So now we know, Walking Dead fans. Lucille, indeed, struck twice. Two hits for Negan. And no balls for our formerly fearless leader, Rick Grimes.
STOP READING HERE IF YOU HAVE YET TO WATCH AND STEERED CLEAR OF THE TWITTER-VERSE.
The barbed-wire bat’s first fatal blows — wielded by Jeffrey Dead Morgan’s cool, calculating and deeply bemused Negan — took out Sgt. Abraham Ford (farewell, Michael Cudlitz), who offered his leather-clad killer this suggestion as his skull was bashed in: “Suck. My. Nuts.” Way to go out in style, Sarge. I salute you.
Negan took Abe’s kiss-off pretty well — most probably because “Red” was already in what was likely a fatal state of disrepair, not to mention that one of the Grimes Gang’s most indefatigable warriors was no longer his problem. What Neegs wasn’t so keen on? Daryl leaping up to land a blow on his kisser, only to be wrestled to the ground by a couple of Savior faithful. Negan knelt beside a growling Daryl, bat a-tappin’ as fans held their breath, chewed their fingers to the knuckles and prayed the last surviving Dixon wasn’t next (we still riot when Daryl dies, right?).
He wasn’t next. Negan knows and loves a hair-trigger scrapper when he sees one and decides to keep Daryl for his very own. But the outburst was far from unpunished. With a beaming smile — and the proclamation “And it continues!” — Negan swung again. The comic’s prophecy was fulfilled. Folks still all upset about Dumpstergate were avenged. Thanksgiving is ruined.
Glenn’s brains spatter (farewell, Steven Yeun), his eyeball bulges (an epic Greg Nicotero creation that some insist went a tad too far, and even Negan proclaimed “gross”) and he gurgled his last words to his wife: “Maggie, I’ll find you.” Augh. Ouchie.
When the carnage was over, Rick — in the bleary, profusely sweaty, cross-eyed way we’ve come to know and love from our oft-befuddled leader — did his best to maintain his bravado. “I’m going to kill you,” he informed Negan, earning himself an ass-dragger of a trip to the principal’s
office R.V., where most folks familiar with the comic were sure he was about to part with his own mitt, courtesy of the hatchet he surrendered to his captor. Nope. Just what was left of his marbles. The pair head out for a little drive/one-sided lecture.
And as a dandy fog and a herd of walkers overtake the RV, Negan opens the door, tosses the hatchet on the roof and orders Rick to retrieve it. Because they’re friends now. Allies. And that’s what friends do for each other. Rick doesn’t take direction well and Negan forces the subject, hurling Rick out into the misty fray where Papa Grimes manages to scramble up the camper’s ladder safely, courtesy of zombies who were oddly more interested in grabbing at his legs than tearing the flesh from them. Maybe they like thigh meat more than ankle meat? Maybe they just ate a big meal and wanted to handle the cookies but not actually eat them. Who knows. But we still need to be scared of the zombies at least a little, Kirkman and Co. Write that down.
Scoring a bit of me-time atop the RV — and only last season’s ill-fated, bridge dangler Savior zombie for his audience —Rick’s already fragile grasp on reality and what a sh*tty difference a day makes really takes a digger. He flashes back a dab more to the moments that preceded his knee-ski to the camper, including a shocker of a montage illustrating Negan’s threat to off every last one of the lineup if Rick doesn’t properly submit. Making fine use of the footage Nicotero’s crew filmed to throw off set lurkers and give us all a look at how each soul might have taken the bat. Not a wimp in the bunch, if you don’t count the tender, traumatized Eugene. Eugene!
Rick’s hall pass expires.
Negan starts counting backward from three, then riddles the roof with bullet holes, inspiring Rick to take a flying leap onto the bridge-dangler. But zombies are loosely assembled creatures and this guy’s neck becomes an impromptu elevator cable, lowering Rick back into the herd, which has found its collective appetite again. Luckily, he landed near his hatchet and manages to make it back to the camper with a little — OK, a lot of — help from Negan.
Since he managed to earn a C- in his first assignment and with the sun rising on a new and gnarly day, Rick and Negan head back to the original scene of Lucille’s crimes, where the Grimesers are still kneeling and the Saviors are still standing around waiting to find out what happens next (didn’t anyone have to visit pee pee pants city on this awfully long night?).
What happen next is that Negan decides Rick’s expression still isn’t appropriately subservient — broken — and that he needs another lesson in being a good, good boy. He orders Grimes Junior to come hither and lay prone on the ground with his arms spread, one boasting a tourniquet made of Negan’s belt. The rest of the horrified group has guns pointed at their heads, nose level, per Negan’s orders, so the firing squad embellishes the mess to most splendid effect. Negan’s final line in the sand is actually a line on Carl’s arm, marking the spot where his papa will chop off said arm without doing enough damage for the boy to actually die. They do have a super-talented doctor after all. Kid looks resilient.
