REVIEW – THE WALKING DEAD Season Seven Premiere “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” (SPOILER Review)
“You can breathe. You can blink. You can cry. Hell, you’re all gonna be doing that.” With those words, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) ushered in a new era of The Walking Dead – and effectively predicted fan’s reactions, with “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” supplanting all past episodes as the most heartbreaking and emotionally effective installment of AMC’s hit zombie drama. Serving as “part two” to April’s season six finale “Last Day on Earth” and resolving the nearly seven month long cliffhanger that left many understandably frustrated with the lack of resolution, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” sees the domineering Negan inflicting his mandatory new world order on Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his close-knit band of survivors, including Carl (Chandler Riggs), Daryl (Norman Reedus), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Rosita (Christian Serratos), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), and Aaron (Ross Marquand).
Directed once again by producer and special effects guru Greg Nicotero and scripted by showrunner Scott M. Gimple, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” – the title of which is a reference reaching way back to season one – is on par with the fifth season’s “No Sanctuary” for best season opener, and stands alone as the most grim and darkest episode of The Walking Dead in the series’ six year history on television. The antics of the cannibalistic undead aside, this is The Walking Dead at its most horrific – and while the season seven opener was saddled with the burden of solving the “Who got the bat?” cliffhanger that plagued fans for more than half a year – “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” is an emotional and psychological horror, featuring the two biggest cast casualties since Hershel (Scott Wilson) back in season four.
In “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” audiences witnessed the brutal and merciless departures of Abraham and Glenn, with Negan terrorizing Rick via a torturous RV ride. A mindf-ck of the highest order, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” is a level of intensity The Walking Dead admittedly obtains all too rarely. “Last Day on Earth” sustained a tone of terror and dread for 90 minutes, with its successor utilizing its 66 minutes in the same vein: the primary goal of the episode is to break Rick mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, but it’s also – as admitted by Gimple on Talking Dead, the live after show that trails episodes of The Walking Dead – intended to break the audience, who had to see and understand Rick’s subjugation. Negan oppresses and suppresses Rick at every turn; for all Negan’s dramatics and theatrical displays of power, he’s hellbent on whipping Rick into place – something Negan does gleefully. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is scary, unpredictable, intimidating, and charismatic as Negan – he’s an unhinged, psychopathic bully, and he’s never more alive than when he gets to unleash Lucille (Negan’s beloved baseball bat enveloped in barbwire). Morgan was promoted to series regular over the summer, and his Negan is a most welcome addition to the show – even if his introduction includes the savage murder of two fan-favorite characters.
While “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” emphasized Rick’s submission over the loss of a pair of established characters (one who has been around since the show’s first season back in 2010), it’s the deaths of those two characters that has everyone talking. The controversial “Last Day on Earth” felt frustratingly incomplete when it chose to end with our heroes lined up and pending a baseball bat execution, only to have the camera switch to the victim’s POV in the episode’s closing moments. Negan swung his bat, each blow accompanied by a deafening “thwack,” the camera cruelly cutting to black and rolling end credits – withholding the identity of said victim until next season. As revealed by the season premiere, it was Abraham who was first up to bat – but the cliffhanger wasn’t resolved immediately, with the episode stringing audiences along for nearly half an hour until a trauma-induced flashback forces Rick to recall the bloody events of the past night.
Nicotero’s directorial flourishes include quick flashes of Rick’s horrific hallucinations, as well as “life flashing before your eyes” black-and-white looks back at our heroes’ journeys up to the point they found themselves kneeling and awaiting possible doom. The cliffhanger ending of “Last Day on Earth” had everyone talking (even if it was for some of the wrong reasons) and many, myself included, were understandably pissed off with the “wait and see” dick tease – and “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” wasn’t quick to answer. Immediately beginning the episode with the revelation and subsequent death of Negan’s selected victim would have been awkwardly placed, thus necessitating this episode’s non-linear structure – and while information was doled out selectively (and in a way reminiscent of “A,” the season four finale also scripted by Gimple, which interjected well-placed flashbacks that supported the episode’s theme), the episode left viewers in the dark for half of its running time, only revealing the victims at the midway point. Complex structure is both welcomed and appreciated, and it only becomes a problem when Abe and Glenn’s deaths are separated by mere minutes.
In light of seeing the episode, Gimple’s previous offerings of explaining away the cliffhanger make sense, even if they don’t wholly justify the blue-ball ending of last season. I believe Gimple when he says the filmmakers “never intend to f-ck with people,” and his explanation – that the closing of season six was the end of one story, with the identity of who died serving as the story of season seven – but “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” didn’t have to whack two cast members, thus essentially overshadowing both and ensuring both characters (and their respective actors) didn’t get the solo sendoff in the limelight they not only earned, but deserved. Abraham did meet Lucille in the final seconds of season six – even if we didn’t know it at the time – but that was still part of season six. If the intentions were “the loss of Rick’s confidence… changing that mindset and tearing Rick down,” as Gimple said, why not show that back in April? Maybe the filmmakers didn’t want audiences to mourn Abraham over the summer, giving audiences’ feelings to dissipate come October – we may have made peace with it by the arrival of season seven, but Sasha and the survivors would be playing “catch up” with their grief, mourning the death of a character we had seven months to move on from. But the biggest problem comes in the one-two punch that made this episode as fucked up as it was: Glenn has been around since the first season, and is thus the more important character – making Abraham an unfortunate afterthought in light of having the kind of big, character death moments The Walking Dead often boasts.
