Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 7, Episode 1: The Day Will Come When You Won't Be

Welp, The Walking Dead Season 7 premiere happened.


Readers of my blog know all too well that I was extremely angry, frustrated and vexed by the Season 6 finale, and went on an intense, profanity-laced diatribe against Walking Dead current showrunner Scott Gimple. 

You can read my thoughts on that particular episode here, so I won't bore you by rehashing the entire thing, except to say that Gimple took the most infamous moment from the comic book— the introduction of ultimate villain Negan and the brutal murder of a beloved major character— and completely botched it.

Instead of ending the season with the shocking death of a main character, for some unfathomable reason Gimple chose to obscure the identity of the victim by filming from their point of view. And then he made us wait six interminable months to find out who was killed. 

What the hell, Gimple? Do you even know what "pacing" means? Do you know anything about the language of film? The Season 6 finale was not a cliffhanger. A cliffhanger is when something shocking happens to a character, and the audience says, "OMG! What next?" 

Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader, being maimed by him and finding out he's his father is a cliffhanger. The audience can't wait to find out how Luke will triumph over all that. The Walking Dead Season 6 finale was the equivalent of Vader telling Luke, "No, I am y..." and then smash cutting to black. It was a big F-U to the entire viewing audience.

There's nothing wrong with cliffhangers per se  they're incredibly exciting when done properly. But Gimple likes to rely on cliffhangers that fake out the audience. Like using camera angles to make it look like Glenn was being eaten alive in the "Dumpster Incident" in last season's Thank You. Or using a point of view shot to conceal a doomed character's identity from the audience.

Those are not cliffhangers. Those are not storytelling techniques. They're cheap gimmicks designed to trick the viewers. They're a big middle finger to the audience, from a man who has nothing but contempt for the fans of the series.

As proof of Gimple's disdain for the audience, you need look no further than the way this Season 7 premiere is structured. Incredibly, the episode doesn't pick up exactly where Season 6 left off, but begins after Negan has already killed two of Rick's crew. Just who he killed though is none of our business. We don't find out who was murdered until halfway through the goddamned episode, when Rick takes the time to lie down and have a flashback. Are you f*cking kidding me?

For a horrifying moment, I honestly thought we weren't going to find out who died in the premiere. If that had actually happened, I was fully prepared to drive to Scott Gimple's home and punch him in the dick. And then I'd get mad!

By playing things coy like he did, Gimple robbed the deaths of their full intensity. Fans had all summer to sit and analyze and pore over every possible character death, 
posting theories by the truckload, each more outrageous and outlandish than the last. In the end it didn't matter who was killed, as the reality could never live up to all the endless hypothesizing.

Just think how much more shocking the deaths would have been if they'd taken place in the Season 6 finale instead of six months later, after all the momentum was long gone.

Obviously the reason the season finale ended the way it did was so AMC would have six months to shamelessly promote the sh*t out of the show. Everywhere you looked, there was Negan's being shoved into a cast member's face. I think they created a promo for all eleven potential victims, and even labeled some with #whodidnegankill hastags! Amazing!

There was something... disturbing about the whole sorry affair. We're talking about a scene  of a sociopathic man horrifically beating someone to death with a ball bat. And AMC gleefully promoted it like it was some innocent sitcom development. Hell, they didn't promote it, they celebrated it! It was downright ghoulish and ghastly. "Step right up, folks! See the Amazing Negan, and he crushes the skull of a beloved character in a brutal and violent fashion! Come one, come all! Free popcorn and balloons for the kids! See a man die before your very eyes! Hur-ray, hur-ray, hur-ray!" Jesus Christ! We're very near the end of civilization, folks. No wonder we have the presidential candidates we're stuck with. They're no more than we deserve.

Sure, CBS did something similar back in the 1980s with the whole "Who Shot J.R.?" thing, but that looks positively quaint in comparison. J.R. just got shot in the gut. Kristen didn't flatten his head into the ground with a goddamned baseball bat.

I'm still half convinced that this Season 7 premiere was originally meant to be the Season 6 finale, and was hastily reworked in editing. In interviews last April, several Walking Dead actors went on and on about how intense and exhausting it was filming the finale. 

Andrew Lincoln (who plays Rick) said that simply reading the script was emotionally devastating. Said Lincoln: "I felt sick to my stomach when I read the script. It was the first day in the whole six years of working on The Walking Dead that I was late for work because I woke up in the middle of the night and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I was so angry and frustrated and I felt sick. And that was just after reading it."

