Review: The Walking Dead returns, as awful as it always was

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The Walking Dead‘s never been a show about hope, happiness, love, or even the promise of any of those things. Thrilled to wallow in the darkest waters of humanity’s remains, The Walking Dead‘s spent six seasons reiterating the fact that when civilization falls apart, there’s no chance for anyone to survive intact: one may survive in the physical sense, but anything remotely human is slowly stripped away by the never ending onslaught of violence and betrayal TWD has utilized to catapult its way to the top of the television landscape. It brought new definition to the word ‘bleak’, relentlessly pushing its characters into smaller and smaller corners of their own sanity as it found new and darker pockets of humanity to explore and destroy.

All in all, it took 84 hours worth of death, loss, grief, sadness, insanity, and bloodshed to get to the events of “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”, which basically boils down The Walking Dead to its purest, most concentrated form of itself: the entire hour is spent reveling in utter misery, vacillating between frothing excitement for the violence it wants to show the audience, and trying to engineer tension around the next person it planned to commit a violent act against.

And thus, the ultimate The Walking Dead episode is revealed: in many ways, some might consider this the best, most powerful hour this show has done. Never before has The Walking Dead been focused on a singular idea with such force: not during The Farm, or The Prison, or Woodbury, or Alexandria, or The Half-Season on the Road… not a single episode before “The Day Will Come” is as driven or focused as this season seven premiere. Every single line, shot, and idea is constructed around being the darkest, most dramatic version of itself it can be, stretched across a single night that plays out in 46 minutes running time. It’s the perfect thesis of The Walking Dead, in that it doesn’t give an F about its characters, its audience, or anything except being the bloodiest, most sickening version of itself it can be.

Like no other television show I’ve seen before, The Walking Dead is seemingly aroused by testing how grotesque it can be: and as one might expect, that culminates in a one-man d*ck measuring contest, endlessly blathering on about his dominance of the world between random moments of him bashing in the skulls of Abraham and Glenn, the two most humanized, empathetic characters this show ever offered the audience, further titillating itself on just how dark it can be, killing off two hugely popular characters in a way that feels like it’s daring the audience to continue watching. “We’re too popular for you to walk away now!” may not have the same ring to it as Negan slooooowly singing Eenie Meenie, but the effect is the same: we can do whatever we want to whatever character we want, and there’s nothing you’ll do about it except keep watching!

I mean, they’ve proven this formula time and time again in the past, a series of repeating stories that hasn’t felt fresh and new since the *first* Governor arc; with each revolving arc, The Walking Dead‘s fetishization of misery and emotional manipulation have grown more and more audacious. Look no farther than the 48 consecutive shots of Negan pointing Lucille in someone’s face, or the “dream” ending where everyone is alive and has dinner together, Alexandria-style…. or the six months and twenty minutes they spent resolving a cliffhanger…. or just how overtly constructed this whole episode feels, from how Negan teases Rick for the ENTIRE episode (ignoring everyone else, minus the two people he murders) to how obvious it was which people would die, given the clear delineation between “untouchables” (Rick, Carl, Daryl, Michonne) to the “minors” (Aaron and co. – aka the people we don’t know enough for their deaths to feel “huge”), leaving only the characters who die as the logical choices for who to kill (they weren’t going to kill a pregnant woman on TV in this fashion, which literally only left Glenn and Abraham). There’s nothing about this hour that feels particularly creative, or like The Walking Dead has learned or grown in its time off – and by the time it slogs through its ridiculously vapid, manipulative non-ending, it has finally revealed just how empty it is at its core.

The Walking Dead certainly had its inspired creative moments – few and far between they were, but there are plenty of episodes and moments of the show that are memorable, even when surrounded by the typical nonsense the show features around said moments. But with this season premiere, The Walking Dead has proven those days are long, long behind us: all that’s left is the dramatic blood splatters and slow drips of sweat, the never-ending cycle of violence, brief moment of hope, character death, more despair encapsulated perfectly by the 46 minute-turd that is “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” (six months to think of a title name, and that’s all you come up with?). The Walking Dead may remain the most popular show on television for years to come, but the show’s callous rejection and manipulation of its own audience, not to mention just how poorly conceived and executed this hour was (on every level except technical; as always, The Walking Dead‘s imagery and special effects are top-notch), are the ultimate reveal of the dramatic ruse this show’s executed (no pun intended) for years, an hour as monumentally disappointing and lifeless as it is joyless and exploitative. In a way, I admire the still-dedicated longtime fans of the series, sticking with it after the premiere: but after this laughable, thoroughly unentertaining mess of a premiere, I have fallen off The Walking Dead bandwagon for good.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

  • After five years and dozens of reviews across three websites, my time writing about The Walking Dead is coming to an end. If it was a show I genuinely loved, I would be a little sadder: but as a show that was never terrible enough to be entertaining, nor good enough to be consistently satisfying, the end of TWD for me has felt nothing but empty. Though, I assume that’s how the people behind the show want us to feel, right?
  • Negan is basically the only character who talks throughout the whole episode, which is not a good thing, even if JDM’s performance offers a sense of fun and camp this show has never, ever embraced.
  • How I imagine it sounded in the writer’s room: “Hey, what the heck do we do for the 42 minutes Negan isn’t beating in people’s heads?” “I don’t know… let’s have Negan f*ck with Rick, just like The Governor did!” “Dude, awesome idea! Let’s add an axe and a bunch of zombies, because it’s our contractual obligation!” “Nailed it, bro!”
  • The Walking Dead is a terrible show. A terrible, terrible show with a number of good performances (and creative/technical talent) it does not deserve to have.
  • Admittedly, I stopped reading the comic book and the TV show in the same place. Beating Glenn’s face in and reveling in the nasty images of his death is just one step too far, even for a Hannibal fan like myself. There’s two effective types of splattercore theater: gore as art, and gore the sake of shock factor. The Walking Deadin its most iconic moment in print and film, manages to do neither, which reveals it to be violence just for the sake of violence. Not only is that a bad way to send out your most empathetic character ( that you buried in a fake-death storyline not 8 episodes back, I might add), it’s just a poor way to utilize the conventions of the genre for storytelling purposes.
  • F*ck you, The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 1 Review: "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be"

Summary

The Walking Dead lowers the bar even further with a heartless, hollow season seven premiere.

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