The Walking Dead: The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be
I don’t think I am going out on a limb when I say that the seventh season premier of The Walking Dead was the most hyped and anticipated episode in the show’s history. The season six finale, now a distant memory, built up to a cliff-hanger that dared your to care about its resolution six months later. Since then, AMC has spent half a year stoking the fires of fandom to make sure viewers remembered that someone was going to die this week.
There’s obviously going to be spoilers after the jump. My guess is that if you didn’t watch the episode live last night, you probably aren’t too worried about being spoiled, but be warned anyway.
From the beginning, part of the appeal of The Walking Dead was that “no one was safe”. Early on, the writers frequently reminded us that any character could die at any time. Even if you had read the comic book the show was based on, you didn’t necessarily know what was going to happen next. The general outline from the source material remained the same, but the details were always up for grabs. As the series continued, the deaths became ever more predictable. They had always been telegraphed, but repetition set in. Even the least observant viewer could see The Walking Dead tipping its hand.
This was a problem for the comic book as well. Robert Kirkman’s story hit its stride during the chapters that took place at the prison and Woodbury. Unfortunately, the TV show badly bungled the best parts of the comic book. That left little hope for its handling of the weaker follow-up tales. The comic book fell into a pattern of essentially recycling the same plot points over and over again only more slowly each time. The characters would find shelter, allow themselves to feel hopeful for a moment, things would go horribly wrong, rinse and repeat.
I remember reading issue 100 of the comic book series which serves as the basis for this episode. By this point in the series, I was grumbling that the comics had slowed to the padded out pace of the TV show. And just like the TV show, it resorted to shocking violence to try to jolt readers out of a stupor. Except true to form, the TV show padded out the already overlong source material when it came time to adapt this story.
In the comic book, Negan arrived unannounced. On TV, the characters have been aware of Negan’s existence for quite some time. Rick has been over-confidently waging a war against an enemy he didn’t know. In the source material, Rick tragically learned that the world he was living in was both bigger and more dangerous than he thought. On TV, Rick foolishly stirred up a hornet’s nest and ended up getting stung as a result.
Not a lot really happens in “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” (yes, that really is the episode’s title) aside from the promised death and violence. The Walking Dead tries to have it both ways; it revels in shocking gore while also trying to wallow in tragic loss. But you can’t really have both. The violence on display is outrageous even by the show’s standards which is fine if that’s the kind of show they are making (and it is). But when you get close-ups of heads being reduced to hamburger, the show no longer works as a character drama (then again, it never really did).
The strength of this episode is Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He’s clearly having a blast chewing the scenery with gusto. For all the things The Walking Dead gets wrong, it usually hits the nail on the head with regards to casting. In the comic book, the character was a funnier version of The Governor. His salty dialogue was never going to make it past the censors on basic cable. But since the TV show dropped the ball so badly in its treatment of The Governor, there’s a chance Negan will feel relatively fresh. Especially with an actor like Morgan snarling with equal parts menace and charisma.
Unfortunately, Negan’s arrival also heralds the return of wimpy Rick Grimes. The show has mangled a lot of characters from the comic book. Notably Andrea and Dale went from sympathetic, three-dimensional characters to annoyances you couldn’t wait to see bumped off. But Rick has suffered at the hands of the writers the longest. They never seem to know what to do with their protagonist so they keep rebooting him in variations of one of two modes. Rick is either the uber-capable leader who succeeds even when his plans make no sense or the sniveling coward with no idea what to do next.
The entire point of this episode was to break Rick down, but as jriddle points out in his write-up of the premiere, we have seen Rick broken down before. We’re all familiar with Andrew Lincoln’s wide-eyed, slack-jawed looks of panic. He stammers and spits and looks around frantically. And we all know at some point in the future, he will get his groove back and kick some ass again. Probably just in time for the midseason finale.