Lauren Cohen (who plays Maggie) said, "The word ‘finale’ gives me a physical reaction because it’s the hardest day on set that I’ve ever had in my life. I never even imagined that as an actor you could have that experience. It’s one of the most raw experiences that I think any of us have ever had. Andy talks about being late to work; I didn’t want to go to work that day. It took a really, really long time for everybody to feel okay again "after the finale, let’s put it that way."

But the thing is, there's nothing all that horrible in the finale. Rick and his crew are caught, forced to get on their knees, Negan comes out and delivers a soliloquy and then he swings a bat at the camera. The end. What the hell was so horrible and emotionally draining about any of that?

I'm betting they actually filmed Abraham and Glenn's deaths in the season finale, and those are the disturbing events the cast is talking about. Then for some insane reason  most likely to shore up the show's sagging ratings  Gimple decided to withhold the identities of the victims until Season 7, and hastily shot and inserted the POV shot, ruining the show in the process. Call me crazy if you want, but it's the only thing that makes sense.

And apparently it worked. Ratings for the Season 7 premiere were the second highest in the series' history, which means we can look forward to more audience f*ckery from Scott Gimple.

The Plot:

We see on a blood-stained Rick, staring numbly at Negan. Yep, that's right-- this episode opens several minutes AFTER Negan has already killed two of Rick's crew. We don't yet know who died. Why in the name of sanity would the series start this way? Because fuck you, that's why. Scott Gimple has nothing but contempt for the fans, and proves it with this cold open.

A shaken Rick says he's going to kill Negan someday. Negan doesn't like this, so he grabs Rick's trademark hatchet. He grabs him and tosses him into the camper, saying, "Let's go for a little ride." Inside the trailer Negan sticks the hatchet in a table and dares Rick to grab it. Rick tries, but Negan's too quick, and points a machine gun at him. He says, "I want you to think about what could’ve happened, think about what happened, and think about what could still happen." Negan starts the camper and takes off.

He drives Rick to a remote location and stops. He opens the camper door, revealing a herd of walkers in the mist. He tosses the hatchet onto the camper's roof and says, "Hey Rick. Go get my axe." Rick reluctantly exits the camper and fights his way barehanded through the walkers. He climbs up onto the roof of the camper, collapses and has a flashback to Negan's batting practice. That's right, we don't find out the identity of Negan's victims until thirty goddamned minutes into the episode. Why would anyone structure a television show this way? Because Scott Gimple hates you, that's why.

In the flashback, we get a prolonged replay of Negan playing "Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe" in order to drag out the suspense as long as humanly possible. He stops at Abraham, who straightens up and glares back at his executioner. Negan swings his bat Lucille t down on Abraham's head, splitting his skull. Abraham slowly straightens up and tells Negan, "Suck my nuts." I like to think Abe was talking to Scott Gimple here.

Negan laughs and swings Lucille over and over, until there's nothing left of Abraham's head. He says, "Look at my dirty girl," indicating the now gore-covered Lucille. He holds the bat in front of Rosita and demands she look at it. When she looks away, Negan screams at her. Daryl leaps up and punches Negan in the face before he's restrained by a couple of Saviors.

Negan says that was a "no-no," and says such an act of disobedience can't go unpunished. He suddenly turns to Glenn and savagely bashes him in the skull. Glenn, whose entire head is now caved in, struggles to speak. He manages to gurgle out, "Maggie... I'll find you" before Negan beats him to death.

We then return to the present, with Rick still lying on the camper's roof, because Scott Gimple hates you, and doesn't understand pacing. Negan starts shooting through the camper's roof, forcing Rick to leap off. He grabs onto a walker who'd been hung from a bridge, and clings to it for dear life, as a herd of zombies gathers below him. Rick's weight causes the Hanged Walker's head to pop off, and he falls into the herd. Negan pops out of the camper's window and shoots them all, saving Rick.

Rick fights his way back to the camper, while hallucinating Negan killing the entire cast. Why? Because-- say it with me-- Scott Gimple hates you, and doesn't understand how to write an episode, that's why. Rick pounds on the door and Negan finally lets him in. He holds out his hand, and Rick places the axe in it. He tells Rick he understands that it's difficult for him to accept that he's no longer in charge. He cleans the blood and gore off the axe and hands it back to Rick.

Negan drives back to the kill site, and Rick is reunited with his surviving crew. Negan says he took Rick on their little trip because he didn't like the defiant look in his eye, and wanted to change it. He says Rick still has that look, and hasn't got the message. 

