Headstrong, To Take You On!
After six months of speculation and rage, The Walking Dead returned with its season premiere to answer, once and for all, who was on the receiving end of Negan’s bat. The anticipation following what many felt to be a cheap cliffhanger, in a season of cheap exploits, was palpable, and hopefully leading to relief. But let’s be real ,this is The Walking Dead, and the closest thing to relief you were going to get in this episode was if you had a sneeze that finally came out after 45 minutes of build up. “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” took your heart, soul and happiness, sat it in a shopping cart, then proceed to kick that cart into the Springfield Gorge.
Season 6 of The Walking Dead relied heavily on the tease of something wicked. Negan, the ever looming threat, mentioned by name in post credit sequences, and by other characters, never actually made an appearance until the season finale. I didn’t really enjoy that method of storytelling. It cheapens the emotional toil you’re likely to take on a show that’s already steeped in shocking exploits. Paired with it, the show had found ways to pull punches after dealing what you’d thought was a hay-maker. Baby Judith surviving the prison battle, then the fake out on Glenn’s death just last season. Those things were still fresh coming into “The Day Will Come…”, so when we were 15 minutes into the episode without any inclination as to who caught the Louisville Slugger to the skull, I was sure this would be dragged out until the very last frame. I was only half right. Something would be dragged alright, but it would be our collective heartache. As if the Red Wedding had an after party.
I know the Red Wedding technically was the after party, but roll with me here.
First things whenever, I like Negan as a villain. With all his speechifying and wry smiling, he brings a charming juxtaposition to a truly wicked character. He doesn’t believe he’s the bad guy here, and can not only justify what he’s doing, but will take great pleasure in horrible actions. It’s that character trait that made his appearance last season so chilling, and what made the deaths at his hands so terrifying to watch. The first death, the one we’d been waiting for, fell upon Abraham. The somewhat honorable muscle of the ZomPoc All-Stars. A hefty blow to the team but one that ultimately they’d be able to move past. Much like the episode itself thanks to what came later.
It was the second death, when Negan turned his bat onto Glenn, after Darryl tried to retaliate I might add, that the episode really dug into a numbing exhibit of despair and hopelessness. Not only for the characters, but the audience. Negan became a projection of the writers room. Lashing out at fans for their outrage last season, and for questioning their decisions. After Abraham got the beats, Negan took Rick on an RV ride to break him further (pad the show with a little action) and to continually tease Rick losing his hand, which happened in the comics in his first meeting with The Governor. One of many detours the show has taken either due to budgetary or plot driven reasons. Neither of those could save Glenn this time around, who finally met his fate, just as he did on the black & white pages of issue 100.
Glenn’s death was Negan holding true to his word. Assuring that the others would toe the line. It was providing the audience with another gut punch when they weren’t expecting. The pain was over, or so we thought. “The Day Will Come…” wasn’t done rubbing our noses in anguish. After more of Negan explaining what bad little puppies we’d all been, they then shifted the ax of misery over to Carl. Rick wasn’t nearly broken enough for his tastes, and neither were we. No, we needed more sorrow. So Negan, threatening to kill everyone else, was forcing Rick to chop of his sons arm. It was a lot to take in, and after a while, I just checked out. I totally understand the draw of The Walking Dead being “it never gets better”, but there is a way to take viewers on that journey without making us completely despondent. The show couldn’t stop themselves from pouring it on. Even showing us every character on the receiving end of Lucille (they’d gone on record saying they filmed everyone getting hit to conceal who the real victim would be). By the end, it all felt like cruelty for cruelty’s sake. Each moment undercutting the last until we had nothing left to lose or care for.
“The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” has be described as a turning point for The Walking Dead. While this is evident in the most obvious sense of one of the last remaining season 1 characters being killed off, it also came off as an exercise in forced malice. After 6 years of convincing us that it’ll never get better, there’s actually nowhere to go but up in a lot of ways, but it came at the expense of viewer trust. Too many fake outs and swerves has detached me from everyone emotionally, and without that connection, the show becomes a slasher flick or worse, torture porn.