Warning: Major spoilers for those who have not seen the Season 7 Premiere
If you are just a casual viewer of The Walking Dead , the title of tonight’s premiere “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” may have seemed meh, or on the flip-side, it may have come off as just outright weird. However, if you are a die-hard, you may have recognized it from way back in the season 1 finale “TS-19.” Dr. Jennar had locked our group inside the CDC moments before the facility was set to self-destruct, thinking of it as an act of mercy in comparison to the hell waiting for them on the outside. Ultimately, Jennar relents and unbolts the doors while Rick expresses his sincerest gratitude. But, Jennar responds with the above phrase which basically says Rick will one day find himself in his own personal hell and may wonder if listening to the good Doctor would have been the more compassionate decision for the group he now calls his family.
Well, going into tonight’s episode, that day has most definitely come. Rick is now in the worse possible hell, and all the dreams he may have once had for his family is gone with a swing of a bat.
EENY MEENY MINY MOE…AND THE WINNER IS!
When the episode opens, we don’t immediately see who is on the receiving end of Lucille, and instead, are thrown into the aftermath. However, since this is the hot topic for everyone on the planet and beyond, I’ll cut to the chase. First things first — I’m not happy with how AMC and the Executive Producers of the show handled the cliffhanger and this entire arc. If you’re going to do a season finale cliffhanger, fine. It’s your show, so all the power to you. But, if you DO decide to go down this path, you need to plan to work your asses off and spend some mucho $$$ to keep a lid on the outcome and to prevent fans from connecting the dots. In this department, AMC failed miserably and only proves that the network continues to be lazy and cheap, which is pretty deplorable since it’s the highest-rated cable television series. However, this review isn’t about AMC’s shortcomings, and that rant will be part of a separate article.
Sooooooo…..just like so many fans had suspected, the primary Lucille victim is Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). Also, as was depicted in the scene from the season 6 finale, the big guy doesn’t go down after the first blow, which stuns Negan (Jeffrey Dean-Morgan) and catches him off-guard. What’s more, Abe still manages to sputter one of his famous one-liners a final time before Negan gets the chance to swing again. It’s a gruesome, heart-wrenching scene and fist-bump to to our Sgt. Ford for a smidgen of comic relief to lighten the tone.
Suck my nuts — Abraham to Negan
Then, with a 2nd blow, Abe goes down, and with a half dozen or more subsequent swings, his brain becomes the bloody goo we saw in the Sneak Peek for the episode. Eww. Eww. Eww. Move over Noah — your death scene just got dethroned as the most grotesque.
So, Negan has made his choice, Abraham is dead, and so, the worse is over, right? Well, if Daryl-F*ckin-Dixon (Norman Reedus) had just kept quiet, yes. But, oh no, Daryl just had to fly off the handle like the typical back-woods hillbilly. After Abraham is dead, Negan points the bloody bat to Rosita (Christian Serratos) and insists that she look at it. Rosita is crying uncontrollably, there’s no point to this and it’s obviously just psychological torture, and so, Daryl jumps up and completely sacks Negan.
This isn’t good, not at all. Remember what Negan said in the season 6 finale when Glenn jumped up and tried to intervene.
Don’t anybody do that again. I will shut that shit down, NO EXCEPTIONS. The first one is free. It’s an emotional moment, I get it — Negan
Negan had warned them, and so, you can bet there will be consequences for Daryl’s acting out. With that, Negan puts Daryl back in the line-up and points Lucille at him. I swear, I could hear all the Daryl fan-girls squealing their little hearts out around the world. But, then, at the very last moment, Negan swings Lucille to the left and clobbers poor Glenn instead, setting in motion the famous Lucille scene as was laid out in the comics.
As we were heading into the famous Lucille episode last season, I had wondered how the writers were going to make the scene feel fresh but at the same time, not alienate the comic-book purists who feel that such an iconic death should not be messed with. After all, why change absolute perfection. Well, now, we have the answer — still give Glenn the most famous death scene in the comics, but throw a 2nd victim into the mix. What’s more, they mirrored the Glenn Lucille scene almost verbatim from the source material all the way down to the famous “Ma – a – a – gie!” and the gory details — including Glenn’s eye popping out and Negan joking about it.
Horrified. Shaken. Traumatized. Sickened. Mad as freakin’ hell, perhaps. And, I could go on and on and on. That’s how I’m sure the fandom feels right now, and these images aren’t ones that any of us can easily get out of our heads. Ironically, however, killing 2 of Rick’s men in the most horrific fashion isn’t the worst thing Negan does in this episode.
