Last night the seventh season of The Walking Dead kicked off and answered this cliffhanger of a question: just WHO did Negan beat to death with a baseball bat? (SPOILERS, obviously, although if you haven’t seen the episode yet and you’re reading this, may God have mercy on your soul.)
The episode opened with a blood spattered Rick Grimes being taunted some more by the now bloody bat wielding Negan, and then taken on a ride in a horrible RV for more torment. Negan, you see, knows that Rick is not broken–when Rick said he would kill him some day, that might have ben a tip off – and the next hour will be all about destroying Rick’s will…and that of the audience. Negan can still see the gleam of defiance and spirit in Rick’s eyes…and that must be extinguished.
Flashing back, we see that the unlucky winner of Negan’s game of Eenie Meenie Minie Moe was…Abraham! I’d kind of known that in my heart. It could never have been a woman, and the other guys who were along for the ride were either not expendable (Carl, Daryl) or not wrenching enough (Aaron, Eugene). I mean, I was hoping it was Daryl, I really was, because that would have been the ultimate torture for the fans…but the show runners have come up with something perhaps even more upsetting for Daryl as you’ll see.
Speaking of Daryl, like the hero he is, he has to jump up and try to fight back…and act which compels Negan to take out another cast member…and to the shock of all, it’s Glenn, who gets his brains bashed in with the popped out eyeball moment so memorably drawn in issue #100 of the comic by UK Comics Laureate Charlie Adlard…now recreated on the small screen for your viewing pleasure.
So this, then was the cliffhanger…not one but TWO horrible deaths.
But Rick has still got the look. The show had been teasing having Rick’s hand cut off with some promos mentioning a “right hand man” and the presence of a hatchet throughout the first 30 minutes was another bad sign. Indeed, when Negan found some rubbing alcohol to clean the zombie gore spattered hatchet, the tension became a bit unbearable because even in the Walking Dead fantasy world, you’d have a hard time believing someone could survive an amputation with a blade covered with rotting flesh.
BUT, returning to the scene of the killings and the rest of the group, Negan has something even more dreadful in mind: telling Rick he has to cut off the arm of his own son, Carl, or else everyone else will be killed.
For 7 years we’ve seen Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes suffer and kill and shout and wander around like a blood spattered zombie himself. We’ve seen Carl kill his own mother after delivering his baby sister. We saw a man watch people eat his own foot. But, as showrunners Robert Kirkman and Scott M. Gimple have promised, we’ve never seen anything like Negan and the Saviors, and this was perhaps the most grueling and awful moment in the show’s history…because Rick was finally broken, reduced to a whimpering wreck, despite Carl’s “Just get it over with,” moment.
With Rick reduced to blubbering, Negan allows Carl to keep his limb (for the moment) but takes Daryl as a hostage, promising to cut off chunks of him if Rick doesn’t deliver the tribute that the Saviors demand. And as a sunny day dawns, Negan’s crew drives off, leaving Rick’s crew to pick up the bloodied pieces of what’s left.
This episode was so gruesome and tense that it gave me a stomach ache. It was tense in an “oh no what are they going to do?” way not in a “Oh no what is going to happen?” way, though. The episode was written by Gimple, whose penned some of my favorite episodes, and directed by Greg Nicotero, so it was as Walking Dead as it could get.
I thought a lot of the argument over whether having a cliffhanger to end season 6 was necessary or not was dumb, to be honest. Six months of not knowing who dies! In this spoiler obsessed world that’s priceless! And yet, the whole episode seemed to be set on making viewers suffer as much as possible, not in telling a great story. Granted, that’s been TWD’s mandate for a long time. The show’s insane popularity is due, I think, not to the excellent acting and technical specs, but to the escapism of knowing that no matter how bad your life is, these people have it WAY worse.
While the exploration of whether human decency and the rule of law would survive the destruction of society had led to some of TWD’s strongest moments, its also become tedious at times — just how tedious is shown by Fear the Walking Dead, which plunges a bunch of characters we don’t care about as much into the same miasma of misery, and which I haven’t watched in a year.
And just in case you didn’t get the point that were going to be tortured, a final shot of how things MIGHT have been with Glenn alive and well and dandling his child on his knee as everyone enjoys a nice meal – including heirloom tomatoes!!!– was nothing but rubbing the moses of the audience in the misery on screen. A misery they clearly love or this wouldn’t be the top rated show of its era.
After the episode aired, a 90-minute episode of The Talking Dead ran, shown live from the Hollywood Cemetery with a huge live audience. While rain in LA is not a common event, it started pouring several times during the show, leaving the cast to huddle under umbrellas. Host Chris Hardwick, to give him props, sat out in the pouring rain like a trooper until his mike actually shorted out. The cast had evidently been tippling a bit backstage, as several people gave less than polished answers, and profanity soon began flowing, with Stephen Yuen (Glenn) revealing how he once had a tick on his dick. Sonequa Martin-Green and Christian Serratos stole the show, though, with their on trend, respectively, blue and dark purple lipstick.
All that said, Greg Nicotero did an amazing job directing this episode, with the shift from the dark of night through the mists of dawn beautifully shown. At the end of this post are some behind the scenes shots from the episode.
Also, previously cuddly Jeffrey Dean Morgan makes an amazing Negan, and now that I’ve kept my dinner down, despite everything, I’ll be turning back to future episodes in just to see him villain it up.
Finally not all of the Alexandria gang was at the disaster. And here’s a peak at a quiet scene of invalid Carol and Morgan as a preview of next week’s episode.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.