With the way season six ended, The Walking Dead had a lot to lose going into season seven’s premiere. Fans have had all summer to contemplate every possible scenario for who wasn’t going to walk out of episode one, so the element of surprise was going to be difficult for the writers to utilize. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, since removing shock value could leave much more room for solid storytelling that doesn’t rely on gimmicks. But did The Walking Dead succeed in creating real drama with the season seven premiere titled “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”? I think overall, yes, it was a good start to the season with some truly heartbreaking moments and believable tension between the survivors and Negan, but there were still elements which felt like they were trying to drag out the reveal of the death simply to mess with viewers.
** Warning: Major spoilers below! **
Like many fans of the show, the season six finale left me a little aggravated. I thought the episode was good overall, but the ending felt manipulative. Pretty much everyone knew that Negan was going to do something very bad to someone, so having the writers find excuses to line up nearly every single major character in front of Negan like a buffet felt extremely fake. It stretched believability and felt like it was mainly done so that viewers would have a large list of characters to worry about. It was another example of the show feeling like it was trying to outsmart the viewers at the expense of the characters and the story (like Glenn’s trip under a dumpster earlier in the season). And then, to not reveal who got to meet Lucille… well, I thought that was a mistake. After watching the season seven premiere, I still think it was a mistake.
The big reveal doesn’t happen until the third segment of the show. In a flashback from Rick’s point of view, we finally see that Abraham is the one who we heard getting beaten to death in the previous episode. As far as main characters to eliminate, Abraham feels like a safe choice. He is a likable character and an extremely fun part of the show, but ever since Eugene revealed that he was lying about needing to get to Washington D.C., Abraham has kind of been floating around without much to do. Abraham’s main storyline has been about finding a purpose in life and getting closer to Sasha, which is great, but he seemed to have finally found some measure of peace last season. That’s never a good sign in The Walking Dead, especially when a character’s story arc seems to have come to a conclusion.
I don’t think that waiting all summer to reveal that it was Abraham was a smart decision because I don’t think that it packs the punch that some other characters might have had in that moment. I think showing Abraham being killed at the end of season six would have had a bigger impact on viewers because they wouldn’t have had time to prepare for the absolute worst only to be given something that was pretty bad. It also would have had a bigger impact in the season six finale given the main focus of the season seven premiere.
While fans were focused on who was going to die, the season seven opener instead focused on the relationship between Rick and Negan. The episode starts where last season ended. Negan has killed someone, but we don’t know who it is. Rick is understandably upset and informs Negan that he will kill him one of these days. Negan finds that amusing, and he spends the rest of the episode breaking down Rick’s will and defiance. The breaking down of Rick’s resolve is really what this entire episode is about, and I feel that it was very well done.
They went a lot further to make it believable that Rick would allow himself to be humbled by Negan than they did in the comics. And really, they needed to. Rick was crazy confident in his abilities to murder anything that stood in his way, so Negan had to do a lot. Abraham’s death was only the first part. Negan also asserted his dominance by taking Rick’s weapon, his hatchet, and symbolically using it to demonstrate that Rick is powerless and will willingly give Negan anything Negan wants. Negan tosses the hatchet into a group of walkers and forces Rick to go fetch it for him.
It’s during Rick’s hunt for his own hatchet among a swarm of walkers when he thinks about what he has to lose if he goes against Negan and his army. He sees all of his extended family taking Lucille to the skull in thoughts of what is possible, and that’s when Abraham’s death is revealed. Rick also remembers something else, and this is where the episode finally goes for the huge emotional impact that everyone was waiting for (and dreading).
After Abraham is finished, Negan notices that Rosita is particularly upset. He repeatedly tells her to look at Abraham’s remains which prompts Daryl to defend her by punching Negan. Negan explains that he will not tolerate actions against him like that, but he chooses not to take it out on Daryl. At least not yet. He sees something in Daryl that he wants to use for himself. Instead, Negan makes another example of a survivor. This time it’s Glenn.
Glenn was always one of the main picks for death in this episode mostly due to the fact that Glenn is the one that dies by Negan’s bat in issue 100 of the comics. I thought he was a likely candidate because he’s one of the most likable characters, he’s one of the few remaining from the original group, and he has strong ties to many characters so his death will cause many huge ripples in character development. The main reason I didn’t think he would be killed is because of last season’s story where everyone thought he was dead. I never thought he was dead last season, but the fact that they teased it that makes his actual death this soon afterward feel a little less impactful than it might have been otherwise. As I write that though, it feels like I’m nitpicking. I am.
Glenn’s death in this episode was tragic. Absolutely. It brought back memories of issue 100 of the comic, down to a near exact recreation of the image of the front of Glenn’s skull caved in and his left eye bulging out of his face. I didn’t really want to relive those memories. I actually stopped reading the comic for a few months after that issue came out. I was that upset. I don’t think Glenn’s death in the show will have the same impact on me that the comic version did, mostly because I’ve already been through that so I was kind of prepared this time, but that doesn’t mean this episode didn’t hit me hard. Glenn has grown and changed a lot over the years. For much of his time on the show he has been the heart and conscience that keeps the group grounded (though he has drifted from that role at times). Glenn was also the person that brought Rick to the original group of survivors in the first place. His death hurts. Glenn telling Maggie that he’ll find her right before Negan finishes him off is a moment that will stick with me for a long time.
Glenn’s death happens about halfway through the episode, and honestly, I was kind of numb after that. Negan continued to break Rick down by nearly forcing him to chop off Carl’s hand (which I’m glad they didn’t go through with), but I didn’t feel as much in that moment as I did during Glenn’s execution. I think that might have been a bit of a problem, because it meant that the focus of the episode had shifted from Rick and Negan to Glenn. And rightfully so. Glenn’s death deserved full attention and emotional weight. It’s a delicate balancing act though, and I think overall the episode was good, if somewhat uneven.
The parts I really like about the episode are the little things that open up new storylines for the season. Maggie wants blood for blood, but Rick seems like he’s finally starting to understand that forging straight ahead into danger isn’t always the best option. Sasha and Rosita have a moment of understanding as they both carry away Abraham’s body, which could lead to some interesting developments there, especially given that Sasha was on the verge of giving up before Abraham started pursuing her. Daryl has been taken by Negan, and Dwight very much wants to kill Daryl, so there will be plenty of good conflict there. Also, it was the punch that Daryl delivered to Negan that caused him to kill Glenn, so I think there will probably be a lot of guilt for him. And Carl seems to be one of the few who is still defiant towards Negan.
So, I liked all of the character moments, but the things I didn’t care for were mostly down to plotting and pacing. If Abraham had been killed in the season six finale, then the focus on Rick and Negan in this episode wouldn’t have taken away from his death as much. At the end of this show, Abraham felt like the third most important thing. Also, putting Glenn’s death in the middle of the episode, while surprising, seemed to take away some of the impact of the moment between Rick and Carl. I also didn’t care for the first two segments of the show where they continued to drag out the reveal of Negan’s actions. It was probably supposed to build tension, but I’ve spent all summer losing the tension I had built up. I really just wanted to get moving with the story.
This was a good episode, but it could have been handled differently. Even so, this is probably the most emotional I’ve been during an episode since season three’s “Killer Within.” That’s high praise in my opinion, and I think this episode will rank among the better ones in the series. As we move on into season seven, I am hopeful. It’s always interesting to see what they do after a huge episode like this. I think the next few episodes will be pretty quiet as everyone recovers, but I know big things are in the future, including Ezekiel and his tiger. All in all, I think it’s a good start to the season.
Series: The Walking Dead
Title: “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”
Original Air Date: October 23, 2016