If a character dies in a season premiere, and no one cares, does it make a sound? More importantly, does it make a dent in the hardened heart of a longtime viewer of the show who was turned off by the previous season’s cliffhanger? That’s a question that I’m asking myself, and that’s a question that’s going to be running through the minds (and computer screens) of fans of The Walking Dead for days and weeks to come.
Last season left the viewer waiting, blood-stained bat hanging in limbo. Comic book fans had an idea of who was to fall to the thirst of Lucille the vampire bat, so if you don’t want to know what happened, then I suggest that you throw your computer out the nearest window, stuff your ears with chewing gum, and lock yourself into a room until you can watch the episode. Otherwise, read on past Daphne the spoiler squirrel.
So what was the point? Glenn already died. Glenn, the character, has been mourned over a year ago. He was dragged to his death from atop a dumpster into the tearing claws and maws of a hundred zombies, dragged down by a person he was trying to save. It was a beautiful, heart-breaking moment undone by a lazy swipe of a pen and a magical dumpster with two feet of clearance under it. Glenn got a reprieve, then immediately got that carpet yanked out from under him due to a very stupid decision made by a character that knows better in Daryl. He’s been the character to make rash decisions, in the first season, but he’s been drawn back to that point because they needed a reason—a spurious reason—to kill Glenn yet again.
Abraham’s death is perfectly in character. He takes a shot on the head, wobbles, but doesn’t go down. He gathers himself enough to spit out a perfectly in-character reply (one last meme from the show’s meme generator) and then he’s gone. He’s bloody and bashed and dies a heroic death. Abraham takes it on the chin and it has emotional impact.
Glenn’s death, however, isn’t heroic. Glenn’s had his heroic death; this is Glenn’s goofy death. He takes a shot from Lucille and rather than collapse like a normal person would, Glenn briefly becomes a gurgling cartoon, his head dented and his eyeball bugged out comically. It’s supposed to be horrifying. It’s not. Greg Nicotero tries his best to make it horrifying, both with make-up and with the way he directs the scene, but it’s… frankly, I laughed. The giant eyeball gag can be horrifying (see Jason Voorhees without his mask), tragic (see Quasimodo), or funny (see Total Recall), and this one ends up being a joke, because all the blood and gore won’t make me not laugh at one googly eye looking in the wrong direction.
Negan’s jokes about it didn’t help.
Actually, Negan never stops making jokes, no matter what is going on. That’s not Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s fault; he actually gives a great performance as Negan. He’s swaggering, confident, manipulative, and cruel beyond measure. It’s the stand-out of the episode, a brilliant performance, and it’s kind of wasted, because when Negan isn’t preening, Rick is doing his thousand-yard stare and trying to come to terms with the fact that, once again, he’s been bested by the leader of a different group. Once again, Rick’s leadership is found wanting, and his friends have died as a result.
We’ve seen Rick like this, and we’ve seen Daryl like this, and it’s territory we’ve explored before. To his credit, Scott Gimple and Nicotero tried their best to obfuscate the character deaths by showing every character bashed in the head throughout the episode. Rick gets dragged away from the scene by Negan, brought to the RV, and taken for a ride with his hatchet for company. All the while, Negan is reading him the riot act. He pulls a gun on Rick, then sends Rick outside to go fetch the hatchet. Rick stumbles around in the smoke, killing zombies, and all the while he gets little glimpses and flashes of his friends.
It took twenty minutes of screen time for The Walking Dead to finally end the cliff-hanger. It’s interminable (and, quite frankly, infuriating). There are multiple flashbacks, a repetition of the eenie-meenie-miney-mo scene, and it just seems to linger well past the point of comprehension for even the thickest of home viewers. There’s no real tension, it just feels like buying time, delaying the inevitable, milking the most out of the cliff-hanger while they still can. Abraham’s execution works; Glenn’s execution doesn’t. The emotional responses to the murders are fine, except for one. Maggie’s response doesn’t make much sense. Isn’t she in serious medical distress, at risk of losing her baby, the only piece of Glenn that remains in the mortal coil?
Granted, she’s probably in shock, but it also feels more like everyone kind of forgets about her situation except for at the very end of the episode, where they all kind of just… hang around for an indeterminate amount of time. Perhaps it’s just poor planning on the part of showrunner Scott Gimple. You would think a living person and a possibly living baby would take precedence over burying the dead, especially if it was a life-or-death emergency only a few hours before. Then again, The Walking Dead only really needs one baby-shaped plot anchor, not two.
The cliff-hanger was a really poor idea. A show like this doesn’t need something to bring people back; it’s got people watching already. That was trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. The resolution of the cliff-hanger feels like trying to break something that’s not yet broken.