When the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead was over, and for most of the next day, I walked around my house in a depressed daze. I cried. I felt nauseated. I even felt a bit disoriented. What was going to happen to our group now?
I also felt relieved. Not because I wanted Glenn and Abraham to die, or to watch Rick be completely destroyed, but because I was glad the show finally refused to take the safe way out. This was The Walking Dead I fell in love with: dangerous, and not afraid to completely shred your heart to pieces. Negan is a bad dude, but he is also a necessary evil. We need a good bad guy sometimes to shake things up. Rick may need a break from the Good Guy/Crazy Lunatic routine.
I need to explain. At the end of Season 6, I, and quite a few others, were left frustrated. Once again, after so much build up, things just ended. Everyone knew Negan was coming and things were going to end badly. What we got was a lot of driving around and cut offs just at the moment of truth. I understand the value of cliffhangers, but the show had worn the concept rather thin the past few years.
It started with the Terminus storyline in seasons 4 and 5. There was such a build up that everything was about getting to Terminus. Then they were there a day and Carol busted them out. Don’t get me wrong, Carol is a straight up badass I could watch all day. And, in a sense, I feel like I have. Carol seems to be the only one not lulled into complacency the last few seasons. Sure, she makes cookies and casseroles, but she’s also hoarding chocolate and guns and threatening small boys because she understands this isn’t a soap opera and we need to be ready for shit to go down – since something is always inches away from eating your face. We also saw her begin to buckle under the strain of always having to be the clean up crew.
I wanted to know more about Terminus. The brief flashback of who they were before becoming cannibals was interesting. The group should have hung out a bit, had lunch, then realize what exactly was in the soup. The Wolves were built up too. My point is, our group has been much more dangerous and menacing than anything they’ve recently encountered. The Glenn dumpster episode felt a bit cheap and cheesy. Deus ex machina flashed brightly in my head.
This show is better than that.
The group also seemed to land on the planet of the Red Shirts. There has been a parade of peripheral characters who don’t stick around long and get killed off quickly. We aren’t given time to invest in them so their deaths, while gruesome, don’t seem to carry as much emotional impact. Case in point: When Jessie and her sons died, I didn’t really care. Good riddance to a storyline that seemed to flounder. And her kids were annoying, so it was actually a bit of a plus watching them go. I was disappointed when the Saviors who captured Carol and Maggie were killed so quickly. We all knew they were doomed, but I actually wanted to know them. No such luck.
The season 7 premiere felt like a demarcation episode. Negan is going to change everything, and I’m excited to see how our group deals with what has happened. There are new communities and interesting characters, like Ezekiel and his tiger, Shiva. Can the group stick together, or do they scatter? Can Rick bounce back now that he’s without his brothers and trusted generals? Can Carol find her purpose again after being burned out? We don’t know. For the first time everything is unknown, and it’s great. If the show is going to last, and be relevant, it has to evolve.
The reaction on social media to this episode was not surprising. I don’t remember another episode eliciting such a strong gut-wrenching response. There has been a reaction that at first confused me. Posts and articles started popping up stating the violence in the episode went too far; accusations of torture porn were thrown around. At first, I thought it was coming from morality groups who pop up now and then, feeding off the ratings explosion of the premiere. I then realized the posts were coming from people who watched the show, who were fans, and I became even more confused.
The Walking Dead is now in its 7th season. It was never a Mary Poppins show. What exactly had these people been watching all these years? As gruesome and horrible as Glenn and Abraham’s deaths were, they weren’t unique. What about when the Governor chopped off Herschel’s head, and not in one neat swing? Or when Noah was ripped to pieces in the revolving door? Did they forget? What was it about the violence in this episode that had people saying they were walking away from the show?
It has little to do with how the characters were killed, and more to do with who was killed. Glenn was the first of the original Atlanta group to die since Andrea and Merle back in Woodberry. He was Rick’s introduction to the group. He was the heart and the light, the moral compass that always guided the group back to center even when Rick was unstable. He was the everyman character we related to – a regular guy figuring it out as he went along. His death leaves us in darkness. Abraham was the fearless soldier who rushed in, and the group is less without him. So it makes sense that people are grieving. We are a species that tells stories; the characters become real. When they die, we feel the need to lash out, to blame someone. I understand. In a way, it is a further testament to the power of the episode.
Things have to be broken down periodically, and rebuilt. With all the criticism, I’ve also heard some fans say they had lost interest but were now willing to get back into the show. Horror is about unsettling us, reminding us that life is never truly complacent. I really hope that once the shock wears off, these fans will stay for the story. Great horror keeps us coming back, despite ourselves.
Crash Analysis Support Team:
Kim McDonald rocks out on metal near Charlotte, North Carolina, and obsesses over “weirder” foreign horror films. You can find Kim’s movie reviews at loudgreenbird.com and follow her on Twitter @dixiefairy.
(The Walking Dead photo from Screen Rant.)