'The Walking Dead' finally reveals who Negan killed, and we're not okay (2023)

'The Walking Dead' finally reveals who Negan killed, and we're not okay (1)

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan in 'The Walking Dead' Season 7 premiere.Credit: amc

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This recap contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 7 premiere, titled "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be."

As some had suspected, The Walking Dead didn't reveal Negan's victim in the opening scene of the Season 7 premiere, further prolonging our agony after six months of suspense.

It took 20 minutes to reveal that Abraham was the first in the lineup to be killed by Negan, with Rick's recollections of his death interspersed with shots of the rest of the group sobbing as it happened.

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Then, after Negan taunted Rosita (Abraham's former paramour) to look at Lucille, which was still dripping with Abraham's blood, Daryl leapt up and punched Negan in retaliation for the emotional torture.

Dwight immediately offered to kill Daryl with his own crossbow for the insubordination, but Negan told him not to -- instead repaying the defiance by killing Glenn instead. The scene was torn straight out of The Walking Dead comic in one of the goriest scenes on the show to date, with Negan's first blow making Glenn's eye pop out as Maggie screamed.

'The Walking Dead' finally reveals who Negan killed, and we're not okay (2)

Glenn's death in The Walking Dead comics.Credit: image comics

Negan continued beating Glenn until his head, like Abraham's, was nothing but mush, his fingers still twitching.

"You bunch of p*ssies -- I'm just getting started," Negan gloated after the second kill. "Lucille is thirsty. She's a vampire bat."

The episode jumped back and forth between those visceral flashbacks and Rick in the present time, trapped on the roof of the RV and surrounded by walkers, still in shock from seeing his friends die so horrendously.

How did he get there? The episode opened with the scene that debuted earlier this month at New York Comic Con, which saw Rick threatening to kill Negan after witnessing Negan's kills, before our stalwart leader was dragged into the group's trailer for a one-on-one chat with Negan.

Once inside the trailer, Negan mocked Rick's previous threats, and what followed was an excruciating exercise in humbling our defiant hero, with Negan pointing out, "It's a brand new day, Rick. I want you to think about what could've happened. Think about what happened. Think about what can still happen. You are mine. The people back there, they are mine."

Negan then took Rick for a drive away from the rest of the group and threw his ax outside into a horde of walkers, telling Rick to go fetch. In the chaos, Rick was bombarded not just with the undead, but with memories of his friends, seeing each of their lives flash before his eyes as we waited to find out who was on the receiving end of Lucille.

'The Walking Dead' finally reveals who Negan killed, and we're not okay (3)

We are not okay.Credit: AMC

One of the most painful shots of the episode saw Rick on the roof of the RV, facing the walker who was left hanging off the bridge with a rope around its neck last season -- emblematic of his own helplessness in the face of Negan's absolute control.

Rick eventually did as Negan commanded and retrieved the weapon, taking down a slew of walkers as he went.

Unfortunately for Rick, Negan didn't seem convinced that he was as obedient as Negan generally likes his followers to be, and once the duo got back to the rest of the group, Negan wanted Rick to prove his compliance by making Rick cut Carl's arm off.

The scene was horrifying, and inarguably one of the most stressful ever committed to television (right up there with Negan's game of eeny meeny miny moe), performed with harrowing intensity by Andrew Lincoln. The moment called to mind the Biblical story of Abraham (aptly) and Isaac, in which God commanded Abraham to kill his son to prove his faith. Rick was even on the verge of doing it, practically hysterical as he pleaded for Negan to take his arm instead, before Negan stepped in at the last minute and stopped him, making Rick promise that he and the rest of the group belonged to Negan. A trembling Rick repeated Negan's words, pledging their service to the maniacal murderer.

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"We did it, all of us, together," Negan gloated after Rick acquiesced. "Today was a productive damn day. Now, I hope, for all your sake, that you get it now. That you understand how things work. Things have changed. Whatever you had going for you, that is over now."

Negan's followers then took Daryl hostage and abandoned the rest of the group, leaving them the RV for transport, as Maggie tried to come to terms with the loss of Glenn.