Negan grabs Carl, wraps a belt around his left arm, and forces him to lie down on the ground. He draws a line on Carl's arm with a marker, and tells Rick to chop off his son's arm, or he'll kill every one of his crew. A horrified Rick pleads with Negan, offering to cut off his own arm. Negan refuses the offer, and begins counting down from three. A broken, sobbing Rick begins moaning in anguish. Negan bends down and says, "Now THAT'S the look I wanted to see!" He lets Carl go unscathed.

Negan says this was a productive day, and orders Dwight to take Daryl as a hostage. Negan warns Rick that if he tries anything, he'll bring Daryl back in pieces. He says he'll come back to Alexandria in a week for half their stuff, and he and the Saviors then leave, returning to their headquarters.

Rick and the others sit and stare numbly for a few minutes. Maggie struggles to her feet and staggers over to Glenn's body. She tells the others to return to Alexandria so they can prepare for battle. Rick says there'll be no battle, as there's nothing they can do against Negan and his army. The group places Abraham and Glenn in a truck, for burial back in Alexandria. Sasha volunteers to take Maggie to the doctor at the Hilltop.

As Rick drives back to Alexandria (which he's left completely unprotected, by the way), hesees a walker crouch down and start eating the remains of Glenn's brain.

• Thanks to the imbecilic decision to not show us who died in last season's finale, this episode now contains a big continuity error.

At the end of Last Day On Earth, we see Negan's head-bashing attack from the victim's point of view, obscuring their identity from us. Very fake-looking CGI blood begins trickling down the screen, as Negan says, "Ho ho! Look at that! Takin' it like a champ! Damn!" He then continues beating on the unknown victim, as we hear the muffled screams of Rick's people as the screen fades to black.

In this episode, we actually see Negan bash Abraham in the skull. He falls forward, then slowly rises back up. Negan says his "Takin' it like a champ" line, and then Abraham responds to him, croaking out an angry and defiant, "Suck. My. Nuts!" Negan then continues beating him, while the cast screams in horror. 

See the difference? We didn't hear Abe's rebellious reply last season, because that would have revealed his identity. Gimple was so dead set on trolling the audience that he had to rework the ending, which caused a huge and very sloppy error.

• I'd just like to clarify that my all my anger and vehemence toward this episode is aimed squarely at showrunner Scott Gimple, and not at the cast. They deserve zero percent of the blame for the way the cockamamie way the season finale and premiere were structured. That's alllllll on Gimple. 

I have nothing but good things to say about the actors, who all did an amazing job and turned in top notch, astonishing performances. Andrew Lincoln in particular deserves special credit, as we saw Rick go from a swaggering, overconfident leader to a whimpering, completely broken man in the space of a single episode.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan also deserves a heap of praise for his terrifying yet charismatic turn as Negan. 

• In the words of Chandler Bing, "Could this episode's title BE any longer?" What the hell? Did someone accidentally cut & paste part of the script into the title? 

Still, it's not as long as some of the Star Trek's Season 3 titles. I'm lookin' at you, For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky.

By the way, this episode's title comes from The Walking Dead's Season 1 finale. In the episode TS-19, Rick & Co. visit the CDC in Atlanta. There they find a Dr. Jenner, who decides he's had enough of the zombie apocalypse and decides to blow up the building, which will instantly vaporize everyone inside. Dr. Jenner eventually changes his mind and lets Rick and his people leave. Rick says, "I'm grateful." Jenner says, "The day will come yadda yadda."

• I said this at the end of last season, but I think it bears repeating here.

Rick brought this all on himself.

During the last half of Season 6, Rick and/or his people killed at least six different groups of Saviors (aka Negan's people). Daryl obliterated the motorcycle gang, Rick & Co. killed the Satellite Crew in their sleep, Carol and Maggie killed the All Girl But One Team, plus the backup they called, Daryl and Rosita killed off almost all of Dwight's Group, and Carol wiped out the Truck Team. I don't know the exact number they killed, but I'd guess it's close to fifty people.

This is not how it happened in the comic. There Rick and Co. only killed one group of Saviors. Negan then swiftly retaliated out of the blue, which made his actions all the more shocking. 

TV Rick poked the Negan hornet nest for weeks though, practically begging to be stung. All this did was make Negan's retribution seem justified. He even says, "You've killed more of my people than I'm comfortable with."

• You know, Glenn's death would have had much more of an impact (heh) if he hadn't already been fake killed at least three times before. In fact he was fake killed earlier in Season 6, during the "Dumpster Incident" in Thank You

It became sort of an annual tradition on the show how are they going to almost but not quite kill Glenn this season?

• Abraham was living on borrowed time anyway, as he died in Issue #98 of the comic, just two issues before Glenn did. In the comic Dwight shot an arrow through Abraham's eye. For some reason Dr. Cloyd inherited his death on the series last season.

