SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this if you haven’t watch the season seven premiere.
I would like to start by saying that The Walking Dead is my favorite currently running show. I don’t state this lightly; I’m a television critic who has watched way, way too much TV, and so my standards are pretty darn high. Yet, this one has consistently explored human morality and complex character development in a way that surpasses just about any other on the air, despite the fact that it’s got a bunch of zombies, creatures I don’t particularly care for. So yeah, it’s a really, really good show.
Having said that, this is not going to be a very positive article, so I wanted to establish the place I’m coming from before I criticize, as a genuine fan that cares, not just some snobby critic who doesn’t know this program very well.
The episode itself, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” is another excellent hour of the series, of which I have few complaints about when taken on its own. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) comes face-to-face with his most dangerous adversary yet, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and painfully has his worldview changed by said villain. There is some very tense suspense over whether or not Rick will either lose a hand or be forced to chop his own son’s, Carl (Chandler Riggs), off. The end is a perfect, moving capper that is sorely needed after the carnage. So it wasn’t this hour alone that has frustrated me.
My deep disappointment comes with two, in my opinion, spectacularly bad moves in last year’s run that dampen what should have been much, much more emotional scenes last night. These deal with the deaths of Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), and while these are long-time characters I care deeply about, their passings were not all that affecting. I’ve cried over many characters on this show, but barely felt a thing for them watching last night’s episode. It had nothing to do with the actors, and everything to do with the way the show has treated the characters leading up to it.
I have no problem with the telegraphing of Abraham’s demise throughout last spring’s finale. It is a sweet send-off, just as surely going to come to pass as Glenn’s death under the dumpster earlier last year (more on that in a moment). So why in the heck would the show leave us on a cliffhanger instead, making viewers wait many months for confirmation of the thing we already all knew was going to happen?
Had this been a fake out, I might forgive it, but the sheer shamelessness of the lead up and unresolved story sucked. It just wasn’t necessary. Some members of the production have claimed that the death launches a new story so they had to hold it, but I disagree. I’ve had a night to think about it, and had they showed that it was Abraham who was beaten to death last spring, I don’t think it would have lessened the impact of this “new world order” story in “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” in the least. If anything, it would have been more affecting because we wouldn’t have been run down by theories and debates and internet rumors all summer.
By the time it actually happens, as much as I adore Abraham and wish he didn’t died, I was like “yep, finally,” exhausted from the wait and reiterating my view for the number of people who wanted to know who I thought was dead and why over the interim. (I don’t say this with any ego; everyone I know who watches the show wanted to know everyone else who watches the show’s theories. Except me, apparently, who hates this kind of discussion.)
Now, let’s talk about Glenn. Last fall, The Walking Dead presented an hour that very clearly, though subtly, telegraphs his death next to a dumpster. When the production decided to do an about-face and reveal that dumpster death didn’t really happen, no plausible explanation for Glenn’s survival is given. The situation, as it is presented, does so with the flimsiest of excuses that is not anywhere near the narrative’s usual standards. (Read my review of that episode here.) Obviously, I’m still not over it.
So when watching Glenn pass last night, as disturbing as the actual sequence is (copied beautifully from the comic book), I didn’t care because he should already have been dead, and as far as I was concerned, The Walking Dead was just resetting their universe to right and moving on.
The idea of a second death at Negan’s hand is a solid one. That would have provided the surprise Abraham’s murder was lacking, and really given us a great start to the new year, something to talk about. Not to mention, Daryl (Norman Reedus) causing the second death will definitely provide some more guilt for the man who doesn’t need it. Unfortunately, Glenn is the one character in the lineup that this twist doesn’t work for, because he died at this point in the comics and he is just a correction to a bad plot line.
I do actually get the mindset that led to setting up last night’s story. The writers may have been excitedly talking about how they’d kill Abraham, defying comic readers’ expectations and making us think Glenn was safe, only to twist the knife in the back unexpectedly. Sadly, after the cheesy, unnecessary cliffhanger and Glenn’s ridiculous survival under the dumpster, there was no impact at all, at least not for me.
The saving grace here is that last night’s episode was as good as what I’ve come to expect from The Walking Dead, and it resolves and moves past those two major missteps from last year. Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson and will go back to giving us nearly flawless entertainment without the gimmicks. If we have to go through the same cheese in season seven as those two huge miscalculations in season six are, I will have to rethink what my favorite show is.
The only other thing I’d like to add is that I think it’s absolutely ridiculous AMC will allow the level of gore we saw in “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” and still won’t allow Negan to use his favorite word (which, by the way, has been filmed and will be uttered frequently in the DVD release of this season). Our priorities on decency standards in this country are pretty screwed up, am I right?
The Walking Dead continues its seventh season Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.