From Negan with Love

YouTube screenshot

*The following contains Spoilers from the season 7 premiere of "The Walking Dead"

"Pissing our pants yet? Boy, do I have a feeling we're getting close."- Negan, The Walking Dead

And people thought Ramsay Bolton was sadistic.

The much anticipated season seven premiere of The Walking Dead hit the airwaves last Sunday. Boy, was it a doozy.

I am not going to spend much time on what side of the liked/didn't like it/I'm never watching again spectrum I fall in. I will say that I was enraptured, on the edge of my seat for nearly the entire one hour, six minutes (including commercials) of the episode. This was an episode that filled me with a sense of existential dread for the characters inhabiting The Walking Dead world. It is a feeling that is still with me nearly two days later.

As a disclaimer, I am only through the first ten volumes of the graphic novels. I have yet to reach the Negan arc. I am also on the side of the court that didn't mind the cliffhanger from season six finale. That episode had nearly as much suspense as most previous episodes combined. Little did I know the Saviors were only getting started in messing with the characters' heads.

The episode from Sunday, titled "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be", has the critics writing the show off. Judging by comment boards and social media posts, the fans are divided on how to feel. Two characters were killed off in an unabashedly violent way. Many viewers saw the first one coming, then felt safe. Perfect.

Then, Daryl (Norman Reedus) made the mistake of attacking Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). I knew then another death was coming. Negan had already given his free pass to the group when Glenn (Steven Yeun) lunged. Even though I knew who it was going to be next based off the camera set up and who was framed in the shot, nearly perfectly in focus, the act still came as a shock.

And it hurt. Both deaths. Each man had his final gasp, both true to character. Though the creators had assigned different deaths in the television show than those of the comics, both Glenn and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) had both perished in this very arc.

Two deaths--even if not theirs--were needed. The cast had become too sprawling--for a few seasons now--leaving less time for character development. Time to bring that back.

Like I said, I'm not here to go too much into the how or the why of the violence of the episode. To me, it was one of the best episodes of recent seasons. It is plainly setting up a story arc, one that I hope they handle with care and don't rush. The group, I hope, will now see themselves in a different light. One that will hopefully lead to redemption of their initial goals in the first couple of seasons. A road that will lead to a little bit of revenge, I'm sure, but hopefully a story that forces the characters to look at what they've become.

All because of one man.


Based off the final ten minutes of last season and the premiere on Sunday, Negan is a character that makes every other villain on this show look like a ray of sunshine. He is calculating, manipulative, psychotic and he does it all with glee. Negan is a menace of a kind not often seen on television.

And Morgan is brilliant in the role, recently admitting (rightfully so) that shooting the deaths scenes left him emotionally drained.

Part of the reason the character made such a huge impact (aside from his trusted weapon Lucille) was the fact we didn't see him for most of the season. He was simply a man spoken about and to not get him at his full on best until the season premiere (last season's finale was just a taste) only built up the legend. Sometimes less is more.

This is exactly why I hope they don't overuse him and his maniacal tendencies this season.

To me, the season will thrive if the the psychological threat of Negan is present more than the physical body. Yes, he will need to make appearances in Alexandria. If he never comes around, then we lose that aspect of the story.

Keeping Negan behind the scenes and in the shadows, for me personally, will drive the story even more. The threat of his absence will loom larger than seeing him chew up scenery (though Morgan embodies the trait perfectly). We already know he's not above doing anything. Though we will inevitably see his back story, hopefully the writers will keep his appearances random. Then we, the viewers, might hopefully identify with this fictional world once again.

Our heroes our broken (even Carol [Melissa McBride], who we've yet to see yet. But she was pretty damn broken at the end of last season). The real world is broken a bit, too. Perhaps that's why the episode is driving people away--even calling it torture porn. Because the idea of seeing a human go to those lengths--in a fiction or otherwise-- is scary.

To me, though the story wasn't advanced immensely, the characters are in a place they've never been before. They're below rock bottom. And if done right, it will keep the viewers that stick around on the edge of their seats. We've seen this trope done the past four season. New villain creates chaos, group overcomes. Let's just hope the burn is slower this time.

If the last two episodes in the series are any indication, it's certainly leaning that way. I for one, can't wait to see what's next.


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