The Walking Dead 7×01 ‘The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be’: Right off a cliff

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How did we get here?

Seriously.  I’m wondering.  How did we get from what was certainly a promising beginning of Season 6 to a season premiere so unfathomably bad that I would give up on the series entirely if I didn’t have to write about it?  It’s remarkable.  The Walking Dead has always been a show of highs and lows, of quality that fluctuated rapidly, sometimes within the same episode.  But this episode is such an absurd low that it sets itself apart from anything the show has ever done before.  It’s The Walking Dead indulging all of its worst impulses, embracing its desire for torture and misery porn, and spitting in the face of viewers that actually want to watch a television show with decent storytelling, reverence to character, and emotional resonance.  And it’s even more insulting that The Walking Dead pretends to have those things, pretends to be quality drama when it has descended so ridiculously low, when it has willingly run itself off a cliff.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

The Walking Dead could have course corrected, or at least tried.  It had dug itself into a pretty deep hole at the end of last season, ending on a criminally stupid and manipulative cliffhanger that was designed to make us come back to watch Season 7, not to push forth any solid plotting or character development.  The ad campaign for this season has also been absurd and, frankly, a little revolting, trying to hype us up to watch a character get his head caved in with a baseball bat.  The advertisements for this season are basically asserting that we want to watch this torture happen, and while that may be true of some viewers, it feels insulting that the show’s staff would think that its audience is a horde of bloodthirsty simpletons.  So I had a bad feeling that this premiere would double down on the awful Season 6 finale, and boy, did it.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

Because here’s the thing.  A television show has to EARN its misery.  When Game of Thrones aired the Red Wedding, it was very pointed how each character went into the scene, how the history of the characters informed how they got there, the reaction they had.  The setup for that scene was incredibly detailed, very involved, and remarkably intricate.  That’s why it worked.  The series had built enough goodwill, had done enough prep work, that the scene was justified.  It was perfectly in line with how the series was positioning itself.  The same undeniably cannot be said for The Walking Dead.  Season 6, while occasionally strong, squandered some character development for the sake of twists that didn’t make sense.  The Glenn death fake-out was incredibly manipulative, showing us that the show was willing to play with its audience in order to keep us coming back for more.  And the entire build up to Negan’s scene was all about spectacle.  It was all about wanting to know who died.  To boil the show down to a gladiator match it to reduce it to its most insultingly negative components.  Television shows have lately had a habit of competing to see which one can be the most miserable, which one can kill characters in the most shocking ways possible.  Indulging in this mindset, that television is bloodsport, is remarkably dangerous, and it runs counter to the dramas that actually are working.  Rectify, Orange is the New Black, The Leftovers, the dramas that are more about empathy than anything else.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

So what are we left with?  This episode of The Walking Dead waits twenty minutes before getting to what they’ve been advertising for over half a year now.  The Rick content is mostly filler; it’s all there to pad the episode so that it can actually fill 45 minutes.  Because, honestly, the whole episode can be boiled down to everybody sobbing incoherently and two characters, Abraham and Glenn, getting their heads caved in.  Abraham’s death is awful, to be sure, but it would have worked if the show hadn’t relied on that cliffhanger or built up the death so absurdly much.  It would have worked if this all happened in last season’s finale.  Glenn’s death, on the other hand, steps way over the line.  Not only does the show just revel in the gore and the violence, it also completely invalidates Abraham’s death, revealing it as a cheap manipulation tactic to trick us into believing that the main tragedy is over.  And while Negan’s character is energetic, the level of suffering and torture on display is almost cartoonish.  It’s not taken seriously.  It’s not even supposed to be sad.  I mean, how can it be sad when Negan’s dialogue is so awful (“vampire bat”?  Ughhhhhhhh) that it drains any of the emotion from the scene.  It’s like The Walking Dead doesn’t want us to care about these deaths, that it would rather we recoil and cringe than actually feel sad about this.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