THE ULTIMATE MENTAL MIND-F*CK AND NEGAN’S MAKING OF THE RICK-BITCH
Ever since that painful and frustrating cliffhanger aired back in April, it has been 6+ months of non-stop speculation and conspiracy theories splattered all over social media and forums. No matter how hard you try, no matter where you go there’s no escaping it. The “Who Got Lucille’ed” quickly became the new “Who Shot J.R.” and so, naturally, everyone’s focus shifted to who got the bat, and nothing else really seemed to matter. Who cares what else happens in the premiere because all people seemed to care about is whose head gets smashed to brain matter and goo. The irony is while the immense emotion and raw brutality of the death scenes are the most traumatizing I’ve seen in any television series, that isn’t what makes this episode so intense and so gut-wrenching. They say that psychological torture is often far worse than the physical kind, and unfortunately for our Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), that turns out to be very true.
The episode begins with that cold open from the Sneak Peek that was released a couple of weeks ago, showing the aftermath of the Lucille scene, with people crying in the background and Rick still on his knees and in complete shock. Rick’s haughtiness is what got him and his group in this position, and even after witnessing the brutal deaths of 2 of his comrades, of 2 of his friends, he continues to fly into the face of the psychopath standing before him. Very arrogantly proclaiming he’s going to kill Negan “not today, not tomorrow” but eventually, Rick defies Negan’s authority and thus, pretty much undermines the statement Negan was trying to make by publicly and very cruelly killing Abraham and Glenn in front of Rick and his entire group. Negan’s authority and his effectiveness as a leader I’m sure had been questioned after Rick and his merry band plowed through the Saviors’ defenses and managed to kill 30+ of Negan’s men. Negan had to completely break Rick Grimes down — mind, body, soul and spirit. In the past, I suspect bashing in someone’s skull likely did the trick, but not this time. Negan is forced to up his game, and so begins the ultimate mind-f*ck.
Just like in the Sneak Peek, Negan takes Rick’s axe, drags him to the RV, and so, off they go on the road trip from hell. Negan makes fun of Rick for threatening to kill him and dares Rick to try and grab the axe. Of course, dum-dum Rick does and is met by Negan’s machine gun, and a couple of punches in the gut. Bad, bad idea.
I want you to think about what happened and what still can happen — Negan
It is here that Rick starts to crack. It is said that when a person is under extreme psychological duress, the mind often creates an imaginary world for the person to escape in — one that is happy, one that is safe. This is exactly what happens with Rick, and he immediately begins to imagine a world had they not ever met Negan. Glenn and Maggie have their baby. Heck, Sasha is even pregnant. Everything is basically perfect.
But, then the dream is rudely interrupted with flashbacks of reality, and we finally get to see what happened at the Lucille line-up and Abraham and Glenn getting the bat. Then, back to present-time, and we see Negan approaching the burning logs from the season 6 finale. The RV is quickly surrounded by walkers, but Negan gets out, makes his way through the mini-horde with Lucille, and then, throws the axe up on the roof of the RV. He then demands that Rick goes to get it, and to make his point, throws Rick out of the RV into the massive group of walkers. The game is Rick must retrieve the axe, or more of his people will die. Flashes of Rosita, Aaron, Michonne, Carl, Eugene being Lucille’ed go through his mind.
But, Rick can barely see anything because of the smoke, and on top of that, he’s still having the dream-sequence flashbacks, which are interrupting his train of thought. However, by some miracle, Rick sees the ladder to the roof of the RV and is able to climb on top. More flashbacks, both the dream-sequence type and ones from the Lucille line-up. Then, machine gun fire comes through the roof, and Negan begins yelling that he wants **his** axe. Without any other options, Rick is forced to jump on the guy hanging from the bridge, who is now a walker. However, the walker doesn’t hold and starts to come apart, resulting in Rick plummeting to the ground along with the axe. Disoriented, Rick does finally locate the axe and runs toward the RV, but holy crap, the damn door is locked! Rick is completely surrounded by walkers, and just when you think Rick’s day has finally come, the door swings open, and Negan pulls him inside.
Negan is completely flabbergasted (and it seems, pleased) that Rick managed to survive and get him his axe, but even so, Rick still isn’t completely broken. There’s a special look on Rick’s face — a look of compliance — that Negan is expecting, and so far, Negan isn’t seeing it. So, it’s back to the location of the Lucille line-up because Negan has another plan.
