Season 7 seemed a long way off back in April after the cliffhanger that was the season 6 finale. I hated that ending: all tension without a pay-off, and for me it was lazy writing. They had the opportunity to create a “Red Wedding” moment in the “Game of Thrones” vein (imagine that episode ending on a cliffhanger instead of in despair). Season 6 should have ended with the viewer in tatters after some excellent build-up, to culminate in a surprising and hard-hitting death. Instead, it cut to black.
A waiting game
As the latest episode faded in, my immediate thought was that I should have watched the cliffhanger again, to get myself back to where I was before, emotionally. All the tension that had been built up was gone; it was like starting over again. Even worse, we cut to Rick’s face already covered in blood, and Lucille (the barbed baseball bat) dripping red with the stuff. We were going to be made to wait even longer!
As annoyance flickered momentarily inside, I realise, Hey, I do care! Negan begins what feels like an episode-long monologue, while we’re shown shots of a despaired Rick obviously torn up by the preceding events. Rick declares that he will kill Negan. Not today. Not tomorrow. But someday. Negan can’t have any of that. He grabs Rick and drags him into the RV, driving them both away.
Show us who died already!
In fairness to the writers, they couldn’t just swing the bat in the opening scene. They use this opportunity to create a semblance of the tension that season 6 ended with; delaying the reveal by building the relationship between Rick and Negan some more. Negan needs Rick to understand who is boss now (as if Lucille hadn’t already done that?) He needs to break Rick, completely.
He takes them both to an area overrun by walkers and throws him to their mercy. Cue a desperate Rick trying to fight them off, while flashing back – finally – to the scene we all want to see.
Hitting a homerun
Jeffrey Dean Morgan lets loose with Negan, swinging that bat and relishing his monologues. As the fateful scene plays out, his character sometimes strays into caricature, which doesn’t quite ring true in a universe that was lauded for its gritty realism. Maybe part of me had forgotten all that our heroes had been through up to now, but I wasn’t convinced by the way they sat there and took their fate, as though already in shock.
This toughened group of survivors would, I thought, rather fight tooth and nail to survive – as one – rather than sit and take this shit. But I guess this is where the writers have done an okay job, to show how it could still be possible to completely break someone, even if I wasn’t completely sold as they watched Abraham’s head cave in.
Abraham knelt stoically, if such a thing is possible, as the bat swung. Everyone else’s reaction is best described as being in a state of shock. I was looking for a reaction – anything to put up a fight – and it reliably came from Daryl in what would be a mistake of a move. As it was happening, there was an underwhelming sense of relief – all these months and at last we find out that Abraham is the one on the cutting room floor. Okay, he’s a big character, big enough to be big enough of a deal. Taking one for the team. I can handle that.
Perhaps I was lulled too easily into a false sense of security, perhaps I’m not all that smart, but in the moment of the thing I didn’t even consider that someone else would die! And then Daryl hit Negan and Negan got a bit angry and wham! No build-up, just thwack! as it no doubt would have been described in the comic. Did I just see what I just saw?
I rewound a few seconds in disbelief. Yep, that was Glenn’s skull being thunked. Kudos to the writers, they pulled the rug from my feet on that one! Up until then, I was actually thinking that the violence was underplayed slightly. There was the usual CG walker deaths, but Abraham’s death, though physical, wasn’t as gruesome as it could have been. Maybe because there was time to prepare for it.
For Glenn, they certainly gave him a more memorable ending. Still alive, there was some nice physical gore as they showed his head caved in slightly, and his left eye popping out of his head. Must’ve been interesting on set that day! The physical FX was a great touch in a show that sometimes relies on digital FX too much, satisfying the gore-hound in me.
The rest of the episode tries to ratchet the tension up even further, which proves difficult given that shock. As we cut back to Rick fighting off the zombies by the RV, there is a cheap ploy showing fake flashbacks of the rest of the group catching Lucille to the side of the head, imagined by Rick. The first ‘flashback’ was a shock (still reeling from Glenn) but after the second, and third, it strays into unreality and you know you’re being played.
Negan rescues Rick from the walkers to show that he is the dominant one, again, and then takes him back to the group. Unfortunately for Rick, Negan still doesn’t believe that he is truly broken. Back in the circle (they’ve all been sitting there, waiting, for that long?) Carl is summoned. There’s some not-so-subtle monologuing from Negan again, before revealing that unless Rick chops off Carl’s arm, the whole lot of them will be killed.
At this point, you believe that pretty much anything is possible. Rick pleads, others appeal to Negan’s humanity, but there’s no turning back. As Rick raises the axe, I can’t help but think, again, that the Rick of any of the previous seasons would have just turned and planted that axe in Negan, consequences be damned. Instead, he actually goes to take Carl’s arm, only to be stopped by Negan. He is convinced.
A broken group
Negan and his band of merry men leave them, shattered and torn and a pale version of their former selves (taking Daryl as collateral). Where Rick and the rest of them go from here is unknown. It’s nice to get an injection of new characters and events, which I’m sure will continue in the next episode when we catch up with Morgan and the others, but after six seasons of Rick and Daryl building their badass characters, it was disappointing to see them roll over so easily. Losing fan-favourite Glenn was a big shock, especially after already losing Abraham, which shows that no-one is safe in this world once again. Well, except that now the writers couldn’t kill off any other big players, could they?