Before Season 7 of The Walking Dead premiered with the harrowing “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” (the line Jenner said to Rick in Season 1 after he let the group leave the CDC) Chris Hardwick hosted a special preview edition of The Talking Dead. He closed with something along the lines of “whether you’re coming back, or not coming back, we appreciate you”. While he may not have known who Negan’s victim was at the time, he did know that the reveal would upset some fans so much that they may stop watching the show altogether. He was probably right.
Plenty of people invest too much emotion in television shows, just check Twitter after an episode of Game of Thrones or TWD and you won’t just see a stream of hyper-exaggerated reactions as millennials are wont to do, but also a lot of sadness, frustration, and anger that seems to be coming from a genuine place. I know I have sure lost it over television shows on many occasions. The finale of Lost turned me into a sobbing mess, I was wide-eyed and shaking when the credits rolled for “the red wedding”, and let’s just say I’m glad I watched Glenn’s fake-out dumpster death with no one else around; don’t even get me started on Friday Night Lights, or that episode of The Simpsons with Homer’s mother.
I mention that to mention this: when we truly give ourselves over to a television show – or any piece of art whether that be music, a film franchise, or a book – and its characters, many of us agree to a certain degree of emotional vulnerability, one which will be exploited and used against us by writers who know exactly how to press our buttons, and how to get those headlines flowing; they thrive on us being devastated by something that happens to a character we love. It’s manipulative, and it intensifies that word-of-[insert social media channel] that smart TV shows now rely on. But it also shows that while a series may not have the best writing, it has characters worth caring about, worth investing in, worth rooting for episode by episode – in TWD’s case, year after year.
I’ll just dive into it: Glenn is dead, and he died in the most brutal way. I know I’m not alone in feeling some kind of loss, and to the human brain a sense of loss – whether it be your favourite plant, a television character, or a pet – is still a sense of loss, no matter how ridiculous it may seem to others. There’s grief there, however minuscule, and since the episode ended it has been coming at me in waves. Of course, these kinds of losses are easier to get over, but there’s still that feeling of agony that comes after the initial shock (assuming you actually liked Glenn) of watching someone brutally murdered, someone who has been the heart and soul of the show – part of its very fabric – since the very first episode when his voice kept Rick company in that lonely tank. It’s upsetting when you realise that he won’t be part of the The Walking Dead anymore.
Of course we had to wait 20 minutes to find out who meets Lucille because the writers are more interested in using an unconventional in medias res structure to draw this whole thing out, like the gimmick it has become. Hence, we got one long slow-burning torture with Negan standing tall over Rick both physically and mentally, forcing him away from the group and into a misty pit of walkers to retrieve his own weapon and deliver it back to Negan, like a dog. This mind game was an effective way to drill into our heads that this Negan is a sociopathic, clever guy, but it felt overindulgent given focus was still on the result of that cliffhanger.
And the result: Negan originally chooses Abraham after the show retreads to his ‘Eeny Meeny’ shtick, swiftly beating Abe’s skull in while simultaneously taunting him. It’s over the top – going even further than I ever would have expected – with Negan really going to town on the skull of someone we have grown to love as a character. The strangest part was the restrained pain and anger from the rest of the survivors – no screaming, no swearing, just silent sobbing. That is, until Negan begins to tease Rosita with Lucille and draws the wrath of a very emotional, very stupid Daryl who gets up and clocks the new super villain right in the face.
Fuck you Daryl.
After a brief speech and little-to-no build up an all-smiles Negan turns around and whacks Glenn in the head to punish Daryl, proceeding to beat him while we the viewers watch this annoying back and forth between a traumitised Rick remembering how it all went down, and a bloody Glenn with his eye hanging out trying to scream out to Maggie (“Maggie, I’ll find you”). Through all this, Maggie is in shock and the rest are frowning and maybe shedding one or two tears – again, the subdued reactions are not believable, with the exception being Eugene.
