Adverts are the only type of break our Walking Dead family will be getting this week, unless you count skulls and spirit (which Negan sure does). The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be is all about whipping Rick and the crew into shape and Negan getting them used to the taste of his bootheel. Specifically Rick, who we have never seen as vulnerable, helpless and scared as he gets to be in this episode.
But, like the first fifteen minutes of this episode, I’m getting ahead of myself. Negan’s victims are, as you’ll have seen firsthand or had spoiled for you already, Abraham and Glenn. Yes, there are two casualties, and they are both exactly who everyone figured they probably would be. After such a long wait and the merry song and dance The Walking Dead has led us up to this point, it was inevitable that Season Seven’s debut episode would need a little something extra up its sleeve – unless, of course, it was willing to sacrifice Daryl Dixon off the bat (pun intended) – and a double-header was the perfect way to accomplish that.
First up, and cleverly wrong-footing the audience, is Abraham. Poor Mister Ford was the most likely candidate for a number of reasons – first, he’s already outlived his time on the comics (cheated out of the arrow-to-the-eye death which was afforded to Denise in Season Six) and secondly, he’s a much-liked fan favourite, but not so much so that it’ll affect the narrative or the ratings. It makes sense too, taking down the big dude, and quelling the most likely troublemaker to ensure that everyone else gets the idea. It’s a fitting, suitably ghastly end for Abraham, whose days were numbered as soon as he started getting all broody at the end of the last series. As heroic as such an end can ever be, he goes down as he lived – hard and sweary, uttering one last bit of creative swearing for the road.
Unfortunately, it’s all overshadowed a little by what comes next and came previously. After such a long wait and all that hype, the death of Abraham is somewhat anticlimactic, as though it should have been somebody major, like Daryl, or Glenn. And then Glenn does die, and we forget about Abraham, because holy shit, Glenn just died.
Round two, and with a swift whack to the head and not a dumpster in sight, Glenn Rhee is next. At least we only had to wait five minutes this time. This is as comic book accurate as the series has ever been, almost shot-for-shot in its recreation of the book’s panel work (even if some of the dialogue was repurposed for Abraham’s earlier death), caved in skull, bulging eyeball and all. Poor Glenn already got his noble death in Season Seven; the real thing is much more undignified and (sorry) unintentionally funny. Unfortunately, as Abraham’s demise is overshadowed, so Glenn’s is curiously underpowered, ruined by the stupid fake-out of Season Six and the fact that we already saw someone get bashed to death literally five minutes ago.
The rest of the episode (before and after) is all about the fallout. Negan drags Rick into the RV, taking him for a ride. This is Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s big moment, and he wastes none of it, jovially humiliating Rick Grimes (his use of the word ‘prick’ is especially excellent) and terrorising the rest of the captives. Other than snivelling and getting their brains smashed all over the gravel, no-one besides Morgan and Andrew Lincoln really get a look-in. Although, to be fair, it’s hard for anyone to get a word in next to the constantly yapping Negan. The move to live action may have curbed his pottymouth (somewhat) but certainly not his loquaciousness, the whole episode resembling one long Negan monologue. That, and teasing the idea that Rick might finally lose the hand.
Season Six came into a lot of flack for its increased reliance upon gimmickry and cheap tricks (dumpster Glenn, the cliffhanger) and, on the basis of its first episode, Season Seven looks to be no better. In place of character or writing (beyond gobby Negan) the half of the episode that isn’t spent dragging out the deaths of Abe and Glenn is spent teasing Rick and his hand. It starts with a “right hand man” quip and doesn’t let up until the end, as Rick begs Negan to let him lop his own hand off instead of Carl’s; smarmy tricks from a television show that has long given up pretending to respect its audience. “That is the look I wanted to see,” Negan grins, Rick utterly subjugated at his feet. Except it isn’t. It’s the exact same look Rick/Andrew Lincoln has been giving for the whole episode (and, if we wanted to be particularly uncharitable, since Season Three). But The Walking Dead pretends that it is anyway, hoping that if you tell the audience something – sure, Glenn’s dead, sure, Rick’s totally gonna lose his hand, sure we did that massive cliffhanger for totally valid storytelling reasons – they’ll just play along and believe that’s the case!
And yet, for its flaws, The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be (a quote from the good Doctor at the CDC, back in Season One) is compelling, tense and emotionally harrowing television. Much as it frustrated me, I was shaking throughout, literally on the edge of my seat. The Walking Dead isn’t even nearly as unpredictable as it pretends to be, but it does a very good job of looking like it could be.