By Henry Schecker
The wait is over. The seventh season of “Walking Dead” is here, as well as Negan, and he is as wicked and frightening as promised.
The advertising campaign has hammered home that one of the group will die, and “The Walking Dead” did what it does… best? Worst? Whatever you would call breaking millions of fans’ hearts (eat your heart out, “Game of Thrones.”)
Although the 6 month wait did sort of lessen the emotional impact, I was left shocked, angry and disgusted.
But, I would have been sadder if the death had occurred at the end of last season rather than the beginning of this one.
Negan (Jeffery Dean Morgan) might be TV’s newest, biggest evil s.o.b. He’s cruel, sadistic, violent and does it all with a devilish smile. Jeffery Dean Morgan was born to play this role. He’s slimy and seems to be having the time of his life tormenting our heroes.
The episode focuses on the aftermath of the killing, all taking place in the wee hours of the morning as night gives way to dawn. Not satisfied with Rick’s level of fear, Negan takes Rick on a drive in the RV. This is where the meat and potatoes of the episode is.
Negan explains that he now owns the group, all their possessions, all their equipment and all future acquired supplies.
He drives them both to a foggy clearing filled with zombies and tosses “his axe” on to the roof of the RV and kicks Rick out into the fog to retrieve it.
It’s all a sick, sadistic game to Negan, as he allows Rick to almost die several times before rescuing him once Rick’s retrieved the axe and only once Rick’s retrieved the axe.
Negan cheerfully cleans the bloodied axe with Rick’s shirt and gives him an “atta boy” as a snarky compliment. Still not completely satisfied with what he’s put Rick through, Negan takes him back to the group and proudly announces “it’s a brand new day.”
He gives Rick back his axe and presents two very grim choices; cut off one of the group members arm or watch all of them get shot. Rick finally snaps, his spirit completely broken and his pride shattered, and breaks down to tearful begging for mercy.
Negan’s face lights up with joy, “that’s it! that’s the look I was looking for!” and he lets them go, taking one of the group hostage and informing them that they have one week to produce supplies or he’ll begin chopping him or her to pieces.
This episode was like being whacked by a bat to the head. Negan’s actions were blunt, forceful and painful. Outside of a few movies and animes, never have I seen such a thorough deconstructing of a main character.
Rick is stripped of his pride, his power, his dignity and his humanity. He is broken down until he is a frightened dog at Negan’s feet.
The powerlessness of the cast that we’ve been following for seven seasons made this episode so hard to stomach. There is never a moment when they aren’t outnumbered, outgunned and outsmarted.
Rick being at the centerpiece of Negan’s emotional abuse after being forced to watch his physical abuse was just horrible, and just like that “The Walking Dead” has reinvented itself again.
After the disappointing second season of “Fear The Walking Dead,” I had forgotten how good of a show “TWD” could be.
The season seven premiere was a grim reminder of how dark and twisted “The Walking Dead” can get. If this is the beginning then I’m truly dreading the end.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. It is in its seventh season and has been renewed for an upcoming eighth. You can catch up on Netflix or the AMC website.
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