WARNING: Spoilers from the season 7 premiere of “The Walking Dead”
Brutal. Violent. Upsetting. These were a few of the words that popped into my head as I watched the first episode of season seven of “The Walking Dead.” For months, fans were wondering who would be at the receiving end of Negan’s barbed-wired bat he affectionately calls “Lucille.” Would the show play it safe, as it has been for the past two or three seasons, or would they take a risk and off one of the main characters?
I am glad they didn’t play it safe. We got not one, but two of the main players meeting their grizzly end on this episode. Abraham, who really was a fairly newish character, and Glenn, who met this exact disturbing end in the comic books. It was unsettling to watch, but this is what the show needed as it had gone in a stagnant direction for too long.
I spoke to my fellow JOE-DOWN reviewer, Joe Brown, about this. He pointed out that the mystery of not knowing who was going to make it by the end of one episode to the next has been missing for a while now. This is a zombie apocalypse, with people surviving by any means necessary, and always wondering what was going to happen next was part of the excitement of the first few seasons.
Then it wasn’t.
It got so bad, that I almost just quit watching last year after the fake-out Glenn death (hey, he hid under that magic dumpster!). It made me think “well, we now know that the inner circle is always safe (Rick, Carl or “Coooorrrlll,” Glenn and Daryl).” It made for some boring television that felt flat afterward. I felt the show relied on too many tricks/gimmicks and not enough risks. And with a show like this, no longer taking risks will have viewers walking away.
But knowing Negan was coming, I held out some hope. I know a bit about the comics, and have known about this character for a while now. His introduction to the crew had to have a major impact. If it didn’t, and say he just bashed Eugene and his fancy mullet with the bat, I would probably never watched again. This show sorely needed an antagonist that is a real threat.
The finale of season six, which made for a months-long wondering who will get the bat (and another terrible cliffhanger idea that this show has relied on too much for way too long), introduced us briefly to the character. I enjoyed Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance in the short bit I saw at the time (I pretty much enjoy him in everything he is in). So, I decided to see for myself how this episode would turn out.
I can say I am back with the show. There is now, once again, a looming danger directed at everyone. With a sadist like Negan, it feels like anyone could be his next victim. And Morgan is playing the sadistic character with a glee and charisma that while doesn’t make me root for him, I am certainly entertained by his presence. A formidable foe has been seriously lacking since the Governor (Gareth was a sad hipster who was never a real threat to the gang). The show felt like it was treading water for a while.
The episode had its flaws (one thing about “The Walking Dead” is that is always has weird flaws going for it). While I enjoyed Rick and Negan going on a trip in the RV, and how Negan wants Rick to do his bidding by psychologically tormenting him while fighting of the physical threat of the undead, I was baffled by many of the edits here and how Rick lost the ax when he was on top of the RV (I may have missed him dropping it). I also thought the vision of the picnic with Glenn and his child with everyone was hokey. And while I liked the sentiment of Abraham going out with a zinger, I think they could have had him say something more interesting than “suck my nuts.” But these are little nitpicks I always have with any show.
Negan was the shot in the arm the show needed. I know many people were upset by the graphic violence (though, I still think the slaughter house scene from season five was probably worse, and I didn’t hear as many complaints about that) and I get that to an extent. But I argue it was needed to show just how dangerous this new foe is. It was also taken almost exactly from the comic book with Glenn.
Now there has been some real danger put back into the show. Back to the idea that the real threat to humanity in this world is not really the zombies walking about, but it is these characters’ fellow human beings. I find Negan and his ruthlessness and quest for power more interesting and frightening an enemy than the zombies. I am interested in what directions this season will venture into.