And who’s fault is this?  I honestly don’t know.  It’s partly Kirkman’s fault, as I feel he is so enamored by his own creation and so completely unable to translate comics to television that he embodies the worst the show has to offer.  It’s partly Gimple’s fault for not actually coming up with 45 minutes worth of story to put in the episode, for structuring the episode like he did, and for scripting the episode so poorly.  And it’s partly AMC’s fault for agreeing to advertise and then display something this repulsive and revolting without giving it the weight it deserves.  There’s more than enough blame to go around for creating something this needlessly disgusting, sadistic, and awful.  And it’s not simply about the graphic nature of the scene.  It’s about the way it’s executed.  Abraham’s death, by itself, is something that could have worked.  But it was dragged so far down by everything else that there was almost no way to execute it well.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

There’s a host of other stupid things that happen in the episode, from teasing that Rick might have to amputate his own son’s arm, to the minutes and minutes dedicated to the supporting cast crying and looking sad, to the bad dinner montage at the end of the episode.  If there is anything to look forward to, it’s that maybe Carol, Morgan, and The Kingdom will be decent enough to rescue the show from the absolute brink.  The Walking Dead is capable of examining how the status quo is formed, how communities are created, and how status quos and belief systems come into conflict.  At this point, the Negan storyline is a bust.  It’s awful, and even Negan, who Jeffrey Dean Morgan does a good job playing, is just a one-dimensional psychopath.  The other storylines have to be good enough to compensate for how low the show has gone.  And, honestly, I don’t know if it can.

So where do we go now?  The show has been renewed already for an eighth season, but it can’t even prove that it has enough legitimate story to fill its seventh season premiere.  This premiere was so bad, so repulsive, that I would give up on the show right now if I could.  Of course, there is always the possibility that the further the show distances itself from the cliffhanger, from the awful death scenes in this episode, that it could steadily improve itself.  But I’m not going to hold my breath at this point.  Because this show has actually gotten to the point where I have pretty much no faith in it anymore.  Now it has to prove that, after slapping the viewers in the face, it’s actually worth watching.

What did you think of the episode?  Are you as irritated as I am?  Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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  • Gui

    To be honest, I’m actually not as irritated. While yes, the show did reach a certain low, I honestly think the worst is past us. Thinking about it, it all boils down to one thing: The glorification of Negan’s introduction and issue 100 that’s been going on since 2012 and it’s kept growing. I still remember, right as season 3 ended people were already thinking “will Negan show up in season 4?”, and then having just reached the midseason finale of season 4, the first thing that people were talking about was immediately Negan and the Lucille kill with fake posters showing up and all. And it kept going since then, over and over and over. In Talking Dead they mentioned how they’ve known who they were gonna kill since 2 years ago, and I do think that’s led to a string of bad decisions with them thinking “How can we top issue 100 and shock people even more?”, and they went for making things as miserable as possible, as if saying “look! you were saying we wouldn’t dare do the Lucille kill but we’ve gone even further than that!”

    But now with this past us, there’s really few moments in the comics that people talk about as much. Everyone seemed to know about Negan’s first appearance and kill, but the fanbase that knows further than that is noticeably smaller and there’s few moments people keep thinking are as “iconic” that they think the crew wouldn’t have the courage to pull off, and I think that’ll actually help the series. I have confidence in the future of the series because for a while now I’ve been convinced that the rest of the Negan arc is something that can be dealt in noticeably better ways without the weight of building up to a single moment that people seem to consider the absolute landmark that they’d feel they need to top in terms of brutality. I’m still convinced Season 7 will cover only the content of 2 volumes, What Comes After and March to War, so I also suspect they might’ve gone this route to say “look, we killed 2 major characters in the premiere” to make up for the relative lull that the content of those 2 volumes is in comparison. And eventually we’ll get to “A New Beginning”, which I do think is Kirkman actually doing something properly good and what I’ve enjoyed the most from the comic to date, so that’s something that I’d really like to see adapted and expanded.

    To be fair, there were parts I liked about this. Specifically the ending. Maggie’s already thinking 10 steps ahead and getting ready to fight back, Sasha’s holding it together and I honestly could see good things coming out of a future Maggie/Sasha episode. And I actually did like that “what could’ve been” dinner montage, it did work for me.

