Warning: THIS. POST. CONTAINS. SPOILERS. So many spoilers. So, so very many spoilers.
You know how when you are married or in a serious relationship, there is always that one thing you have to struggle with to make your partner happy and make the relationship work? For some people, maybe it’s sports, or a partner who is a workaholic, or living with someone who is very messy. For me, in my marriage, the thing I struggle with is liking The Walking Dead. It’s my husband’s very favorite show in the history of ever (with the possible exception of The Shield, which ended years ago), and he takes it very personally and wouldn’t even watch Game of Thrones until the fourth season because he felt that Game of Thrones fans looked down on Walking Dead fans (don’t ask). I didn’t watch The Walking Dead at all at first but then he lured me in with a marathon one day midway through the first season and I was pretty hooked, and we also caught up on the comics by binge-reading the graphic novel collections.
But then season 2 happened and I had moments of being super irritated with it. And then season 3 happened and I had more moments of hating it than loving it, and more characters on my “Please make them die next” list than off. The show’s depiction of women as whiny harpies was beyond frustrating for me, and the characters making the same mistakes over and over beggared belief. And seasons 4 and 5 were lessons in love/hate for me. And then season 6 started off on this AMAZING note and I was loving everything about it… and then some stupid stuff happened again, and there was the major cliffhanger ending on the season finale, and I was furious, and ready to be done with the show. But when I say things like that, my husband gets this sad wounded puppy dog look in his eyes, and I feel like a terrible person, like I just kicked his kitten or something, when really it is Robert Kirkman’s fault for writing (occasional) garbage.
So I went into viewing tonight’s season premiere with a serious attitude problem, announcing to the world that this was The Walking Dead’s last chance to keep me as a viewer. If the resolution of last season’s cliffhanger was lame — if it was anyone less than a character we all cared about who was killed by Negan to teach the others a lesson — I would be done.
And it looks like my marriage will survive the season! Because it wasn’t just one but two characters who died at the sadistic hands of Negan, and one of them was Glenn! Readers of the comic will recall that Glenn was killed by Negan in issue #100 of the series, and I was pretty adamant that despite a lot of other areas in which the show has departed from the books, I needed it to be Glenn who died (my runner-up for acceptability was actually Maggie). Not because I didn’t like Glenn — what kind of person doesn’t like Glenn?? Glenn is great and decent and loyal and handy in a fight, and he’s the father of the baby Maggie is pregnant with. No — it’s because the show needs the dramatic stakes that are created by his death.
Things weren’t going well for the first twenty minutes or so though — Negan talked a lot and as delightful as it can be to watch Jeffrey Dean Morgan act the hell out of the role, we really needed him to shut up and the reveal be made. But no — Rick threatens him so he has to torture Rick for a while, and then after half the episode has passed, we finally learn who Negan chose to die: Abraham. Abe. He was a fan favorite, but I had never emotionally connected to him or any of the people he brought with him into the group, so I was feeling the let down. But THEN! Daryl jumps up and goes at Negan, ready to fight back! And Negan’s guys subdue Daryl and Negan keeps his promise — he kills another one of the group because they didn’t stay in line. And this time, it’s Glenn. And there it was: one of those really great Walking Dead moments where you’re angry and scared and sad, all at the same time.
And Negan doesn’t let up with Glenn. Nah — he makes Carl come forward and lie on the ground and tells Rick to CUT. OFF. HIS CHILD’S ARM. And if he won’t do it, Negan’s men are going to shoot the rest of the group. And Carl’s all, “Just do it, Dad.” And everyone’s heart breaks, mine included, regardless of the status of Carl’s hair (still needs cutting).
Ultimately Negan backs off, getting some sort of reaction he likes out of Rick, enough to appease his whacked sensibilities for the time being. But he has his men take Daryl, throwing him into the back of a van and threatening to send him to Rick’s doorstep piece by piece if Rick or his people crossed him again. I’m scared for Daryl and my immediate reaction is to be afraid that Negan and his people will somehow turn Daryl to the dark side.
But we’ll see. That’s the important thing: That I care once again about what happens to these people.
Maybe the best part of the episode is at the end, when Negan and his people leave, and Rick and what’s left of his people are sprawled in the dirt and start picking themselves up, and Maggie gets up and says, basically, “Let’s go. Let’s figure out how we’re going to get them for this.” And no one else can even fathom this right then, but it’s all Maggie has left. And the truly heartbreaking moment comes when everyone else lifts Glenn and Abe and carries them to the truck so they can bury them properly, and Maggie is left standing there looking lost for a minute. Where will they even go from here?
Where, indeed. The possibilities are endless. But it can only, should only, be very, very dark, and this show has proved time and again that it’s at its best when it goes to the darkest places. It’s not a show about zombies — it’s a show about humanity, and how living in the very darkest of our nightmares will make us behave. And now we’ll get to see what the very worst brings out in Rick and his group. Obviously the nightmare has turned Negan and his henchmen into something evil and power-hungry and lacking in any kind of compassion or humanity. What will it do to Rick, or Carl, or Daryl — men who are on the very edge anyway? What will it do to Maggie, who has now lost everyone she has ever loved? What will it to Michonne, who had to sit there and watch and feel helpless? She has a history of not doing helpless well. What will it do to Sasha and Rosita, who loved Abraham? What will it do to Eugene, who lost his hero? And what will it do to Carol and Morgan, who weren’t there but will doubtless feel as if they should have been (well, Carol for sure — Morgan is iffy and I still don’t like him)?
Also, despite how evil and terrible he is, Negan is one of the best characters I’ve ever seen on television. I can’t look away from him when he’s on screen, and the utter glee with which Jeffrey Dean Morgan approaches the role is palpable. So is the fear he manages to create in both his victims and the viewers — I know my stomach is tied up in knots whenever he’s going off, and I can’t be the only one. Plus he makes me giggle maniacally. Because of the gleeful thing. I don’t know — it’s hard to explain. But Negan will definitely be one of those characters that you want to see thwarted but would be sad to see go. And that’s perfect. That’s one of the things this show sometimes does really well.
I’m confident that even Robert Kirkman can’t screw this up. At least not until late in the second half of the season.
So I’m back in. What I would appreciate in return for my loyalty going forward is fewer ridiculous “trick” episodes and cliffhangers. Quit bringing in new characters and expecting us to care about them from the word go. And stop with having the characters we DO care about continue to make the same stupid mistakes over and over and over. At some point, it’s just exhausting to watch the group split up all Scooby Doo-style and have it bite them in the ass (usually literally) by the end of an episode. Quit insulting our intelligence, in other words, and just continue to make a good, compelling, well-written drama. Zombies are cool, but they don’t have brains. Humans do, so that’s what we care about.
And my marriage will appreciate it. A lot.