Beth, Tyreese, and Bob – all lesser characters than Glenn – were rewarded solo sendoffs, and it’s unfair that actors Michael Cudlitz and Steven Yeun had to share what is arguably the biggest moment of The Walking Dead comic book: the iconic Lucille scene in which Negan makes his grand introduction, forever changing the course of The Walking Dead. Worse still, the comic – which sees Negan selecting Glenn with “it,” giving Maggie time to plead no and for Glenn to try and convince Negan not to do this – offered more anticipation and suspense that, frustratingly, didn’t translate into Glenn’s live-action extinction. In “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” Rick’s flashback reveals Abraham as “it,” with the badass ginger soldier having an all-too-brief moment to look death into the face. His moment of death is blunt and unforgiving, with Abraham ending up just a meaty, bloody slump on the ground. Daryl, who has always been impulsive, reactive, and emotionally charged, launches himself at Negan, sucker punching the bat-wielding maniac square in the jaw. Though Daryl is immediately subdued, Negan rescinds his free pass – reminding his assemblage of involuntary hostages that there are no exceptions.
With that, Negan turns and blindsides Glenn – bringing the thirsty Lucille down for more blood. It’s fine to deviate from the source material – the show has and will continue to do so, as it should – but killing two characters off just moments apart feels excessive, especially as the death of the bigger character can’t help but overshadow the death of the more minor character (just as the loss of Lori, Rick’s wife, overshadowed the loss of T-Dog when the two characters perished in the same episode back in season three). Shit, Glenn didn’t even get much of a focus ahead of meeting his untimely end, whereas Abraham got a sentimental farewell in what would prove to be his last full appearance in “Last Day on Earth.” They’re both valued characters who will be greatly missed, but I can’t help but feel that the show would have fared better offing Abraham in “Last Day on Earth” and reserving Glenn’s death for “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be.”
Glenn didn’t see his death coming, and maybe audiences – even those who had read the comic book – didn’t either, with Abraham’s death lulling viewers into a false sense of security. But a poignant moment from the comic – where Glenn and Maggie both know the father-to-be is a dead man walking, having been selected by Negan – is stolen from Glenn, with his death being relegated to shock and surprise. I can’t help but feel that it would have been even more gut-wrenchingly tragic if Glenn were selected, making audiences (and Glenn and Maggie) anticipate Glenn’s execution, with the doomed lovebirds both offering futile pleas to an unyielding Negan. It’s like the old Hitchcock adage: show an audience characters at a table that explodes, and the audience will be surprised. Show an audience characters seated around a table, and then show the audience the bomb, and the audience will be in suspense. Glenn’s death was more of a shock death than a suspense one, and while Nicotero and crew did a fantastic job bringing that gory and tragic scene to life in live-action – hell, my stomach was in knots, and I’m as desensitized as one can be – it fell just short of its whole potential.
Even if – as predicted – the victim’s identities were leaked over the summer (you can only do so much to hide who is and isn’t showing up to set), “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” was still wholly effective. As a longtime fan of The Walking Dead, I’m emotionally involved. I care about these characters, and while you come to terms with the fact that many, if not all, of them will die… it hurts like a bitch when you see them go, even if you are expecting it. Abraham offered a final one liner and a peace sign – something he shares with Sasha, which was a nice touch – and Glenn’s “Maggie, I’ll find you” was heartbreaking. Despite the two characters having to share such a momentous occasion, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” was an emotional rollercoaster – and it’s exactly the kind of episode that it needed to be: emotional, fucked up, thrilling, intense, and a reassurance that The Walking Dead still has its balls. Star Andrew Lincoln proves for the millionth time he deserves an Emmy for his powerhouse acting with Rick Grimes – if Lincoln fails to sell the fact that Rick is at his absolute lowest point, everything else is rendered inert and pointless – and Rick’s heartbreak, shock, and near-hyperventilation as he finally, ultimately accepts Negan’s ownership signifies a major turning point for The Walking Dead, with Lincoln’s unmatched performance serving as a powerful reminder that this is more than “just” a zombie show.
The image of Glenn in his death throes is haunting, and the episode’s closing moments – which included an overwhelmed Maggie and a dreamy happily ever after that will tragically never be – make “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” among the best episodes of The Walking Dead. Criticisms and nitpicks over particulars aside, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” made for gripping television – and The Walking Dead‘s seventh season is off to a hell of a start – and one that was appropriately graphic and traumatic. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.