'The Walking Dead' Season 7 Premiere Review
The Walking Dead crossed the line with Jefferey Dean Morgan's entrance as Negan, the iconic villain from the comic book series. In the source material, he made an enormous entrance. In the show, he tore the entire series to pieces. And then, he likely went home to have a hard earned nap, and probably slept like a baby.
The premiere is upsetting and, for the most part, manipulative. And it was meant to be. The team behind the episode achieved everything they set out to. In fact, it's emotional turmoil, a horrific experience that drove home the fact that The Walking Dead has entered a new era. But there are two thoughts that arose in my mind as I watched the episode.
The first, and most prominent, being, 'why am I watching this?' The thought came to mind a number of times as I watched Rick battle walkers at the whims of Negan, while flashing back to each character and a select few shots of just who they were, as if we needed reminding that we'd spent however many seasons with each one of them. The second thought was a little more abstract. Because despite the comic living on well beyond the point at which we are now, I can't help but feel that this premiere can only be justified if we're entering the show's third and final act.
Because really, how can things get any worse? At times, it felt like torture porn. At others, as I said before, entirely manipulative. And then, there came the end, where the characters finally got to reflect without a spotlight on them in the form of an army watching on. Lauren Cohen completely took that spotlight, and, along with Andrew Lincoln, reminded me of why I should care. Still though, by this time, I was entirely numb to the experience.
It often felt like the writers and producers of the show felt the pressure that last season's cliffhanger had built up. There's a chance, though, that such an episode can pay off in the long run. As we watch Negan's soldiers walk past our fallen heroes, at no other point have things felt more dire, and the way forward felt so crushingly gloomy. I expect we'll spend most of the next episode visiting the new community led by the tiger-owning Ezekiel, in an attempt to lighten the mood after this week.
In reality, the manipulative mindset clearly being harbored behind the scenes had already crossed the line with the cliffhanger, at least in many eyes (I was personally not totally phased by it, though of course took no joy in it). That they chose to draw things out even longer was excruciating and at the the same time utterly advantageous. The show wanted to make a statement, but it did so at the cost of any apparent narrative appeal. We learned that Negan is a cruel, evil, and a beyond-worthy antagonist for the series, but did it need this plus the fifteen minutes to close season 6 to make that so apparent?
We can address those two deaths specifically, and while not exactly surprising, Abraham and Glenn's departure was fittingly crushing, and particularly Glenn's comic-crowd-pleasing end courtesy of Daryl's inability to control himself. Following all that, including Rick's trip with Negan, we're put through more as Carl is laid down beside his father, with a line drawn around his arm, and Rick with direct instructions to hack it off with his own hatchet. By this point, it's gotten past hard to watch. It's heightened horror at its most terrifying and just as equally meaningless as some of the show's past attempts at shock-tactics.
But really, beside the lack of plot advancement, we also get nothing in terms of character. What did we learn about Negan that the end of season 6's finale didn't show us? Not much more than the extent of his ruthlessness. It was an exercise in proving that at any given time, with enough willpower, the show can utterly crush its main character and its audience. The pilot is left to rely on the remainder of the season in order to try and justify itself.
It certainly begins a new chapter in the series, and we get to sit on edge and wait for Negan's next statement. If this isn't the show's final stretch (and there's every reason to believe it isn't), then it may find itself meandering for many, many years to come, trying to up the game when there's no way it possibly can. Unfortunately, the meandering has already well and truly started.