The Walking Dead returned for its seventh season premiere – and much like the taste of Marmite, it has divided the planet on whether it was a good episode or not.
Well, you can put me in the “not good” category because not only the televisual equivalent of being slowly dragged through broken glass, it pretty much guarantees that the screenwriters have waved a fond farewell to meaningful stories in favour of shock value.
And no, I know The Walking Dead is meant to be shocking – viscerally harrowing and a highly tense viewing experience. But after six seasons of AMC pulling the same “underdogs rise up against insurmountable odds to win” shtick, what’s the point?
After the seven-month wait, who gets to meet Lucille personally? Well (and SPOILER ALERT – although chances are you’ve already watched it by now…) Abraham gets bludgeoned first, going out in style by saying “suck my nuts” to Negan. This was weak sauce.
We waited this long to see the resolution of this cliff hanger and after twenty minutes, we see the man at the end of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s bat (by the way, kudos on a good performance by Morgan here) was a character who’s just sort of been “there.” Over the previous season, he’s just had some romantic troubles – he’s not a character that we will miss. It seemed as if The Walking Dead was playing up to its reputation of screwing up the big moments.
But then it happened. In an almost cleverly crafted, self-aware swerve, thinking ahead of our muted disappointment that a lower character was going – true to the comic book – Glenn felt the touch of Lucille. This is the one that matters and it really hit home (excuse the pun).
Big thumbs up to the make-up department for their incredible work on Glenn’s head post-bat. I hope you weren’t eating dinner by this point, watching a gargling Glenn kneel there with his eye popping out of his skull.
After his previous fake-out in Season 6, times have not been good for our fateful companion recently – but to hammer on the soul-destroying shock, the writers have pulled the trigger and killed him off for good. It was a twist that none of us expected, which after the initial outburst of sadness quickly petered out in the drudging harrowing tone of this entire episode.
But who were we to care? With this baseball bat blood fest (including interesting close ups of whatever fragments of their heads remain), where’s the thrill? Where was the want or need to really feel for these characters? Where was the story?
Nowhere. The reason why we were shocked more at Glenn’s death was simply because he’s been around since the second episode, and Steven Yeun had done a great job with his character. He became the apple in the eye of many Tumblr fan art pieces purely through his longevity and nothing really else.
There was no organic story behind him, no slow-building narrative surrounding his close brushes with death in this catastrophe. Even after his fake death in Season 6, which fooled absolutely nobody, they had an interesting opportunity to make him re-emerge a different man with a flawed sense of self-preservation.
But instead, AMC pulled their data analysts into a boardroom and made the mathematical decision to kill Glenn over Daryl simply because it would create the “right” kind of social media outcry, rather than disengage the fans completely.
And this, I believe, sets a dangerous precedent for the future of the show. What we have here is a hypothetical end point of The Walking Dead’s creativity.
Oh, and let’s not forget that Negan asked Rick to cut off his son’s arm – a scene that is really easy to forget in the generally dull drone of distress. Plus, we’ve got to talk about that dinner table scene… What on Earth were they trying to do with that?
I mean I get what they wanted to portray – the complete “Sunday dinner” scenario that had been ripped away by Negan in order to make us feel grief. But all it achieved was a couple of chuckles after a thoroughly displeasing episode.
To answer the initial complaint you may have at my opinion, yes I understand the show is moving to become increasingly faithful to the comics. However, they had demonstrated the understanding that comic narratives don’t translate well to TV narrative by fleshing out understated characters and adding a real emotional sting in the past.
Many look at Negan as a change agent – the “reset” button for the storyline. Personally, I see it’s reset without a story to actually care about. What we have now is the definition of voyeuristic shock viewing – little style and no substance. Just pure dread. Colour me jaded for the rest of Season 7.
I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.