Negan’s sadistic nature is buoyed by his charisma and utilitarian style of survival. He seeks out Rick’s crew not for vengeance or chaos, the usual M.O. of Walking Dead baddies, but to enforce his own twisted (though logical) sense of order- beating his victims so thoroughly into submission that they will serve his every whim out of cold hard fear. This is exactly the type of villain that The Walking Dead has been craving for so long. Not some drunk abusive husband, or yet another giant zombie hoard, but a character who’s as physically dangerous as he is calculating, bringing structure to a lawless world, in a way we haven’t seen.
In my opinion, there are two types of television watchers- the practical (we’ll call them the Ricks) and the emotional (let’s call them Glenns). The Ricks prefer characters that act rationally, or at least consistently. They need the plot to move forward and as directly as possible. A leads to B leads to C leads to D. In other words- little to no filler. Glenns, on the other hand, are more tolerant of a plot that meanders. Glenns understand that it’s about the journey, not the destination. And even more so than the journey, what matters to Glenns are the characters on that journey- Who are they? What do they stand for? Have they grown as people? Do I care about them?
|(Photo Credit: AMC)|
There was a time when The Walking Dead was a show made for Ricks. The plot was straightforward and pragmatic- how do you survive during the zombie apocalypse? At some point along the way, though, it became a show for Glenns, exploring the more personal question- what type of person do you become when the world goes to hell? For better or for worse, this has been The Walking Dead’s approach for the past few seasons. And, it’s led to an exhaustive cycle of character after character pushing the boundaries on what they consider morally right, only to ask themselves if the cost of surviving is worth taking the lives of others. However, there are some characters, like Glenn, who have always asked this kind of question of themselves, always believing that “it matters who we are,” just like there are some fans who have always cared more about who these characters are as people, rather than how their actions serve as a means to an end.
For the Ricks of the world, watching this season premiere was a means to an end- the only way to finally find out who dies. And sure, for fans of the show, that’s an important thing to know. But as we’ve learned, The Walking Dead is about more than just who dies. It’s about who that character was, and what their death means to the rest of the group. It’s about how that loss will impact the show in the weeks, and even seasons, to come. The Walking Dead is a show for Glenns. This episode is an episode for Glenn.