It was a six-month wait for fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead to find out whose head got smashed with a barbed-wire-covered baseball bat in the season 7 premiere — and the network threw viewers a curve ball.
If, for some reason, you DVR’d the Dead to watch later, and have spent zero time on social media since the shock waves rippled through the cable TV universe, beware of the spoiler alert. I decided to watch the fourth episode of HBO’s excellent new series Westworld later as it’s in the same time slot, and ride the Walking Dead emotion with the rest of Twitter.
The reaction from some onetime fans as the episode progressed: “I’m out.”
It was an understandable, visceral reaction to a really violent episode, though AMC has a way of making fans protesting the latest character death or storyline come back out of overwhelming curiosity to see what happens next.
We’re used to seeing zombies made into mincemeat in all manner of ways on the show, but there are ISIS videos that aren’t as gory as what was done to the humans last night.
As survivors of the zombie hordes have grouped off into well-secured settlements, pre-apocalyptic thugs have found a new outlet for their thuggery: making other communities the have-nots to supply their own survival. Enter Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who wields that bat and calls it Lucille, gives a scary monologue after disembarking a Winnebago, demands servitude and scavenging from his captives, and will take revenge for any perceived wrongs to his group dubbed the Saviors.
As we ended season six, some of our main characters from Alexandria had been captured. In the finale, several more set out to take Maggie (Lauren Cohan) to a neighboring community for medical care related to problems with her pregnancy.
Now, Maggie and Glenn (Steve Yeun) had escaped death and reunified under hopeless circumstances so many times we knew there was an expiration date on their happily ever after. When Negan first killed ginger soldier Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz), right in front of his new love Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and old love Rosita (Christian Serratos), Twitter was horrified by the graphicness but expressed a sort of relief it wasn’t a main character.
But then, the producers had fans thinking all summer long that Negan killed just one person with the bat.
We saw what happened in a retelling through Rick’s tortured memory as Negan takes him for a short road trip and tortures him with walkers. Negan taunted the crew over Abraham’s murder, Daryl (Norman Reedus) popped up and smacked Negan, and the supervillain eventually picked another victim: Glenn. The first smash gave The Walking Dead makeup crew a field day, as Glenn with a half-bashed head stuttered to Maggie “I will find you.” Very Last of the Mohicans.
After their Winnebago ride, to fully break Rick, Negan orders him to cut off his son Carl’s (Chandler Riggs) arm or else he’ll smash the boy’s head. Michonne (Danai Gurira) tries to plead for the teen who, for all intents and purposes, is also her son. Carl tells his dad to just hack his arm. Rick is about to when Negan stops him, realizing he took the longtime apocalyptic leader to the point where he’d serve the Saviors.
Escaping the Saviors’ assault — and we didn’t see them in the season premiere — were Morgan (Lennie James) and Carol (Melissa McBride). The hard-to-kill Carol was being shot one limb at a time by a Savior hellbent on revenge when Morgan found her and killed him. And that introduced them to a new community, as guys on horses wearing armor and bearing spears offered to treat Carol’s injuries. Actually, their story arc probably served dual duty to introduce a community and hint toward Morgan and Carol eventually hooking up (they’d make a great couple, now unified in their conscientious objector status). But now, will they be the leaders in battling the Saviors, getting revenge on Negan and rescuing Rick and the rest?
The Saviors also took Daryl with them as a hostage/leverage, no doubt hoping that they can turn his crossbow badassery to their advantage. In another apocalypse, with another conscience, he may have fallen into a gang like that anyway. But now he could be instrumental in taking that gang down. We can only hope.
But for all we saw last night, the producers may be looking to throw yet another curveball at fans, maybe with another mid-season death. Idyllic sanctuary, after all, never lasts on The Walking Dead.