This is a spoiler-free review. Read on at the bottom for spoilers in full bloody detail.
When Season 6 of The Walking Dead ended, all our heroes were on their knees, being teased with death by a barb-wire-wrapped baseball bat named Lucille, held in the hands of the nefarious Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The episode ended with a murderous thud, but for whom? It was an ending that divided many viewers’ opinions, some furious, some desperately vying for the next episode to air. No matter how you felt, everyone had a suspicion about who met Lucille that changed at every discussion and everyone was sure to tune in to find out.
If, in that finale’s last 15 minutes we thought we had met Negan, it’s clear we were seriously wrong. The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be is his true introduction and we learn just how truly sadistic he really is. Negan provides a new threat, the likes of which our survivors have never seen before. Over the past several seasons, we’ve been learning that the human threat is now much worse than the undead and we’ve seen threats in the cannibals of Terminus and The Governor. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance embodies all that danger and yet manages to escalate it to a level that we never thought possible.
He has one motive: to instil fear in those on their knees, so they will obey him. It almost doesn’t matter who his victim is: one of them was going to die. He told them that, when he first stepped out in front of them. As he sets out to prove, Negan is a man of his word; what does matter is that he carries out his threats, and does so with such authority and joy, that he is able to knock Rick (Andrew Lincoln) off his perch as the alpha male right in front of his family.
Rick threatens revenge, but his resolve is tested, twice. With his mind trying to comprehend what he just had to helplessly witness, and with Negan pulling his strings, there is nothing he can do, no escape from the horror. He has led his family into the hands of the Saviours and to the slaughter. Will he get blamed for causing the horror? And will they be able to forgive him? Throughout, there are several close-ups of Andrew Lincoln’s eyes, which are able to say more than his words ever could. In those eyes, vacant and wide, Rick is distraught and lost. Rick Grimes is broken.
Negan’s assault is violent and visceral. The Walking Dead’s visual effects team once again provide sickening detail and, during one of Negan’s games where Rick is thrown to the walkers – very reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Fog – are able to create sheer fear out of nothing. The undead aren’t completely overlooked, appearing as gruesome as ever and providing two stomach-turning, gross-out moments. But it’s the blood-drained yet blood-stained face of Rick that is the real triumph of the episode.
Providing an hour of anxiety, this season opener is emotional for both us and the characters. The survivors don’t have a lot to do, other than watch Negan break Rick: they might understand what point he’s trying to prove, but he wants to make sure Rick understands and he will go to any length to do so. We’ve waited a long time to find out who was the first to meet Lucille when really, it’s the man behind the bat we needed to know.
The Walking Dead Season 7 is available to buy and download on pay-per-view VOD. For more information, click here.
Entrails and innards (spoilers)
If you go back and read our Season 6 finale review, you’ll see we called it. Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) had found peace, despite being one of the funnest characters who could provide much needed comic relief in the apocalypse, his arc was done and thus a prime candidate for the bat. Despite that, it was still incredibly hard to watch – and more so, hear – the thwack of Lucille as it met his ginger head. Thankfully, Abraham gets to go out with a trademark quip as he tells Negan to “suck my nuts”. Classic Abraham.
But we never expected Glenn (Steven Yeun) to go too. While Glenn’s death was at the forefront of everyone’s mind, being the victim in the original comic book, it was mostly dismissed. With talk of signing a three-year contract in the middle of Season 6 and his fake dumpster death, it seemed a certainty that Glenn would survive again. Although shocking and heartbreaking to see a second victim, Glenn’s death and eyeball pop is a direct image from the comic book source. The long break between episodes has wiped the memory of the dumpster ‘death’ somewhat, so his actual end is still filled with emotion and distress.
But Glenn’s death could have been avoided. If Daryl (Norman Reedus – currently alive, call off the riots) hadn’t been so hot tempered and just followed the rules, perhaps Negan wouldn’t have lashed out again. How will this affect the group? Will Maggie (Lauren Cohan) blame him for her husband’s death? Will she be able to go on? Has she got any fight left in her, and not just for her, but for her potential baby? Undoubtedly, that’s something that will be explored throughout the rest of the season.
Negan is a sick individual, breaking Rick by forcing him into zombies at dawn and then telling him to cut his son’s arm off. In the comics, Rick is an amputee and so when he is pulled into Negan’s RV with the hatchet poised on the table, it seems the page is going to meet the screen again, only it is twisted and turned on Carl (Chandler Riggs) instead. Carl knows what has to be done and doesn’t look distressed by the situation at all, perhaps harbouring some of the sadism of their tormentor?
Can’t handle the trauma of Season 7’s first episode? Try watching it in LEGO to see if that helps:
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