Not only does this completely steal impact away from Abraham’s character – a disservice to a great presence – but it’s a clumsy farewell to Steven Yuen. It would have been much more powerful if there was no cliffhanger and Glenn met his comic book fate with straight-forward, unflinching brutality. However, Glenn dies as the result of Daryl protecting Rosita, essentially robbing a major character of his own fate (moreso than the alternative), cheapening his death and making all the gore seem rather camp. Yes it’s a visceral death, with the camera furthering that cruelty by indulging in Glenn’s smashed brains all over the floor, yeah it’s shocking and emotionally effective, but it’s completely bereft of any real depth seeing as the writers already had their little fake-out with Glenn earlier in Season 6, something which was also drawn out and mishandled by a show that values being a hashtag over character service. Surely being the one of the most successful television shows in years is enough? The writers have become obsessed with toying around with their fans because it works. They are more concerned with going viral than writing good television.
I’ve never read the graphic novels but I do know that Glenn takes it from Negan in the 100th issue; I’ve known that since the first season. However, what I did assume was that Daryl’s character was built to replace Glenn, worked up as Rick’s right-hand-man for years now, one with a very sizable fan base made up of both fans and insufferable hypebeasts. “If Daryl dies, we riot” became one of the best known catchphrases to come from TWD fandom, and it’s very possible that for that reason alone the showrunners decided to spare Daryl, even though having Negan kill him would have been the best decision possible for the show – more interesting for Carol’s character, and more interesting for Rick’s character, while still moving forward with Maggie’s storyline, just with Glenn by her side. Hell, even Carol could have replaced Maggie going forward if that was the case.
What did work rather well was Jeffrey Dean Morgan and the way he handled Negan. Here you have this guy committing to the most despicable and sadistic murder on the show to date and yet he is casual and flippant, even charming in some sick sort of way. The disconnect between Negan’s personality and his actions gave the new big bad a far more terrifying shadow.
After Glenn’s gratuitous death – a villain’s death by television and film standards – it was hard to muster up any investment in the episode, and although Andrew Lincoln was incredible as he turned into a subservient mess in trying to beg Negan not to have him cut Carl’s arm off – another mind game – the remaining 20 minutes felt like filler.
Lauren Cohen gave us a terrific performance at the end with Maggie juggling so many feelings at once, letting rage and determination sketch her pain, but that was followed up by a sadistic dream sequence showing Glenn holding his would-be son and nodding to Abraham while everyone sits down to some family lunch. Again, this episode comes with some good television and then immediately follows it up with overindulgent crap, almost as if the showrunners are competing with Game of Thrones to prove they can play with and torture their viewers just as well.
The Walking Dead has always managed to atone for bad episodes like this, but it’s going to be tricky moving forward. Undeniably these deaths, particularly Glenn’s, have rocked the show and represent the biggest change to date, but if the writers would rather cater to the tween-y “if Daryl dies, we riot” type fan with itchy Twitter fingers then what difference will it make? In the end all you’ll have is a half-excellent show that gets by on its ability to shock and entertain.
Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
- Rick hanging from the chained walker
- Rick begging Negan to spare Carl
- Lauren Cohen’s acting at the end
- The disconnect between Negan’s personality and his actions
- Carl talking back to Negan
- Daryl making the dumbest decision he has ever made and getting Glenn needlessly killed, which is not consistent with his characterisation as a practical survivor.
- Dragging out the cliffhanger results
- Switching back and forth between Rick and the brutal Lucille scenes (then having Rick imagine faux-death scenes)
- Overindulgent gore
- The final dream sequence
- Subdued reactions to deaths felt unconvincing
- Glenn dying as a result of someone else being foolish
- Fuck Daryl
- If we spend most of this season reiterating in different ways how subservient Rick is to Negan then this episode will look good in comparison
- Who should be the one to kill Negan when this arc is over? I’m thinking Maggie would be the safest bet, but I would love to see Carl step up to the plate.
- What purpose will Daryl now serve the show? Perhaps the writers threw this in to lessen his fandom a bit so that when they do kill Daryl all the tweens won’t be as angry.
Episode MVP: Abraham – for “taking it like a champ”
The Walking Dead Season 7 will air in Australia every Monday on FX, fast-tracked from the U.S at 1:30pm AEDT and again at 7:30pm AEDT