At the end of last season, The Walking Dead viewers were left wondering about the identity of Negan’s batting victim. There was much discontent among viewers who felt shortchanged by the season finale cliffhanger, particularly after all the dumpster hubbub earlier in the season. When asked what the deal was, showrunner Scott Gimple assured audiences that the Season 7 premiere would be worth the wait.
We were warned that “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” would be hard to watch. In the subdued interviews given by cast in the days that followed the finale, it seemed as though they had been emotionally impacted by the experience of filming these scenes. We knew we would lose a character, in all likelihood one who was beloved. We felt prepared. We were wrong.
“The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” showcased the impressive talents of the cast and crew of The Walking Dead. It was well-acted, beautifully filmed, and had incredible special effects. The premiere was emotional, suspenseful, and terrifying. It was also horrific, excessive, and disturbing. It didn’t feel like entertainment. It felt like something that had to be watched, à la A Clockwork Orange. Unfortunately, it was as though it was the audience, as well as the characters, being subjected to a brutal form of psychological conditioning.
A bit of the old ultra-violence
The Walking Dead took things a step further by showing the gruesome murder of two of our main characters, one whom had been with the series since the first episode. Abraham and Glenn didn’t die immediately, and once they did die their corpses were beaten to bloody pulps. It’s strange that American television standards deem that it’s acceptable to show this level of violence, but place limits on swearing. The violence and horror of this episode felt gratuitous and, though it mimicked the comics, it made for disturbing television viewing.
After so many had predicted Glenn would die in this episode, if only to keep in alignment with the comic, we breathed a sign of relief when he survived initially. The fact that the writers were counting on this to create an element of surprise when they eventually did kill him off felt more manipulative than clever. The moment Glenn manages to tell Maggie he’ll find her was very emotional due to the impressive acting skill of Steven Yeun. Having to watch Glenn deliver it while mangled, though true to the comics, detracted from this moving moment. The special effects were incredible, though, and the show producers probably hit this important moment exactly as they had hoped.
The death of Abraham would have been sufficiently disturbing, but the writers wanted to send a message that Negan’s arrival brings a significant shift in the series. The audience needed to believe that Rick and the others would submit to Negan, despite the fact they have never submitted to any previous threat that they have faced. As Negan said, “Things have changed. Whatever you had going for you, that is over now.”
Dead men tell no stories
The modern school of thought on suspenseful dramas like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones is that the audience must believe that important characters, even main characters, might die in order to create true suspense and believable storytelling. Yet it’s not the fear that something terrible will happen to a beloved character that keeps viewers coming back. The best of what a show like The Walking Dead offers are the positive emotional connections with interesting characters. Fear, suspense, and horror can add to the story, but shouldn’t drive it.
Just as Game of Thrones lost viewers during the often difficult-to-watch Season 5, there will be those who stop watching The Walking Dead entirely. Not because of losing a character they loved, but because of the horrific nature of the event. Perhaps this concern motivated producers to place these scenes at the start of a new season, rather than at the end of Season 6.
The only light in a heavy darkness came through the preview for the following episode. A glimpse of the Kingdom provides some hope that all is not completely lost in the world of The Walking Dead.
See our recap of “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” here.