MAJOR SPOILER WARNING for the Season 7 Premiere of “The Walking Dead”

Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) teases the survivors before selecting a victim. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)
Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) teases the survivors before selecting a victim. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

Take a deep breath, the agonizing six and a half month hiatus has finally come to an end. The episode that fans of “The Walking Dead” have feared for years has finally arrived and brought with it a game-changing shift, as well as heartbreaking deaths. Even now, several hours after viewing the episode, I am struggling to come up with words to express my reaction to this impossibly difficult, yet necessary expansion of the story. The world of “The Walking Dead” and its characters have changed forever and nothing will ever be the same again. There is something to fear and his name is Negan.

While this episode plays with the timeline, take note that for the purposes of adequately and accurately recapping this episode, the events will be discussed in chronological order. After the highly polarizing cliffhanger to last season’s “Last Day on Earth,” the Season 7 premiere picks up right where things left off. Eleven key characters are thrown to their knees and lined up before they meet Negan, the ruthless new villain with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire and called Lucille. Negan begins his sadistic game of “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,” pointing Lucille at each of the eleven characters before landing on “it.” The camera pans and reveals Abraham as the unlucky victim of Negan’s barbarism. An absolutely gut-wrenching look of distress from Sasha is met with a peace sign from Abraham, he knows exactly what is about to happen and he has accepted it. Negan slams Lucille directly down on Abraham’s head as blood splatters everywhere; Negan maniacally applauds Abraham for “taking it like a champ.” In typical Abraham fashion, the final words that come out of his mouth are “suck my nuts.” Negan slams Lucille down again and again as the remaining survivors, most notably Sasha, Eugene and Rosita, cry out in devastation. A bloodied mash of brain matter is left behind and Negan decides to fling some of Abraham’s blood right across Rick’s face; this is just one of Negan’s sinister ways of taunting the survivors. After the gruesome beating, Negan takes a bloodied Lucille and sticks her directly in Rosita’s face. He taunts her after realizing that she was once in a relationship with Abraham. Suddenly, Daryl’s built up anger spills out and he punches Negan in the face. This prompts several Saviors to lunge for Daryl and hold him down as Negan calls him out for disobeying his direct orders to not intervene; Dwight steps in and asks for permission to kill Daryl, but Negan refuses and sets yet another devastating play in motion.

You didn’t really think Negan was done with our group of survivors did you? In retaliation for Daryl stepping out of line, Negan explains that he is a man of his word and that a price must be paid. With no warning, he turns to Glenn and slams Lucille down on his head. Maggie screams out in misery and shock as Glenn’s head is bashed repeatedly. Negan makes a point of pausing during the beating to examine his handiwork and taunt Glenn, whose eyeball has fallen out of its socket. Glenn manages to utter out a chilling and tragic set of final words, “Maggie, I’ll find you.” Negan then takes a second to mention the emotions of the moment before continuing the murder of Glenn. Negan laughs out loud and calls Lucille, “a vampire bat.” Yes, Negan did in fact brutally murder two major characters in the most horrifying way possible, but the tragedy doesn’t end there. Negan steps forward and speaks with Rick, who promises to kill Negan one day. Negan laughs and grabs Rick’s ax from his “right hand man,” Simon (Steven Ogg), before dragging Rick into the RV and setting off for an intense ride.

While in the RV, Negan provokes Rick and playfully tells him to pick up the ax and kill him. Rick sees this as his opportunity to kill Negan, but fails. After starting the RV and driving away from the lineup, Negan jokes with Rick while slamming into walkers. Flashes of each character in the lineup and their time on the series light up the screen. Negan drives for a while before coming to a stop and sitting down with Rick to discuss the terms of this new world order. Everything and everyone now belongs to Negan and there are no exceptions or escapes, this is reality for the survivors now. Negan then throws the ax outside of the RV and orders Rick to fetch it for him, however, a horde of walkers have grouped together and Rick is thrown into a chaotic scene. He fights his way through the walkers as more flashes of the characters come across the screen. He makes his way to the back of the RV and climbs up the ladder to the roof. Rick realizes that Negan brought him to one of the roadblocks that the Saviors set up to prevent Rick’s group from reaching the Hilltop. The burnt out pile of logs is left behind, along with the lone survivor who was hanged and has since turned into a walker. Negan continues to taunt Rick and begins shooting through the RV’s roof, prompting Rick to jump onto the body of the hanging walker. He dangles for a moment before the walker slips through the noose, dropping Rick into the herd of undead. Negan fires several rounds into the walkers, allowing Rick to get away and retrieve the ax. Suddenly, flashes of each of the remaining characters in the lineup fly across the screen, but in terrifying way. The remaining eight survivors are killed by Negan and Lucille in brief glimpses; this is meant to show what could happen if Rick chooses to ignore and disobey Negan’s rule of law. Negan finally allows Rick to renter the RV and escape the horde, but the suffering still doesn’t end there.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC)

