Major spoilers for "The Walking Dead" premiere, "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be," lie ahead.
No one went into Sunday night's (October 23) premiere of "The Walking Dead" thinking they were about to be let off easy. Since April, AMC had promised a bloody, game-changing premiere that would kill off a fan favorite and introduce Jeffrey Dean Morgan's new bad guy Negan as the greatest villain the series had ever seen. (Sorry, Governor. The heads in the fish tank gimmick was cool, but call me when you put barbed wire on a Louisville Slugger.)
However, judging from extreme critic and fan reactions that varied from anger to disappointment to disgust to actual physical discomfort, "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" got people talking about Negan — but in all the wrong ways. Instead of resetting the status quo and sending the series down an exciting new path, the episode might just have fans handing in their "If Daryl Dies We Riot" T-shirts and quitting the show for good.
After a Season 6 that spent half its run teasing Negan's first kill, a disappointing finale cliffhanger, and a six month wait for Season 7, the episode STILL teased viewers; taking 20 minutes to reveal Negan's two unfortunate victims.
Yep, I said two.
If you're reading this, you likely already know that Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) got his brains bashed first, yelling "suck my nuts" while he still had something resembling a face. Then, Daryl (Norman Reedus) — who will somehow still be the fan-favorite after all this — took a swing at Negan, and the unpredictable, whimsical fellow bashed in Glenn (Steven Yeun) as punishment.
The latter's final words were "Maggie, I'll find you." Viewers were treated to lingering shots on Yeun, a lovely actor and comforting presence on the show for six years, with his eyeball engorged; nearly protruding from its socket.
This is the sort of thing "The Walking Dead" thinks its fan actually like. It what they think we deserve to see.
I can't pretend I was shocked to see Abe and Glenn get it; I looked it up on The Spoiling Dead fan page months ago because waiting around for a secret this nasty and sadistic did not sound fun to me as a fan of nearly a decade. Still, having to wait around for twenty whole minutes as Negan teased his awaiting prey in flashbacks and brought Rick on a bonding road trip in the present — the episode began seconds after Glenn's death; but we only saw his brain matter and not his actual face — felt additionally, unnecessarily cruel.
It made it clear that teasing these deaths and Negan as a plot device was more important to "Dead" than honoring the fallen characters, or letting the remaining ones (and the audience) process and grieve.
Lauren Cohan did get some phenomenal acting in in the episode's final moments, and Andrew Lincoln was excellent throughout, but neither of them can make up for writers who thought showing a montage of every character getting their brains bashed, in Rick's traumatized head, was a fun idea.
Perhaps even worse, the episode didn't write Negan as an interesting, nuanced villain.
Negan's actions throughout the episode often made very little sense.
Though undoubtedly cruel, deciding to kill Abraham to get Rick's group to behave was one thing. But murdering Glenn when it was Daryl causing trouble? Keeping Rick alive despite all evidence showing him this was a bad idea; that perhaps someone like Michonne or Maggie might be a more realistic chance for diplomacy? Convincing Rick to chop off his own son's arm just to prove to the man that he could, because, I dunno, we as an audience hadn't already endured enough gross, sadistic, gratuitous, depressing violence in a 20-minute span to last us through 2028?
None of this made Negan feel like a real, flesh-and-blood character with human emotions and motivations. It made him feel like a shitty, convenient plot device. Negan's here to say and do the zaniest things with a smile; he's 6'2" and 180-ish pounds of "I will kill your faves and you can't do anything about it, because it's Season 7, bitches."
He's the Governor without the pre-apocalyptic civility and the dead daughter; he's the Termites with more resources and the Wolves with better teeth. Hell, he's Ramsay Bolton without the daddy issues, and since "Walking Dead" has been teasing Negan as its new-world-defining bad guy for years, the fact that he's so uninteresting and also brutal to watch is a terrible sign of what's to come.
Oh and also, the premiere decided to end on a dream Thanksgiving family dinner sequence, needlessly reminding us that THESE PEOPLE WILL NEVER BE HAPPY.
We got it when Tyreese died a week after Beth. We got it when Carl had to shoot his own mother minutes after her C-section; when Lizzie killed Mika because her crazy 9-year-old ass thought zombies were cute.
At this point, I'm not sure if "The Walking Dead" has anything it wants to say besides "this world is brutal, the nice ones will fall. Watch the show if you enjoy this, I guess."