If the cliffhanger ending of The Walking Dead’s sixth season was a bit of an upturned middle finger, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t” is the emphatically shouted “fuck you” to its audience. The cliffhanger was artless, withholding information from the viewer for the sake of withholding information from the viewer. It is not as though Rick, or one of the other characters, had been told that one of his friends had been killed but not which one. In the context of the scene only the audience did not know which character had been killed, the perspective was falsely limited to engineer a mystery. It was a lame trick. So we know now that the season-ending first-person perspective was Abraham’s, it’s a bummer but no matter who was killed it was going to be a bummer and, considering the other characters in the lineup, it is a less big bummer than what might have been. Then, when it seems that the other favorite characters are safe, Abraham having borne the brunt of Negan’s demonstration, Darryl takes a swing at the chatty psychopath and the bat is turned on Glenn, a turn of events that is mere sadism.
Abraham’s death is rough but it turns out that it is just a ploy to fool fans into thinking that Glenn is safe. Going into the episode, Abraham seemed like a likely candidate for the to-be-revealed death by Lucille, he’s a favorite but not the favorite; Abraham’s death would be an expected departure from the comic books, in which, of course, Glenn is killed (sorry if that’s a spoiler); so when Abraham is killed it is brutal but not exactly surprising; when Glenn is killed it hits below-the-belt. It plays like the writers and producers wanted a moment to match Game of Thrones’ season-ending “Red-septing,” a moment that would be shocking even for fans who have read the books. But Glenn’s death is just a cheap shot when it plays out like this. It could be argued that Walking Dead is making the point that, as in life, no character is safe, death is just as sudden and undignified for a person you’ve known for years as it is for a stranger, but this is a point that they have made many times over and need not make again.
After Abraham and Glenn meet cruel fate, Rick gets to spend some time getting to know Negan, who hauls him off in the camper to teach him a lesson about the new social order. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a fine actor but Negan is basically intolerable. He never stops talking and while he is clearly intended to be the colorful villain you love to hate, he’s mostly just obnoxious. Negan’s sadism is the sadism of the writers, who, for the time being are in one of their “let’s make everything as awful as possible for a while” phases that they go through once every season-and-a-half. This episode is unremittingly awful, Negan’s lesson for Rick ends with Rick coming a hair’s breadth from cutting off Carl’s arm, because Negan wants to prove that he can do anything. He can.
It is clear that The Walking Dead’s staff wants to start their characters out this season at their lowest possible point: under the heel of a dictator with no apparent way out. The episode’s best moment comes when Maggie, already beginning to recover from Glenn’s death with speed that could only be expected from a woman who has seen all of her loved ones violently killed, announces that the others need to get back and start getting ready for a fight. They group does not yet know how they will defeat their new enemy, but they are not going to lie down.
“The Day Will Come When You Won’t” represents a low point for The Walking Dead’s characters and for The Walking Dead artistically. This was a bad episode of a show that is, while well-loved, pretty hit-and-miss when it comes to storytelling. Sadly, now they are saying goodbye to Glen, one of the most consistently interesting characters played by one of the show’s most consistently good performers, Stephen Yuen. Hopefully things can only get better from here. Hopefully the presence of a new villain and the development of a plan to defeat that villain will give the show a sense of purpose and forward momentum that it often lacks. Obnoxious though the beginning of the season has been, there is a lot of potential here, a chance for the Walking Dead to break the pattern of stagnation interrupted by shocks. They’ve got the big shock out of the way, let’s hope they skip the stagnation.
I will be recapping and critiquing every episode of The Walking Dead this season with new reviews coming on Tuesdays (I watch on iTunes). This is a show with which I have long had a hot and (more often) cold relationship, but it is a cultural touchstone and I look forward to thinking about the show in more depth than I have in the past. Please feel free to express your thoughts in the comments section, we welcome your arguments!