The sun is beginning to rise and Negan returns with Rick to the site of the double execution. The mangled corpses of Glenn and Abraham remain on the ground as the others survivor sit in complete shock. Negan places Rick in direct view of the rest of the group and explains that he isn’t happy with the fact that Rick still doesn’t appear to understand the fact that he is no longer in charge. On the order of Negan, the Saviors point their guns directly at the remaining characters’ heads as Carl is ordered to walk over to Rick. Using his belt as a tourniquet for Carl’s arm, Negan forces Carl to the ground and uses a marker to draw a line across his upper limb. He then gives Rick an impossible ultimatum, either chop off Carl’s arm or the remaining survivors will be shot and killed, including Carl. Rick sits in shock as he processes this impossible decision. Michonne tearfully pleads for Negan to spare Carl from this horror, citing the fact that the group understands that Negan is in charge. This isn’t satisfying to Negan as he wants Rick to fully understand the gravity of the situation. After a tense countdown and some guttural wails from Rick, he slowly raises his arm with the ax in hand as Carl urges him to go through with the amputation. Negan notices Rick’s willingness to comply and decides to release him from this unfortunate task. This scene is especially intense considering a somewhat similar storyline happens in the graphic novels and fans have long speculated as to whether it will ever make it to the television series. After so much devastation and heartbreak, the episode is still not over and neither is the sorrow.

With a new set of rules in place, Negan maniacally cheers and boasts about how successful the day has been. Rather than allowing the survivors to leave peacefully, he takes Daryl hostage and explains to Rick that if any rules are violated, Daryl will be sent to Alexandria in pieces. A sole Savior exploits the devastation by taking Polaroid photos of the disfigured corpses; this is a callback to the photos seen by Glenn during the attack on the Savior compound in “Not Tomorrow Yet.” Negan and the Saviors leave behind the RV as they head out; a series of slow motion shots of our heroes being left in the dust are shown. An eerie silence is present as Maggie struggles to stand up and walk over to the body of Glenn. She struggles to formulate words, but orders Rick and the others to head back to Alexandria and get ready for the upcoming war; she states that she will make her way to the Hilltop alone with Glenn’s corpse. It’s worth noting that Maggie appears to be the only survivor that isn’t completely broken down by Negan, hinting at a major role for her character in the upcoming episodes. Rick and the others obviously refuse to allow Maggie to be alone. Sasha steps forward and tries to comfort Maggie, stating that she will stop at nothing to get Maggie to the Hilltop. Sasha makes her way over to Rosita and tells her that she will be taking Abraham’s body to the Hilltop as well. This is an important moment between these two characters and hopefully signifies a growing unity as they fight to honor the memory of Abraham. Rick and the others carry the bodies into the RV and prepare to drive away. A chilling voice over of Negan is heard as the narrative switches to an alternate reality, where the events of the episode never happened. The group of characters sit down together for a Sunday family meal in Alexandria; laughter and joy are present as everyone comes together to celebrate life and their community. The camera pans to the end of a long table where Abraham sits beside Glenn, who is holding a beautiful baby on his lap (a view of what life should have been for our band of survivors); Glenn and Abraham smile at each other as millions of fans burst out in tears.

A glimpse at what life could have been like without Negan and the Saviors. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.)
A glimpse at what life could have been like without Negan and the Saviors. (Photo courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.)

