Remember The Governor? In retrospect, we may have been a bit hard on him. I mean, he was quite a reasonable chap, really, when you think about it…
Yes, after six months of agonised waiting, we finally got to find out who was on the receiving end of a kiss from Lucille, Negan’s trusty baseball bat. I say ‘we’. I watched “Last Day on Earth” yesterday, having binge-watched the entire sixth season in preparation for reviewing this one. “Yeah,” I said. “I’ll do it. I’ve fallen a bit behind, but I really enjoy the show. No probs.” What a sweet, summer child I was back then.
The Walking Dead has never been for the faint of heart. My tastes run to the darker end of the spectrum, and I’ve cried and gasped and screamed “Noooooo!” at the screen with the best of them over the years, but this episode was next level. I understand the frustration of fans at what seemed like a fairly cheap trick to get ratings for the premiere. Cliff-hangers are one thing, but I think this on top of the Glenn ‘dead-not dead’ wrong-footing last season, left viewers feeling like the show had started favouring shock tactics and games over well-crafted storytelling.
That said, there’s no denying that this was an hour of the most horrific, visceral, compelling TV in recent memory. Carefully scrolling through Twitter this morning, trying to avoid spoilers, I saw many people so sickened by the violence that they were vowing never to tune in again. I get that. This was not easy to watch. I felt physically ill through much of it, and I am sure I will have some colourful dreams about it down the line. But if the purpose of art is to make you feel, then “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” certainly succeeded.
The suspense was cranked up a notch in the opening scenes as a blood-spattered Rick was dragged away by Negan to face another trial by walker away from the group. Through traumatised flashbacks of his friends’ faces, we were left guessing which one he’d recently seen obliterated. It wasn’t until Rick was locked out of Negan’s trailer, left to fight off a hoard of undead with his bare hands to retrieve his own hatchet, that we finally saw the fate which befell Abraham. The big man went down with dignity, even managing a defiant “suck my nuts” before the killing blow. I’m not sure if that made it better or worse for me. But there was no time to dwell as Daryl’s attempt at taking down Negan backfired spectacularly, and Glenn was next in line for a pulverising. It wasn’t quick. It wasn’t easy. It was probably the most upsetting screen death I’ve seen in a long while, and will definitely join the kerb-biting from American History X and the bottle to the face from Pan’s Labyrinth in the ‘things I wish I could unsee’ file.
But Negan wasn’t done because Rick, being Rick, reacted the way he always does when he loses someone. With fire and rage. This episode was about pushing the characters beyond anything they’ve endured before, and also pushing us as viewers. Negan wanted Rick and his people as broken down mentally as Glenn and Abraham had been physically, and we the audience were forced to bear witness. After six years of raising the stakes in terms of the horror derived from pitting humans against zombies and each other, this episode showed that just when you think you’ve seen it all, rock bottom falls away from under your feet and reveals a whole ‘nother level of Hell.
After making Rick play the tensest game of fetch ever, Negan felt his new pet still had a bit too much fight in him, and so returned them to the group and instructed Rick to cut off Carl’s arm in front of their horrified friends. It’s surely no coincidence that this ordeal came so soon after the death of Abraham, and like God in the Bible story, Negan stilled Rick’s hand at the last second, finally assured that his dog will now come to heel. In the lawless world of The Walking Dead, it’s no longer a case of people versus the dead. Humanity is being eroded, replaced by would-be gods and monsters in a garden of evil.
But despite the unrelenting bleakness of this season opener, there was a glimmer of hope as Negan’s gang retreated (taking Daryl with them for good measure) and the survivors started to regroup. Maggie, distraught, wanted to go on alone, but eventually accepted the help of those who also saw Glenn as family. Sasha and Rosita united in grief for Abraham. Michonne, Rick, Eugene, Aaron, and Carl all rallied, determined to do right by one another. Carl was incredibly stoic in the face of having to sacrifice a limb for the team, and I feel like he’s developed from a potential serial killer brat (Negan called it too – maybe takes one to know one?) into a pretty decent guy. While their core group has gotten smaller, the world is about to get a lot bigger for Rick and company, and I have a feeling the aftershocks of these events are going to be felt for a long time to come.
Final Grade: B-
+ Let’s talk about the performances. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is incredible as the monstrous Negan (although he’ll always be Papa Winchester to me, so my heart hurts!) and Andrew Lincoln absolutely killed it. The fear and devastation in his eyes will haunt me for months!
+ Just when you think they must have run out of inventive ways to make the undead come apart in gross ways, we get Rick dangling from a hanged man. Grim is an understatement.
+ I guess we have to give props to make-up and SFX for making me feel actually nauseous? *weak cheer*
– While Glenn’s promise to find Maggie in the next life was perfectly pitched and accented the horror in front of her (and us), the strange dream-like vision of the dinner that might have been but now never would be was oddly twee and sentimental for a show which usually has no trouble jerking the tears.
– I like series that push the envelope, I really do, but this was gory and harrowing in a way that made me feel like curling up in a ball under a hot shower.
– I feel like Glenn’s death was slightly undermined by his ‘fake’ death last season. We grieved for him once only to find we had been tricked, and I think that detracted somewhat from the impact of his brutal death tonight.
Extra Thoughts: Did anyone else get a distinctly Deliverance style vibe about Negan and Daryl? What fresh hell awaits us all after that insanity?!
What did you think? Sound off in the comments (if you can form coherent thoughts after that) or tell us on Twitter.