Published on October 25th, 2016 | by Bean0
The Walking Dead Season 7 Premiere – “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”
The long wait is over, and for my money, it was worth it. Nearly seven months have passed since the final, brutal scene of The Walking Dead’s 6th season. “The Last Day On Earth” was a calamitous marathon of fear, where our heroes dashed from pillar to post attempting to take a worryingly unwell and pregnant Maggie to Hilltop for medical aid. At each point they were stymied, with Negan’s crew blocking their escape time and again. At episode close Negan himself was revealed and the full force of his retribution came down upon somebody’s head, identity unknown. And cut to black on that terrible POV shot.
“The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” is a baffling mouthful of a title for the premiere, and could do with some unravelling up front. In fact, it harks back to season 1, when the CDC’s Dr Edwin Jenner replied this to Rick’s comment about being grateful for the opportunity to escape with his people. We have come this far. There have been numerous occasions over the intervening six years when such a title could have been used. So many losses, attacks, horrors and new-lows. It is telling that the show runners choose to use it now, to underscore how dire Rick’s present situation is, and how distinct from traumas of the past.
It takes only moments to re-acquaint the viewer with the cliffhanger, and we are right back there in the dirt with our company. Only five minutes have elapsed, but the answers to everybody’s questions and a mountain of hurt lie within that timeframe. The episode is smart enough to give the narrative this momentary reprieve not only to ease the viewer back in to the torment, but to allow the time for tension to mount again. It doesn’t feel like stalling either, but a very cleverly orchestrated (and edited) channeling of the story, as we get to relive the dreadful butchery through Rick’s perspective, by way of grief-laden recollections.
Initially, these are muddled. Everyone is showing up in his memories, flashes in black and white which are designed to obfuscate. Eventually he must face the truth of what happened and show the audience who fell to Negan’s bat. We replay the eeny-meeny-miney-moe act, and Abraham is ‘it’. Little is spared in this gruesome scene; ‘Lucille’ is swung and the impact is shown. Abraham is given one final brilliant line, badass to the last, and they eclipse all Negan’s snarky one-liners. But it isn’t over. While tormenting Rosita, Negan enflames Daryl to the point where he lashes out, ever sensitive to the bullies among us. This has consequences, as everything with Negan does.
For a moment it seems this will end badly for Daryl, but it is, of course, worse. After further explaining the purpose of all this – that the group need to know Negan and how he operates – he brings the bat down on Glenn. The second person, after Maggie, the camera cuts to at this fresh horror is Daryl, giving the impression he will carry the burden of indirect blame for Glenn’s death with him for the rest of his life, however long that may be. The psychopathy Negan demonstrates during all this is extreme. He is showman-like. He pauses monstrously as Glenn takes his final dreadful breaths, claims to empathise with a dying man’s loved-ones and their anguish, while clearly enjoying the opportunity to let the agony drag out.
The one-two-punch of losing Abraham and Glenn is milked for everything it is worth, and it is worth a lot. That is not to say that the dramatisation is gratuitous, which it very well may be, but this is not really the point. There are a multitude of theories, postulations and opinions on violence in the media, and such an episode will no doubt add to the ongoing debate. It is a disgusting, open portrayal of violence, yes, and the show will bare whatever backlash or not there is for that. But it is constantly clear, these are not only murders and executions, they are lessons. We are forced to watch because Rick’s group is forced to watch, and we must feel every bit of their fear and pain. The Walking Dead is nothing if not visceral.
Importantly, it is Negan who forces Rick to recall this trauma for the audience. The way this plays out, with a little ‘trip’ in the RV to one of the walker-infested roadblocks, is pure evil genius. There is much to fear about Negan, but his command of psychology and torture is possibly the most frightening element of his nature. The orders are clear and well chosen. Do my bidding. Fight for your life. Think about what I just did. And consider what may still occur. Jeffrey Dean Morgan doesn’t need to chew scenery as Negan, and the script gives him ample opportunity, but his authority relies as much upon the quieter moments of lecturing as the bat-swinging flamboyance. There really is a new king in town.
This is a point covered specifically by Negan, that Rick’s leadership is now well and truly usurped, and publicly. His mission is to break Rick, communicate in any and all ways possible that this is the end of the line for what Rick has become accustomed to, his world-view has ruptured. Again. These are difficult themes to throw at the central character in an ensemble without undermining the connection the audience has to that person’s dominance or influence in the narrative. Andrew Lincoln has been given some demanding things to portray in his time as Rick Grimes – moral dilemmas, appalling grief, vengeance, throat-tearing fury, near nihilism and back again – but we have never seen him taken to a point where he must truly bow to another.
Negan pushes Rick to his metaphorical knees again and again before the lesson takes. Grimes would rather jump onto the corpse of a hanging walker, and therefore into a sea of the undead, than submit to the will of the man who just killed two of his best friends. But the stakes are high. His family are still hostages, and he has no cards in his hand. So he plays at submission. Of course, Negan is not convinced, and he is right not to be. Rick is fighting it inside, biting his tongue, still grit underneath the tears of rage.
The Walking Dead is unflinching in it’s commitment to wringing every last ounce of talent from Lincoln though, so Rick must be broken. The ‘grand prize game’ to get Rick to comply is to force him to maim and possibly kill his own son. Poor Carl. Poor fuckin Carl. Of course it’s Carl. Negan wouldn’t be much of a torturer if he didn’t use the person closest to Rick to control him. It’s gross and malevolent, but its the little things which are the most telling. Negan is always thinking. He asks Carl if he’s a southpaw, hearing he is not, before he ties the tourniquet to his left arm. This is no mercy, but presumably to keep Carl physically useful to him if he survives the ordeal. These are slaves after all, no need to impair them to the point where they can’t provide their tribute.
An ultimatum is the final angle of being cornered. We watch Rick attempt to weigh up the decision he is being forced into. He is in mental collapse, he begs and watches the tragic bravery of his only son as Carl gives his permission, cognisant that his consent is necessary for the survival of the group. Rick lifts up the axe as the score screams it’s maniacal discordance, when Negan stops him. Because he is smart. To make Rick go through with it would only fuel Rick’s need for vengeance. But to publicly prove that this man is under his thumb is infinitely more powerful. And so Rick is broken. There is something in the dynamic between Negan and Rick which smacks of the mad patriarch and the rebellious son, despite their similarity in age. Negan repeats “Speak when you’re spoken to” during his ‘lesson’, and while at first it enrages Rick, it is the bottom line, the game-changer that proves his point.
The rest of the episode is mourning. Negan and his group leave Rick and co in the dirt with their fallen friends, in a moment which surprised me. I had it in mind that they would all be taken somewhere, to a labour camp of sorts, to be prisoners. But Negan wields such power that he doesn’t need to physically imprison those he has conquered. So they are left with a deadline until their first offering (whatever that may be), with Daryl taken as hostage to ensure there is no revolt. This does not stop Maggie, in her devastated condition, voicing dissent and stirring for uprising. Lauren Cohan is extraordinary throughout, playing out the most harrowing worst-case scenario for our erstwhile lovers with tangible anguish. Rick’s response is weary, understandably, and whatever may come will be decided together, which is at least a small mercy in the aftermath of their worst day ever.
Review by Nina Clark
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