WARNING: Spoilers for AMC’s The Walking Dead, especially for Season 7, episode one, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”…and possible spoilers for episodes beyond, so tread lightly, yeah?
Oh, Negan, you leering, psychopathic Grease audition reject. You’ve caused quite a stir, haven’t you with your wire-wrapped baseball bat you’ve named Lucille (insert phallic symbol jokes right here)? Negan, you now have everyone’s attention, so good on you…but will everyone stick by you, ever devoted, ever loyal, ever submissive…or will some of us high tail it on out of here?
Late for the party once more. Oh, well…Papers to grade and all that.
You know, I don’t think I’ve seen quite the amount of outrage about a television drama series as I have with The Walking Dead, especially within the past several days post-season 7’s brutal premiere. It’s an interesting show, a post-apocalyptic zombie series based on the comics by Robert Kirkman. For one, it’s arguably the most successful horror television drama on cable. It’s also allowed horror — a genre that is often treated as the red-haired stepchild — to sneakily slide into the pop culture mainstream and has effectively introduced the genre to TV viewers who’d probably otherwise avoid it. It’s the human element of the show, of course, that has viewers coming back. It IS dramatic, it is thrilling, but it’s drama laced with an addictive, acidic burn. That burn we get when we know perfectly well something’s terribly amiss, something wretchedly awful is coming, but we stay the course and wait…wait…wait…for that moment, as horrifying as it is, to beat us senseless…and I mean SENSEless.
Such is the case for our introduction to the newest villain of the show, Negan (played with hammy, teeth-sucking gusto by the charismatic Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
Our protagonist group, led by former policeman Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), has already been through 6 seasons of sheer hell trying to form a community someplace safe and secure. We’ve followed them in this new, dangerous world where everyone is infected, so everyone eventually comes back as a “walker,” “biter,” “roamer,” or “lurker” (zombies, in other words). While the undead are an ever-present threat, the protagonists have since gotten quite used to their ordeal, and now, the zombies are merely lethal pests. The real danger, as we’ve known from the start of their journey, is in the human characters themselves, antagonists like the Governor, the fascist leader of Woodbury; the devious cannibals of Terminus (we’ll never hear the words “tainted meat” the same way again); the quid-pro-quo, abusive, rape-y police who’d taken over Grady Memorial Hospital…and now, Negan, the thug-in-charge of a giant army of…well, thugs…who call themselves the “Saviors.”
Now before I get into the controversy, the spittle-frothy hysteria that’s been happening about the season premiere, I need to get something out of the way. Just a little bit of info. for clarification. For the last few episodes of season 6, our protagonists have since settled into the walled-off Alexandria Safe-Zone, a pretty decent community where there’s a prime bit of real estate for anyone trying to escape the zombies and the crazies. It’s a self-sustaining, green community with all the essentials courtesy of solar power, cistern water system and eco-based sewage filtration. Now the community itself had a bit of internal and external trouble ever since our protags came to stay, but that’s par for the course in The Walking Dead. I mean, wherever Rick and Co. go, trouble’s sure to follow; otherwise, there would be no conflict at all, and that would be just damned boring, wouldn’t it?
Anyway, our group currently finds itself in a bit of a pickle, as ever, as they’ve been in demand for some assistance. Another community, the Hilltop Colony, not too far off from Alexandria, is having a dickens of a time dealing with extortionists, namely Negan’s Saviors, who take half of the Hilltop Colony’s supplies in exchange for “protection.” The Hilltop’s leader, Gregory (Xander Berkeley, who’s so good at playing characters who may need bitchslapping), strikes a deal with Rick and Co. for them to rid the Hilltop, once and for all, of the Saviors, and that is where and when the trouble begins…
…and then the interwebz promptly explodes bloody chunks all over itself.
Negan and his Savior-brutes trap and surround our heroes who are then forced on their knees, and then Negan, demanding blood for the loss of his own men, randomly selects a victim for he (and “Lucille”) to promptly bludgeon to death. Well, two actually. And it’s one of the most gory-awful, tragic moments on regular cable I’ve ever seen (I am not including HBO, by the way, so don’t bother bringing up the Starks’ suffering in Game of Thrones).
(You. Are. It.)
We fans of the show were left with a big cheat of a moment, a season cliffhanger in which we saw through the eyes of the person getting his head smashed in. Not wanting to disappoint the fans, the showrunners made certain we’d see everything…and I mean, everything times two, in the season opener, and we knew damned well what we were getting into. It was going to be wrenching. It was going to be awful.
And this…this is my issue with the outrage machine on hyperdrive. So many who are walking away from the show, never turning back, claiming it’s now become a show that glorifies human suffering and despair rather than survival and hope in a post-apocalyptic world.
I beg to differ.
Negan’s a character — a horror series villain — who makes violent examples out of anyone who kills any of his people. He’s no different than any number of hardened, bloodthirsty thugs in any other violent drama series. Frankly, he’s only just been introduced, so he hasn’t been given his due; he hasn’t been given a chance to redeem himself just yet. He may or may not. If the showrunners, the execs, whoever is in charge, follow the comic origins, what happens to Negan is the very reason why fans should continue watching as it represents exactly the kind of redemption and humanity they seem to think the show now lacks. Hell, I’ll spoil it further and add that it is an act of a civilized society rather than a primal, vengeful one. Our protagonists are at the point now where they are starting to realize that their world doesn’t have to be one of madness and blood, and that’s why villains of the show — the conflict — ought to represent everything our protagonists are fighting against.
Wait until they get a load of who’s to come.
That’s all, she wrote.
For a fantastic recap and commentary of the season premiere, one that is much more optimistic about the show than the doom-and-gloom lot, try The Telethon Runner’s take on the episode.
Also inspired in part by the Daily Prompt Banned