    And for the rest of the season, we have Morgan and Carol who definitely do have my interest, the potential they have with Maggie and Sasha if they handle the aftermath of this properly, as well as whatever they decide to do with Tara and Heath which should be original content (no Negan there for at least 1 episode so yay). And as I mentioned before, I expect them to end with the ending to March to War this season, which should be a much brighter place than this. I do think the worst is past us and things will actually improve from now on. Or maybe I’m being too optimistic, but hey.

    • Michael St. Charles

      Thanks for commenting! I’m actually inclined to agree with you that the worst is behind us, though I’m hesitant to make that argument until we get another 4 or 5 episodes in. They just built up to this episode in the worst way possible and then executed it in the worst way possible. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the show going dark, like Glenn’s death, if it was introduced and built up correctly. But, you know, the way that created the context for that death was just awful all the way around. Some of that had to do with advertisement, some of that had to do with adherence to the comics, some of that had to do with not understanding what the audience wants (though the ratings for this episode were shockingly high, so maybe I’m wrong, maybe this is exactly what the audience wants).

      They just have to make Negan more interesting as the season goes on. If he’s only a sociopath with terrible one-liners, we’re in for a long season. Honestly, I have no idea if the show will give itself space to improve or if it’ll keep spinning its wheels. Judging from the comics (which I’ve only read a bit of), you get the feeling that Negan will get more interesting?

      • Gui

        Based on what I’ve seen of IMDB reviews and comments in other places, surprisingly a lot of people considered this a great episode (just 0.1 below JSS which was at 9.4) and while there’s a part of the audience that’s appaled with the episode a lot of people seem to consider that it made up for the cliffhanger. Honestly, it seems like a vocal minority at this point (which we’re fitting it right now) that seems to not be pleased with the episode. People apparently did want this gore-fest which honestly had no place in this series, I know to expect death in the series, but when you decide to adapt something you need to know what works and what doesn’t, and adapting Glenn’s death scene nearly panel by panel on TV is just excessive. It could’ve been made to work better had it been dealt with more restraint. But clearly they didn’t have it in mind.

        Negan has potential to improve, he does have some moments that I enjoy his character in later on, but my hope is that they tone down on his stupid dialogue. Even in his good moments, that’s a hinderance, he runs his mouth too much. But at the very least, he should have some interesting moments (I’m kinda hoping they adapt his backstory that’s currently being published at some point) and they could give him some TV original content that expands on those actually interesting sides of him so I’ll stay optimistic.

        And well, even if that ended up remaining still like the comics, what’ll probably really drive things (and my favorite part of the Negan arc) is how communities will connect because of this and how they grow into something more than individual communities and into something bigger. That’s why I’m really excited for Morgan and Carol in the Kingdom and whatever awaits Maggie and Sasha in the Hilltop. As I said, I’m convinced that they’ll end up with the content of Volume 19 this season, so I’m sure they’ll expand a lot on the communities themselves and get us to understand their positions before things truly get moving.

        My only wonder, and one of my biggest expectations, is how will Tara’s storyline tie into this. I suspect they’re planning on adding a new non-comic factor into this to make volumes 18-19 to make up enough for this season and so volumes 20-21 end up being more than enough for season 8.

        I’m actually really excited for the rest of this season, the more I think about it, it’s just a shame that they had to squander the premiere so badly.

        • Michael St. Charles

          Wow, I was unaware the fan reaction was so different than the critical reaction. Because, from what I’ve seen, critics on Vox, Hitfix, AV Club, The Verge, NY Times all absolutely hated the episode. So that’s odd, but I guess I believe it. If you wanted gore, this episode more than delivered. I could have put up with the gore, even praised it, if it was placed differently in the series (at the end of Season 6) or if it was advertised differently, or if the episode focused on the fallout differently. There’s just a lot that went wrong with it.

          But I hear you. I would LOVE to see the show focus on how communities come together and how they learn to operate jointly and independently. The show definitely has the capability of doing that. It’s just going to have to adapt Negan a little better and maybe pull back the lens from Rick a bit and focus on the other characters more intently.

          I don’t know. I’ll withhold harsh judgment of the rest of the season until we get near the end of the fall half-season. I’m just disappointed because I would have loved to see the Negan bat scene adapted better, and the premiere dealing more explicitly with the fallout.