GENESIS 22:9 ACCORDING TO NEGAN
Even after that little RV tour from hell, Negan still hasn’t managed to break Rick, which pisses him off to no end. So, he returns Rick to the rest of his group and then, comes up with a new plan. I had wondered if Negan guessing Carl (Chandler Riggs) was Rick’s son in the season 6 finale would prove to be useful, and it turns out I was right.
So, Negan takes off his belt, grabs Carl, and forces him to lay on the ground. He puts the belt around Carl’s arm and using a black sharpie, makes a mark on the boy’s forearm. Uh oh. We had all thought Negan was going to use the axe on Rick in that opening scene, and now, it looks like we were thinking of the wrong Grimes. Rick sees clearly what Negan is planning, and it is here that he really starts to break down. He begs, he pleas, but oh no, Negan insists that he cuts off Carl’s arm. And, if he doesn’t, well, then he will Lucille Carl. Then the rest of line-up. Then, everybody at Alexandria. So, cut off Carl’s arm, and he’ll live. Or, let Carl get the bat and watch him die. Rick even begs Negan to Lucille him instead, but nope, nope, nope, and nope. What Negan says goes, no other options. Carl seems pretty resigned to his fate and just like in the season 6 finale, shows virtually no fear. So, after pleading, begging, and crying like a little girl, Rick finally raises the axe and starts to swing. But, then, at the very last moment, Negan stops him. And, there we have it, folks. Negan has officially broken his “dog.” Negan owns Rick, and he is now his bitch.
The Walking Dead has often made Biblical references in the past, and once you get past the shock and intensity of what just happened, you may realize it bears a strong similarity to a very famous scene in the Bible. In Genesis 22:9, God instructs Abraham to slay his only son, Isaac, and without any hesitation, Abraham grabs a knife and proceeds to follow God’s orders. But, just like Negan did with Rick, God stops Abraham at the final moment. Genesis 22:9 is supposed to be a lesson in faith and demonstrates that Abraham fully trusted God to the point of being ready to kill his beloved Isaac. Here, Negan is inserted into the scene, but the difference is faith has nothing to do with it. Instead, it’s a clear statement that Negan views himself as God. GREAT analogy and a great addition to an already fantastic, superbly-written sequence of scenes.
WELCOME TO A BRAND NEW BEGINNING…AND TA, TA
Even after killing Abe and Glenn, the Negan shit-show doesn’t end there. Negan had noted Rick’s relationship with Daryl earlier when Daryl tried to intervene and which ultimately got Glenn killed. Daryl is Rick’s right-hand man, and so, to make Rick’s life even harder, Negan decides to take Daryl with him back to The Sanctuary. And, to insure that Rick won’t try anything stupid and as an incentive to follow the rules, Negan promises that if Rick steps out of line, then he’ll send Daryl back in pieces, or he’ll bring Daryl back to Alexandria for Rick to do the job himself.
Oh, and let’s not forget that Rick and Co. still have to give the Saviors half their shit. Nope, no time to grieve or anything. So, Negan is kind enough (Ha!) as to leave a truck for them to load with the food and supplies that he will be collecting in 1 week.
Welcome to a brand new beginning, you sorry fucks… We’ll come for your first offering in 1 week. Until then… ta, ta — Negan
A couple of Saviors then take Polariods of the bodies, much like those found by Glenn at the Saviors’ outpost last season. Then, back to their grim reality, the group still has to get the very ill Maggie to Dr. Carson, and so, they load up the bodies into the RV and begin the very somber trip to the Hilltop. The thoughts of what could have been still linger in Rick’s mind but are quickly swept away as he looks in the rear-view mirror and sees a walker drop to his knees to feast on the brains of his fallen friends.
All in all, this is a magnificent, superbly-written premiere and definitely a fantastic way to kick off the season. I really liked the reveal of there being 2 Lucille victims, thus satisfying the comic-book die-hards but at the same time, giving the arc a fresh new twist. However, what made this a truly exceptional episode isn’t the Lucille twist or all of its graphic and gory details, but instead the psychological hell that Negan forces Rick to endure. And, part of what made those scenes so terrifying and everything feel so authentic is Jeffrey Dean-Morgan. I don’t know about you, but I was scared to death, and I’m not talking about during the scenes of Negan Lucille’ing his victims. I’m talking about the scenes of Negan breaking Rick as if he’s some dog. And, the fact that Jeffrey Dean-Morgan was able to pull that off says that he was doing his job and a damn good one. For those who may have been skeptical about the casting of Negan, I think those doubts have officially been put to rest.
The Walking Dead airs on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
Critic Grade — A
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com