Michonne (Danai Gurira) offers her two cents … which is about two cents more than her opinion is worth to anyone not on their knees. Rick reaches maximum capacity on sweating and eye-lolling. Tick, tick, tick, tick. His boy lives, albeit further maimed, or everyone dies. There are already two ruined bodies in the arena. Tick, tick, tick, tick. Bellowing, Rick offers his own arm instead. Finally Carl orders him to just take the damn limb already. Wobbling, Rick reaches for the hatchet and — whew! — Negan is appeased. He has himself a babbling, broken chief of Alexandria and that’s all he really wanted in the first place. A fresh set of worker bees willing to surrender their hive and all the honey in it. Not a bunch of fighters, lead by a cocky feller who does not know when to shut the hell up. Said feller belongs to him now and he just said so.
And, just like that, it’s over. The toughest of Alexandria’s tough guys is in the Saviors’ possession and its other best men are dead. What’s left is a bunch of women (don’t underestimate these women, pal), a pair of pissed-off teens (them either, pal), a couple of mostly thinky guys (yeah, I have no use for them, either, so there’s that) and what’s left of Rick Grimes. Neegs proclaims the day productive, gifts his quarry with a truck to get home and get crackin’ on expanding his kingdom. and says he’ll be back for a visit in a week. Then he and the others just … leave.
Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is first up off the ground. Even for those of us who have long proclaimed the sole remaining Greene the ultimate warrior princess of this universe — no matter how sick and pregnant and grief-stricken she is, and no matter how many other warrior women join the fray — that is a surprise. She orders everyone back to Alexandria to prepare for battle. Not servitude. Battle. And her husband will have a proper burial.
“As crazy and as strife-ridden as their lives are, she — and all of us — have wisdom,” Cohan told reporters at a Comic-Con presser. “We have a tribe that we belong in and we know who we are and we know who we are to each other. That’s just absolutely invaluable. That’s what I think about in that moment. … There will be suffering and that’s inevitable, but who do you become and what do you learn and how much deeper is your spiritual connection and your connection to those that you love because of how you’ve suffered?”
Makes some serious sense now.
Spurred on by her nerve, the group rises and closes rank. Sasha offers to accompany Maggie. Carl wraps her in his arms. Rick says she still needs medical care at Hilltop and they will make sure she gets it. Sasha declares Abe’s body hers, then softens and extends her hand to Rosita. They will bear their lover home to his final resting place together.
And then we get a gut-punch reminder of what could have been. The very thing we’re not exactly sure — given that this is a show about a zombie apocalypse and all — if we’ve actually been rooting for or not. That aforementioned Thanksgiving is taking place in an Alexandria meadow, looking for all the world like a Country Living magazine spread. Glenn dandles a wee Rhee on his knee as a luxuriously-tressed Maggie looks on. Then he turns companionably to a hale Abraham, whose arm is draped around Sasha. Everyone is there. Everyone is happy. It is only a dream.
And that is that.
So. Honesty time. Glenn’s death wasn’t really that much of a surprise, given the comic and the necessary story trajectory from that very major event. Taking Abe — an afterthought to some fans, anyway — first and making Mr. Rhee’s demise a snap happening while we were still reeling from the former left us off-kilter, to be sure. And the situation was not helped by the sight of that bulging eye and the heartrending power of Yeun’s final moments onscreen. We all wanted that happy family. But still. We knew we were never going to get it. How Judith hung on this far is a mystery to end them all. Kids require work in the best of circumstances.
So Glenn — a good man, able fighter and savvy thinker — is gone. Solider Abe is gone, too. The Grimes Gang ain’t much of a gang anymore. And I’m willing to bet that, like me, a decent share of you took a look at the remaining lot, thought wistfully back to the Season 1-2-3 days when you kinda loved even the characters you kinda hated, and wondered who here still truly matters to you. Whose origins you clearly recall and whose purpose you really understand. And it probably amounted to a scarce handful. And even then, you have no idea what you actually hope for them anymore. Michonne, Rick and Carl hosting Christmas? Sasha and Rosita hosting book club? These folks are all waaaay beyond that, damage-wise.
And while the actors are able and likable, I’m not sure if I’d even notice if Rosita, Eugene and Aaron ever crossed my screen again. There’s just not enough reason to care. Or maybe that’s just me.
Gimple, Kirkman and Co. have promised that Season 7 will expand the TWD landscape in ways we can’t imagine (see also: CGI tiger). And Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s savvy, witty, wicked Negan is a far more exciting adversary than, say, some musclehead thug with a bigger arsenal who just shoots everyone up and calls it good. But if I’m struggling to sweat the fate of folks in whom I’ve been long invested, how am I going to bond with newcomers? And keep track of them, when I’m still mystified by plenty of Alexandrians?
It’s not the dead I’m bothered by as much as how utterly unmoved I am by so many of the living.
Maybe that’s just me, too. I’ll come back for Carol and my girl Maggie. I hope I’ll eventually get the entire roster right. Jeffrey Dean, you had me at hello, so maybe a killer will save me. It’s not the first time a TWD season premiere left me stymied. I’m just not sure it isn’t the last.
New episodes of The Walking Dead premiere Sundays at 9/8CT on AMC.