If you’re reading this post, which is clearly a recap of The Walking Dead’s season 7 premiere and you have somehow managed to avoid any sort of awareness of how social media works, here is your handy-dandy disclaimer: SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t watched the episode yet 1) where are your priorities? and 2) stop reading unless you like disappointing yourself.
All right. Now that that’s out of the way, who needs a hug? Would that help in some way? Or do you prefer, as I do, to simply rock back and forth while muttering to yourself? We all heal in our own ways.
The long awaited season opener of The Walking Dead was a grueling emotional gauntlet. We pick up right where season 6 ended, with our heroes brought to their literal and proverbial knees, at the mercy of Negan, who is intent not just on doling out his own form of justice, but apparently in forcing Rick to participate in the most stressful team-building exercise EVER.
By the end of season 6, the citizens of the Ricktatorship had become fairly confident in their ability to not just survive but to conquer any obstacles that lay ahead. Their decision to seek help for the pregnant Maggie was not just born of the desire to preserve their own, but because they really thought it could work.
And then Negan happened.
When the scene opens, we know someone has just been brutally bludgeoned to death with Negan’s barbwire wrapped sweetheart, Lucille. And all we’re really sure of is that the dead person is not Rick. At least not in the physical sense. Our fearless leader, sweaty and tear-stained, looks as though his insides have been taken out with a melon scooper. He promises Negan, though, that maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, he will kill him. The words sound as hollow as he looks.
Negan has Simon, his right hand man, toss him the ax that the deceased carried and he drags Rick off to the trailer for a come to Jesus talk. He wants to go for a drive. It becomes apparent that Negan is not satisfied simply to overpower our gang. He wants them broken, begging, and servile. Rick does broken pretty well, but he’s not very good at those other two, and Negan knows it. He’s clearly relishing the thought of making Rick his bitch.
They end up at a scenic-walker infested spot. Negan then tosses the ax outside and encourages Rick, rather forcefully, to go fetch. This is the part that probably annoyed a lot of folks who felt like the writers were making us suffer longer than necessary while we waited to find out WHO THE HECK DIED. But the point of this episode is not merely to find out who met the business end of Lucille. It’s about suffering and humility – some really twisted biblical shit.
Rick stumbles out to fight the walkers with nothing but his bare hands, and he does, simply because his survival instinct kicks in. Even as he fights, though, you can see him wondering what the point is. He flashes back to each member of the group (again, the writers messing with our fragile emotions) as he claws his way up onto the top of the trailer where Negan’s ax sits. Maybe he’s thinking about giving up, but Negan reminds him to think about what did happen and what could still happen, and that’s what spurs him to action. Well, that and the shots Negan starts firing through the roof.
When Rick finally scrambles back to the trailer door and is yanked inside by Negan, that’s not the end of Team Building For Sadists, though. Negan can tell that Rick still thinks he’s in charge. That he can somehow save what’s left of his group. And he needs to let him know, in every possible way, that this is just no longer true.
We learn that the fatal eeny-meeny-miny-mo game ended in Abraham’s demise, and that he went out Big Abe style, admonishing Negan to suck his nuts and throwing a deuce. Afterwards, Negan figures out that Rosita is particularly stricken by Abe’s death and he taunts her, urging her to look at the bloody bat. Abraham, by Negan’s reasoning, made a heroic sacrifice. Daryl, unable to bear it, leaps at him and lands a punch. Our heroes are battered but not beaten, it seems.
Until Negan shows them exactly how wrong that way of thinking is. In a gut-wrenching twist, he beats Glenn to death while the others watch in horror and agony. Glenn’s final words are, “Maggie, I’ll find you.” It is a moment of exquisite grief and misery.
Then, to complete the obliteration, Negan is going to have Rick cut off Carl’s arm. We said biblical right? This is some Old Testament Abraham and Isaac shit. Negan’s advice is clinical, jovial even. It’s just something that has to happen. Rick should do it like he’s slicing a salami. 45 degree angle, nice and neat, give them something to fold over. If he doesn’t, Negan will make Carl into pudding.
And that is when it happens. We see Rick shatter. He weeps. He snivels. He begs, please, let it be him. As he’s about to strike the blow, Negan stays his hand. The point was not to have Rick maim his own son. It was for Rick to realize that if Negan ordered him to maim his own son, he would have no choice but to obey. That’s been Negan’s objective.
Negan says he’s going to leave them and that he’ll be back in a week for his tribute. Rick and the survivors are left kneeling in the dust.
Two important moments happen after this. The first is that Maggie is determined to fight. Is she emerging as the new center of leadership in our fractured group? The second is the poignant exchange between Sasha and Rosita. Abraham’s death somehow unites them. Perhaps it’s a sign that these horrific losses will not disintegrate the bond between all of them. It’s also telling when Maggie allows Rick and the others to help with Glenn’s body and Rick says, “He’s our family, too.” Whatever happens next, they’ll have to face it as a family.