Lauren Cohan's performance was utterly devastating in those final moments as the shock wore off and reality set in, with the expectant mother and new widow telling Rick and the rest of the group to go back to Alexandria and get ready to fight Negan while she carried on to Hilltop.

"You were out here for me," she whispered, wracked with guilt.

"We still are," Rick insisted.

"I need you to go back. I can't have you out here, I can't have you all out here anymore," she insisted tearfully, prompting Sasha to promise she would get Maggie to Hilltop and keep her safe, both of them united in their loss. The rest of the group rallied around her to help lift Glenn's body, since, as Rick shakily insisted, "he's our family too."

The show couldn't help but twist the knife with one last painful shot of what the future might've been if Rick's group had never encountered the Saviors, with all of them -- Glenn and Abraham included -- sitting around a dinner table back in Alexandria, Glenn holding the baby he'll now never get to meet.

'The Walking Dead' finally reveals who Negan killed, and we're not okay (4)

Way to kick us when we're down, guys.Credit: amc

Talk about an emotional beating.

Was it worth the wait? That probably depends on your tolerance for cliffhangers. The episode was undeniably well-crafted by showrunner and writer Scott Gimple, with lyrical direction from Greg Nicotero, and it's hard to find fault with the form of the episode.

Anchoring the hour in Rick's point of view allowed Gimple and Nicotero to trace the evolution of an unimaginable trauma (you can't help but think that Rick must be suffering from some degree of PTSD after the emotional gauntlet he's forced to run), and the cuts between past and present certainly kept up the narrative tension, even if it felt a little sadistic after six months of waiting to find out who Negan's victim was.

But writing and directing can only get you so far, and it was Lincoln's powerhouse performance that truly stole the show, closely followed by Cohan's. Rarely are actors called upon to sustain such heightened emotion throughout an entire episode, and it was as exhausting and exhilarating to watch as it must've been to film.

To some degree I respect the producers for the "misdirect" of killing Abraham before taking out Glenn -- since by this point, whether you're a comic book reader or not, you were likely aware that Glenn was the one who died by Negan's hand in Robert Kirkman's comics, which meant many viewers were expecting him to suffer the same fate in the show.

'The Walking Dead' finally reveals who Negan killed, and we're not okay (5)

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.Credit: AMC

Abraham seemed like the best candidate for the death outside of Glenn -- he's not as beloved as Daryl or Michonne, but more pivotal and well-developed as a character than Rosita, Eugene or Aaron. I suspect that had he been the only death, viewers might've been frustrated that they were left hanging for so long, but also not as devastated by the loss in the long run.

Killing Glenn -- especially after last season's controversial dumpster fake-out -- certainly had more of an emotional effect, given that he's been with the show since the first episode, and it will undoubtedly serve as a catalyst for Maggie, who has already been taking steps towards a leadership role. Steven Yeun's resilient performance has made Glenn the heart and conscience of the show, and it's hard to imagine the series without him, making the loss particularly potent.

But after the game of psychological keep-away the producers played with Glenn last season, I couldn't help but feel that the impact was blunted (pun somewhat intended) by the show fulfilling the comic's prophecy. It was a safe choice, in a way, because it was expected. Who can really get mad at the show for doing what Kirkman already did?

SEE ALSO:

AMC renews 'The Walking Dead' for Season 8

This is a series that insists that everyone is at risk, but did anyone really believe that The Walking Dead would kill Daryl (or a child or a pregnant woman, for that matter)? There are certain untouchables on The Walking Dead, admitted or not, and I truly don't believe the show is ballsy enough to kill Daryl and risk alienating a vocal portion of its fanbase.

That doesn't mean that it can't be engaging or well made -- episodes like this one prove the opposite -- but it does ensure that I keep a degree of emotional detachment, because the strings behind the scenes are often visible, whether that means misdirecting fans or press to maintain secrecy around a character death, or putting us through the wringer with a cliffhanger just to build buzz.

The Walking Dead is very good at what it does, and few shows can maintain tension this confidently, or drive conversation so forcefully, but sometimes the bleakness of the world feels overwhelming. After episodes like this, full of unrelenting torment, you can't help but feel like that hanged walker dangling from the bridge, stuck in limbo and waiting for someone to put you out of your misery.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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