• So Bob, I hear you say, if you know so much, how would you have handled the Negan scene? Easy. I'd have shot it one of two ways.

#1: I'd have acted like a normal human being and put both murders in their rightful place, at the end of the Season 6 finale. After Negan kills both Abraham and Glenn, we slowly pan to a broken and shaken Rick, as he realizes he's been beaten for the first time and is in way over his head. 

That way there'd have been no speculating all summer as to who was going to die. Instead people would wonder "How are Rick and the others gonna get out of this one?" 

Then in the Season 7 premiere I'd have had Negan take Rick on his little ride, and then have him threaten to maim Carl. That way both the finale and premiere would have suitably shocking moments.

#2: I would have split the deaths over two episodes. In the Season 6 finale, I would have had Negan bring down the bat on Abraham's head, and then immediately smash cut to black. Maybe we'd hear the sound of Negan's additional swings under the closing credits. That would have been a huge shock and a departure from the comic, in which Negan killed Glenn and only Glenn.

The audience would then have breathed a little sigh of relief, thinking, "Well, that's too bad about Abraham, but at least now Glenn and everyone else is safe." 

Then in the Season 7 premiere I'd have had Negan suddenly and with no warning swing around and kill Glenn. The audience would never have seen a second death coming, and they'd have been absolutely stunned.

Either of those is how you film a cliffhanger, Gimple.

• This is some hardcore nitpicking, but it's something I thought of while watching the episode, so here goes. When Rick leaps onto the Hanged Walker, he ends up pulling its head off its body. He then falls to the ground, and the Hanged Walker's head is lying there, snapping its jaws in a futile attempt to bite him.

I don't think a decapitated zombie would be able to move its jaws without a neck. Try it for yourself and see place your hand on your throat and then open and close your mouth a few times. Feel all those tendons and ligaments working away in your neck? I'm betting they're necessary to control your jaw, and if you didn't have a neck, you probably couldn't move your mouth much.

See, I told you it was hardcore nitpicking.

• Did you catch Abraham slyly giving Sasha the peace sign right before he was killed? That was "their" little sign that they flashed to one another last season, as they began growing closer.

• Glenn's ghastly death played out pretty much exactly as it did in the comic, right down to the popped out eyeball and his struggling to spit out a hasty goodbye to Maggie. I'm not gonna post an image of poor Glenn's head from either the comic or the show, because it's gross.

I'm actually very surprised they were able to get away with broadcasting such a gruesome scene, even on a cable TV show, as it was extremely graphic and over the top. It just goes to show you how messed up our society is. Show a man get his skull caved in with a bat? Well that sounds just fine. Show brief nudity or utter the word "fuck?" Oh good lord no! We can't have something like that on TV!

• As a reader of The Walking Dead comic, I was pretty sure that Glenn was most likely going to die in this episode. I had a sneaking suspicion that Abraham would buy it too. As a result, their deaths, while gruesome, weren't as shocking as they could have been.

The Carl scene was another situation entirely. The show completely veered away from the comic at that point, and it was extremely disturbing and distressing. For a minute there I actually thought they were going to go through with it and maim Carl (even further).

There was also a quick closeup of Rick holding Carl's hand, and for a second there I thought Rick might choose to cut his own hand off instead, which would bring him in line with his comic book counterpart, who lost his hand in an encounter with the Governor several years back.

Credit where credit's due: As much as it pains me to say this, kudos to Scott Gimple for writing such a gripping, horrifying scene. 

Gimple shouldn't pat himself on the back too hard though, since he cribbed the scene straight from the Bible. See, the asshole Old Testament God decided to test his subject Abraham (!) by telling him to kill his only son Isaac. Naturally Abraham didn't want to lose his son, but he decided to go through with the sacrifice anyway to prove his love and devotion to his God. Abraham raised his knife over Isaac and was about to go through with it, when God stopped him at the last second, saying, "Jesus, dude! I didn't actually think you'd go through with it. You proved yourself!" What a wonderful and loving God we have.

• Remember how I said Scott Gimple has nothing but contempt for the fans? Here's some more proof. In an effort to try and hide the identity of Negan's victims, they actually shot a death scene for each of the eleven members of Rick's crew. 

Halfway through the episode, Rick starts hallucinating and sees his friends being killed one by one by Negan's bat. Apparently Gimple didn't want to waste a second of that precious red herring death footage, so he included it all in a confusing scene, designed to make the audience think
 if only for a few seconds that the entire cast was being killed. What an asshole.

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