The Walking Dead S07E01 Recap: 'The Day Will Come When You Won't Be' [Season Premiere]
Right up to about the final ten seconds of the finale, and save for one other moment earlier on, the sixth season of The Walking Dead was actually pretty great. I've been on the boat of praising this show as upper echelon TV for a while now. Its characters are almost all three-dimensional, the stories they tell, while seemingly pretty basic on a shallow level, make use of some great themes and techniques, and, generally speaking, the twists are well-thought out and entertaining.
The problem is that, unless your name is George Miller or Martin Scorsese, it's basically impossible to completely hold on to artistic integrity when your show is also a massive commercial success. At the end of the day, The Walking Dead is not a TV show or even a comic book, it's a media property which AMC exploits for advertising revenue, a media property which has produced one of the most successful TV shows arguably of all time. Showrunner Scott Gimble can sit on the set of Talking Dead and tell Chris Hardwick all he wants that the way he ended season 6, depriving us of knowing who Negan killed, or the way he previously left Glenn in TV death purgatory for four episodes were his very own creative decisions, he's too good of a writer for us to believe that. The internet is wrong about a lot of things, but not this. Those were shitty cliffhangers. Scott Gimple knows it, Robert Kirkman knows it, the fans know it, even AMC knows it, yet they perceived that to be the best financial decision at the time.
Whether or not it was the right decision will be easily known whenever the ratings for Sunday's premiere come out. Until then, we can only judge it creatively. And I did that in a relatively scathing review back in April, which admonished AMC for their near-sighted decision, for underestimating the ire of the internet, for putting a damper on what could have been a fantastic season. I could say that it's done, that it's in the past, but so many months later, it's still weighing heavily on the show, and it would be unfair to ignore it.
Because it did affect what we saw in "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be". Because they couldn't help themselves. Because they still had to double-down and string us along, only revealing who Negan actually bashed with that barbed-wire bat a whole twenty minutes in (with commercials, and another five minutes later with the second death), instead of right away. 77
In a way, I understood what Gimple (who, as has become the norm, penned the season premiere) was going for. He wanted this to be mostly about Rick and how he would be affected by what Negan did as the group's leader. Rick is the one who has to take the heat for this, the audience knows that as does Negan, and if anyone is going to be able to sell it, it's Andrew Lincoln, an actor who is unabashedly this show's biggest asset. We spend those twenty minutes - as well as much of the other forty - with his character as he comes to terms with the death( and his new reality as Negan's bitch. Gimple and the show knew very well what they were doing focusing on him, and while part of me wants to ding them for what they tried to pull with that, combined with those twenty minutes of limbo, even I have to admit that what they were doing more or less worked.
This episode wasn't about Abraham and Glenn's deaths, it was about what that means for Rick, as he also has to deal with the fact that he can't do anything about Negan. He lost. He's no longer the leader, not in any meaningful way. It's real change for for him, and real change for him usually means real change for all the other characters too. Combined with Jeffrey Dean Morgan's pitch perfect (no pun intended) performance as Negan and that's a real highlight.
Unfortunately, as the half-dozen paragraphs before that last one indicate, as much as Gimple tried to distract us, those deaths were still very much at the forefront. They were what everyone wanted to see, and to be quite honest, they did deliver on many fronts. First, Abraham tastes Negan's bat, and while I like Abraham and Michael Cudlitz a lot, it's hard not to see that as somewhat of a cop out, since Abraham wasn't really a top-tier character on the show. I was sitting there, laughing at him getting one last zinger out when he proclaims "suck my nuts" to Negan despite the dent in his forehead, and trying to justify it by realizing that Abraham actually has a lot of relationships in this group. Plus it makes sense to kill him off, since he's basically the show's comic relief and the cast doesn't really have anything to laugh about these days.
And then Glenn gets it too. Making him Negan's second victim was actually fairly brilliant. There had been rumors that there might be two victims, and Glenn was probably the most obvious one among the cast (considering this is how he meets his end in the comics), but after Abraham, we all had our guards down. Nevertheless, they went there, and they milked it, focusing on Glenn's bashed-in head and bulging eyes for a while. And then you realize he had plenty of relationships among the group as well. The obvious one with Maggie, of course, but also with others, like Rick, who he's been with longer than any other character on the show.
I get everything that The Walking Dead was going for here. And like in the finale, I liked a lot of it. The deaths made sense contextually and carried a pretty good among of gravitas, considering we waited seven months to see them. Andrew Lincoln and JDM put in fantastic performances that carried the premiere and will likely carry the entire season. Scott Gimple set forth a direction that will probably be great for the show in this seventh season, and we haven't even seen Jesus, Carol, Morgan and The Kingdom yet.
But once again, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this cloud that's been hanging over the show these past seven months, and even during this premiere. Everything in it was meticulously constructed to reflect that, to distract from that, and depending on how over it you are you may or may not have noticed. I still have hope that it might be able to overcome it, but it's hard to be confident about it when the writers spend 60 minutes trying to reassure us that everything is fine. And so, much like the show in those four episodes where Glenn was stuck under a dumpster, I'm uncertain, and I'm more cynical about this show than ever before. But I liked enough of what I saw, and I'm capable enough to put things behind me to give this season premiere 7.5 bats to the face out of 10.
Notes & Quotes:
- Scott Gimple said on Talking Dead that we're going to The Kingdom next week and that it'll be a much different tone. After everything that's been hanging over the show for seven months, including a terrible half-season of Fear The Walking Dead, I'm very much looking forward to it.
- Some very obvious allegories to the biblical story of Abraham later on when Negan almost makes Rick chop of Carl's hand. He stops him, which is still pretty cruel psychological torment.
- I was actually sorta mad that it was Abraham that met the bat, but that's because I loved his character. We've all been resigned to a Glenn death for a while now, but Abraham's was more unexpected and that's probably how you should feel when a character dies. Either way, both Michael Cudlitz and Steven Yeun will be missed and I hope that both get good work in the future.
- Probably the best way to go on a show like this is to tell the person who's killing you: "suck my nuts."
- Biggest shame of this entire mess is how much it's distracted from JDM's amazing performance as Negan: "He's got guts. Not a little bitch like someone I know."
- "What's his name?" "Daryl." "Wow, that actually sounds right."