As the dust settles, it is time to look back on the two characters we lost this episode. The first fatality of the episode was Abraham Ford, a pillar of strength and humor since his introduction in the fourth season episode “Inmates.” From his first appearance, viewers were presented with the fact that Abraham was very much straight-forward and dedicated to successfully completing any mission he was tasked with. His comical nature balanced out perfectly with his willingness to get his hands dirty when necessary. Over the years, we have seen his relationship with Eugene and Rosita grow and change; there have been hardships, such as Eugene’s big reveal that he was lying about being a scientist and the more recent break up with Rosita. However, this trio of survivors entered the series together as “Abraham’s Army” and never wavered in their dedication to protecting each other. Abraham’s quick wit and ability to calm tense situations will likely be what I miss most about him. From his memorable line, “Who’s Deanna?” after arriving at Alexandria to the famed Bisquick analogy, Abraham provided a much needed bit of respite when situations radically became dark on the show. The group definitely loses one of their most skilled fighters and hardest workers. He also leaves behind Sasha, who has experienced impossible losses already with Bob and Tyreese. It remains to be seen how she will handle this new tragedy, however, it seems as though she may rise up and take on Abraham’s role as a pillar of strength, possibly helping Rosita and Eugene through the mourning process. Throughout his entire run on the series, Michael Cudlitz clearly developed a deep understanding of Abraham and managed to bring him to life in a most spectacular way.

Our tribute continues with the second fatality featured in the episode, Glenn Rhee. After narrowly surviving six full seasons, Glenn’s luck finally ran out. We first met Glenn in the pilot episode as his voice is heard speaking over a walkie-talkie, calling Rick a “dumbass” for getting himself trapped in a tank in walker-infested downtown Atlanta. Immediately, Glenn is shown to be a resourceful survivor that is completely capable of getting through tough situations. He introduces Rick and the viewers to the rest of the group, setting the overall story into play. Soon into the second season, Glenn meets Maggie, who he quickly falls in love with, beginning one of the most epic and adored love stories on television. While they may have found themselves separated and apart from each other at various points, the love between Glenn and Maggie has always been a shining glimmer of hope that good can triumph in the face of absolute terror and horror. Viewers have been treated to the evolution of Glenn’s character, growing from a shy pizza delivery boy to a confident warrior who never loses his humanity and still fights to save the lives of others. Glenn is a person who everyone can see a little part of themselves in; he serves as a reminder that sometimes the good guy can win, even when the odds are against him. Glenn is a person that everyone should strive to be, someone who protects and defends others no matter what. He leaves Maggie in his wake, a tragic circumstance that is worsened when you remember that she is pregnant with his child. After losing Hershel, Beth and now Glenn, what will Maggie’s future look like? I predict that she will work towards becoming a leader and eventually avenging Glenn’s death while honoring his memory. The series also loses the acting talents of Steven Yeun, who has also managed to expertly balance humor with seriousness throughout his entire run; his exit will most definitely leave behind a massive hole that will never be filled.

“The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” is a tragedy, plain and simple. From beginning to end, the utter feeling of desperation and helplessness is present and overwhelming. As Negan’s reign of terror begins, the viewers and characters realize that there is nothing whatsoever that can be done to fix this situation. Negan is the leader now and he is to be respected or there will be harsh consequences, as seen very bluntly with this episode. This shakes up the series forever, as Negan will likely be a major player for years to come. His entrance marks a massive shift in the series, which is highly unusual for a show in its seventh season. The losses experienced and the aftermath that follows will haunt the characters and viewers alike forever. Not only is this episode incredibly difficult to watch (I literally wanted it to end halfway through, because it is that gruesome and emotionally taxing), but it also happens to be one of the best of the entire series. The greatness of this episode can be attributed to the utterly breathtaking performances from every single member of the cast. While some characters didn’t even have a line of dialogue, the fear, sadness, trauma and shock can be felt very clearly. Both Sonequa Martin-Green and Lauren Cohan delivered some of their strongest performances to date as the grieving Sasha and Maggie. Jeffrey Dean Morgan sets himself on a whole new level as he begins to fully flesh out the character of Negan; after this episode, it is completely clear that he was the perfect choice to play this iconic villain. Finally, Andrew Lincoln’s performance in this episode is one-hundred percent Emmy-worthy. Over the course of the hour, Andrew manages to show a truly strong leader become a broken and helpless man. The pure talent of Andrew has always been present, but it is especially highlighted in the scene where Rick is nearly forced to chop off Carl’s hand; that acting is chilling, real and layered. It’s worth noting that the title comes from the first season finale when Dr. Jenner at the CDC allows Rick’s group to leave and keep fighting; Rick tells Dr. Jenner that he is grateful, which is met with the frank warning that a darker day is coming. This day has finally arrived and nothing will ever be the same again. Be sure to tune in to “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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Jeffrey Kopp is the Community Editor of the Niner Times. He is a senior double majoring in Communication and Political Science. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead."

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