Unless you live under a rock you’ve no doubt been hearing about the season premiere of The Walking Dead on every reach of the internet. Deservedly so, in my opinion, as it was a strong opening, however gimmicky the cliff hanger was for last season (oh don’t worry, we’ll talk about that). Now, the show is receiving praise in different areas for its accuracy to the source material as well as its depictions of gore. It managed to give a character that is considered to be the worst thing the group has ever encountered in the show a very strong opening and set the tone for the rest of the season. One thing I personally am interested in seeing is how true to the comics the show decides to stay, but I’ll dive into all that later. The Walking Dead is a show that is rated Mature for television with plenty of gore and language that calls for adults only, so remember that going into this review. This is also you’re courtesy spoiler warning, so if you haven’t watched the premiere yet you’ve been warned!
So the show picks back up with Neagan, the leader of the group called the Saviors, who has lined up the main characters of our beloved group from Alexandria and has just finished beating the hell out of one of them with a baseball bat wrapped in barbwire, affectionately named “Lucille”. Still reeling from this, Rick tells Neagan he’s going to kill him prompting Neagan to abduct Rick in the captured RV and take him on a little ride to try and display to him just how much in control Neagan is now. This is done through a test of sorts where Neagan says even though he’s only going to be asking for half of the resources Alexandria receives, he really owns everything already. Everything from the RV they are in to the weapons Rick has on him, a hatchet, that Neagan throws on the roof of the bus and tells Rick to go fetch for him (amidst a horde of walkers mind you) to demonstrate how their new relationship is going to work. Rick does this, still in shock from everything that has happened, and once he makes his way on top of the RV through a long flashback, with Neagans words used as a framing device, we are shown what happened back at the hostage encounter.
Neagans game of eenie meeni mieni moe result in Abraham’s death by Lucille. It is revealed that he is the one that the cinematography last season showed the final moments through his own eyes. His head is bashed in to a pile of meat by Neagan and while the group is in shock I couldn’t help but feel the viewer wasn’t. Many people liked Abraham mind you, but he was expected to die last season and was alive now due to the writers divulging from the source, and to be honest, I'm it his quirky euphemisms and tough exterior the character still felt like he was in his developmental stage. People were just now coming around to make him a favorite if they hadn't read the books,and the death robbed them of that, but it didn't feel like the sting of some characters who had been around for a long time. Say what you will, it was not a strong death. It didn’t have that shock value aside from what you take at face from all the gore. As Neagan is giving his speech and taunting the group over what just happened, Daryl, the beloved fan favorite, became a more controversial character now because of his decision to break free of his captors momentarily to punch Neagan in the face. Neagan had already warned what the consequences of this would be, saying “he would shut that shit down” if anyone tried to go against him in this moment. After explaining to the group how he was going to keep his word about what happens if you defy him, he swiftly turns around and bashes in Glenn’s skull with Lucille, the real moment we’ve all been waiting for. The gore in this scene is particularly brutal, as it takes it almost panel to panel from the comic books, with a crater left in his skull and an eyeball dislodged as his wife looks on in terror. Glenn tries to stammer some words and Neagan bends over him, taunting, then proceeds to antagonize the rest of the group leaving Glen suffering in this state for a moment. Glen finally gets out the phrase “Maggie I’ll find you” and Neagan delivers the killing blows, smashing his skull in long after Glenn is dead and leaving behind another flesh slush pile. The flashbacks are now over and it cuts back to Rick on top of the RV who is still being antagonized by Neagan who begins to open fire at him for taking too long to grieve over these events. Shenanigans happen, but Rick finally brings back the hatchet to Neagan amidst the zombie horde and the two drives back in the RV.
We finally come back in real time to the scene of the Alexandria/Savior encounter and dawn has just broken. Neagan is still unsatisfied with Rick, believing him to still have defiance in him and not understanding how he’s in charge now. He orders Carl over to Rick, and orders rick to cut off Carl’s arm or else the entire group dies. This is enough to get Rick to start begging for mercy, which is what Neagan said he wanted. There was some phenomenal acting by Andrew Lincoln during the breaking point scene, the only way to describe it was truly believable, and in these moments you really see Rick reduced to nothing. Just before he is about to cut off Carl’s arm Neagan stops him, and finally says he will be back in a week to collect half of Alexandria’s resources and to not forget what happened here, and what Glenn and Abraham died for. The group eventually leaves the encounter area in a truck Neagan gives them, deciding to continue on to Hilltop for their original purpose.
The Walking Dead was able to do several great things in this episode but the reactions to it were pretty much all over the place. Now, as a reader of the comics, I think my opinion might be swayed from one of the bigger voices beginning to form out there, which is the “Fuck Daryl” group. If you will remember, I was all for the “Fuck Olly” group in the Game of Thrones days, so these kinds of things do happen and can be fun, but in this instance this is one group I don’t agree with, and I think reading the comics has gave me a bias against it. I don’t see Daryl punching Neagan as a bad move on Daryl’s part I see it as a plot device. I knew going in Glenn was supposed to die. Glenn was always in my top three favorites, (which means a lot considering how rotating my list is) so to see him die was sad, but necessary. I would have been PISSED if I waited a whole season over some contrive cash grab cliff hanger just to see Abraham get offed. No offense to that character, but he is not as integral as Glenn was. It did not have the same effect (he's utterly drowned out by the outcry for Glenn on the internet if you need further proof). Also I think the hate for Daryl wouldn’t be there if he punched Neagan and then Neagan decided to kill some lesser character instead of Glenn, and the show went for the double kill but still spared Glenn. Glenn was a character from the very first episode. It was huge seeing him die. The moment I saw that it was Abraham picked in the game I knew they were going to get Glenn somehow. I read that whole encounter like a book, again, because I have read the books. So by having Daryl punch Neagan and Neagan retaliating the way he did the show actually saved face with me, rather than piss me off at Daryl. I was glad but sad to see Glenn go but it had to be this way. It would’ve completely shafted Neagan’s character to have the supposed worst person the group has ever faced to murder some irrelevant character *cough Aaron cough*.
Other than that most of my praise from the show tends to match up with most reactions. I love how they didn’t skimp on the gore and brutality of Neagan. The acting, as always, was phenomenal. I absolutely loved the callback from season to in the episodes title “the day will come when you won’t be”; a reference to where the group was spared total destruction in a research facility and Rick said he was thankful for this act of kindness to which the scientist responded with the former. I felt that that day had truly come. I’m sad we won’t get any more great Abraham lines and am truly sorry to see Glenn go, he is a character I’m sure will be missed. I want to see how this affects the group and especially Daryl going forward and Jeffery Dean Morgan is so far killing it with his portrayal of Neagan (literally).
Here’s the deal. The show is getting praise for being such a strong episode and by all means it was, but I can’t help but cringe a little at the reactions that call it the greatest show and in particular praise the show runners for not divulging from the comics. One strong episode, for me, does not absolve 6 seasons worth of cash grabbing bullcrap. I will praise this episode, but not the show as a whole. They still have a long way to go for me in order to overcome their history, and this episode, for me, was as strong as it needed to be to justify that terrible cliff hanger from season six. But I remain optimistic. If all the episodes can bring this level of acting and viewer anxiety to the table then I think we’re in for a strong season, and the show is far, very far, from being in the “I’ll never tune in again” reaches of gimmicks. That being said, if they drag out season seven I will not hesitate to call them out, because this is the group’s most pivotal moments in the comics, and the reviews for the next episode have rick reciting some lines he said in the books that should reveal that not everything is how it seems. I look forward to seeing how this season goes and think they have set a good pace, and I’m ready to see how the Walking Dead moves forward.