“The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”
After watching six seasons of Rick’s morality pendulum swing both ways, a common complaint of Walking Dead fans is – what else is there? We get it: it’s hard to keep your humanity in a post-apocalyptic world, and if you’re a Walking Dead character, the likelihood is that you will struggle to maintain your humanity in a world overrun by the dead.
Today’s episode, The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be, showed us what more there is.
Negan and his band of “saviours” captured Rick’s group in the season 6 finale, introducing us to the calculated and terrifying way that the saviours operate – they’ve got huge numbers, a lot of ammunition and infrastructure to back them up. The saviours all worship Negan, whose name was liberally peppered throughout season 6 as salacious entrees towards the exciting debut of his character.
In the comic book series on which the show is based, Negan was introduced in issue 100 as a reminder to readers that post-apocalyptic America was full of unexplored dangers. On-screen, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is easily described as an unexplored danger. He’s unpredictable and wildly inappropriate as he swings his deadly weapon of choice – a baseball bat named Lucille – around with ease and delight. This episode really was Negan’s, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s feature in the main credits of the show tells us all that there will be plenty more of Negan in episodes to come as a despotic leader.
At first, the episode may feel like an anti-climax to anyone who spent the entire break between seasons worried sick about who got the bat. This is something we don’t find out until almost twenty minutes in, and at first I thought that it cheapened the cliffhanger of last season’s end. All break, show-runner (and writer on of this episode) Scott Gimple has promised fans that we would find out right away who got the bat – and yet we didn’t. The episode opens with a three-minute, pre-credit scene that had already been previously released online as a teaser to fans.
As the episode progresses, Negan takes Rick (Andrew Lincoln) to a clearing full of walkers in order to bring Rick to submission. Through Rick, we see flashes of grief as he re-lives the cold-blooded murders of Abraham and Glenn. It was much more gripping, this time around, to see it from Rick’s own perspective than to see it chopped up into the perspective of many. In last season’s finale, the show attempted a deliberate misdirect and encouraged confusion about who got the bat. Through Rick’s perspective, the gravitas of the murder all made sense to the viewer.
It was at this point watching that I realized finding out immediately would not have created the same despair in viewers. We had to be transported back to that place where we ended last season – full of fear and anxiety, worried about who would be taken from Rick’s group so swiftly. Beginning with Negan’s post-murder speech was, in fact, an excellent decision that allowed the audience to catch up with the emotional turmoil of the characters in that moment.
When Negan swings, he chooses Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). After getting settled in the Alexandria Safe Zone, Abraham spent the last season figuring out what he wants from a post-apocalyptic world. His character has been one of the most interesting story-lines to watch, and for The Walking Dead to rip it away from us is a damn shame. It also repeats the motif of Sasha’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) dead boyfriend – Sasha and Abraham’s budding romance has been cut short thanks to Negan, reminiscent of Sasha’s relationship with Bob, which ended prematurely because of a walker bite and sent her into a spiral of stress and depression. Sasha appears to be handling Abraham’s death better already, offering strength and comfort to the rest of the survivors as they handle a second death to come in the group – that of Glenn.
Glenn (Steven Yeun) has been a main character on The Walking Dead since the second episode, and it was difficult to imagine how they would ever manage killing him off. He seemed to have entered a circle of central characters – Rick, Carl, Michonne, Daryl and Carol – where death was impossible. In Negan’s first appearance in the comic book version, Glenn is in fact the one to get the bat – but in today’s episode, Abraham’s death is only one part of a brutal two course meal when Negan decides to strike again at Glenn. Watching Maggie (Lauren Cohan) bear witness to her husbands slow death was heartbreaking, and truly would have affected anyone who is a fan of the show.
Negan says to Rick, “you have been King Shit for so long.” It’s undeniably true. We have never seen a time where Rick’s group has been so helpless, which is characterized by Negan insisting that Rick cut off Carl’s arm with an axe. The saviours have guns held at the head of every surviving member of Rick’s group, and Negan insists that if Rick doesn’t cut off Carl’s arm, he will crush Carl’s head with the bat. Andrew Lincoln’s performance in this episode is a standout, as he sweats and shakes and sobs his way to Negan’s submission.
This was not an episode of The Walking Dead that I can envision myself wanting to re-watch. It was truly awful, seeing characters we have been invited to care about intimately meet some of the most graphic and awful deaths ever portrayed on the show. However, it definitely invited us into the wider world of the apocalypse: the old world beyond Rick Grimes has passed over to the new world order of Negan.