Should The Walking Dead fans really have been shocked by who died in the Season Seven premiere? Looking back, the outcome was obvious. Jeffrey Dean Morgan – who plays Negan, the murderous leader of post-apocalyptic ravagers known as “the Saviors” – hinted in interviews over the summer that he might be killing more than one character when the show came back from its Season Six cliffhanger. And as readers of the comics know, at this point in the story, both Abraham and Glenn are gone. Abraham catches an arrow through the head in The Walking Dead #98; and Glenn gets bludgeoned by Negan’s spiked baseball bat in the infamous issue #100.
The TV version has deviated from the comics’ details in the past. But on the page, both Abraham and Glenn’s assassinations are major events, helping set up a lot of the subsequent plot. So yeah … we probably should’ve seen this coming.
But being unsurprised doesn’t mean that viewers can’t still feel lousy about the loss of two of the series’ standout heroes – or for that matter, about the way they went. Creator Robert Kirkman and showrunner Scott M. Gimple have toyed with their audience maybe too much over the past year: by almost killing Glenn more than once, and by giving Abraham’s comic book demise to Denise. Despite all that, according to Kirkman and Gimple, these two’s final bloody farewell is essential to the overall arc of show, and to what they’re trying to say about humanity and survival. And in a way that’s even more distressing, that the best way for them to make their points is to get rid of the characters who’ve been the most consistently selfless.
So what does the disgustingly gory end of Glenn and Abraham mean for The Walking Dead going forward? Here are a few takeaways from last night’s clobber-fest.
Rick is wrung dry
The episode’s director Greg Nicotero put it best in an interview during last night’s Talking Dead postmortem, where he said that everything that’s happened over the past day in the lives of these characters has been about “breaking Rick Grimes.” Even after Abraham and Glenn are lying dead on the ground – their respective heads splattered like melons – the sheriff initially responds with steely resolve, pledging to kill Negan. But by the end of the hour, when it looks like the Saviors aren’t going to stop torturing and killing our heroes until they all fall into line, their leader is so stricken that Michonne has to speak up on his behalf, swearing that they all understand the situation now. They only have two choices going forward: Scavenge goods, or get pummeled into goo.
A lot of Rick’s friends and fellow-travellers have died over the course of the series, but rarely as brutally, and never without the possibility of retaliation. He’s now lost two of his bravest and most capable sidekicks (as well as Daryl, whom the Saviors keep as a prisoner), and it seems unlikely that he’s going to rebound from that any time soon. It may be 2017 before we see anything like the cunning, cocksure Rick Grimes we’ve watched develop over the past few years.
Maggie is galvanized
Contrary to Rick, Maggie responds to the death of her husband Glenn with a righteous fury. Over the course of last season, she became more coldly calculating, taking on more of a leadership role in the Alexandria Safe Zone and in the group’s dealings with the Hilltop Colony. As actress Lauren Cohan has said about her character, “She always looks for the hope,” by which she means that Maggie seeks solutions and doesn’t succumb to despair. Now that she’s lost her soulmate – with their baby in her belly – she’ll be fighting not just to protect her loved ones, but to wreak vengeance. That’ll be something to look forward to not just this for the next few episodes, but possibly in the years to come.
Eugene has a mission now
There will undoubtedly be an outpouring of grief over the loss of Glenn, since that character’s been a part of the show since day one. But his death shouldn’t overshadow Abraham’s. Each man was invaluable in his own way – even if Glenn ended his life as a sweet-natured romantic, muttering, “I’ll find you” to Maggie, while Abraham ended his by defiantly telling Negan, “Suck my nuts.”
Although Abe had relationships with both Rosita and Sasha, the person most likely to be shaken up by what just happened is Eugene. Abraham sheltered him and mentored him, helping a boastful, lying coward evolve into someone who takes responsibility for himself and his community. The mulletted beta male is bound to carry the spirit of his fallen friend with him as he moves forward with his plan to open up a munitions plant near the ASZ, and start manufacturing ammo.
Glenn’s luck finally ran out
Ever since The Walking Dead‘s 100th issue was published back in July of 2012 – before the show had even begun its third season – fans of the comic book have been dreading the potential fate of the television version of Glenn Rhee. Because of that, it’s possible that Kirkman and Gimple have been cruelly exploiting readers’ expectations over the past four years. On TV, Glenn has been presumed dead more than once, including after a controversial Season Six episode where viewers were tricked into thinking that we’d seen his guts get ripped out by zombies.
When Glenn came back alive from that, it almost seemed as though Kirkman and Gimple were never going to kill the character – not even with Negan’s bat. And that might’ve been just fine with actor Steven Yeun and the castmates he’s worked alongside for years. But on last night’s Talking Dead, Yeun also admitted that after reading #100, “You kind of don’t want that [death] to go to anyone else.” A smashed skull and a popped eyeball were awaiting Glenn all along. Really, it was the earlier fake-outs that were harder to take.
The show has a lot of work to do to make up for jerking fans around
The ratings are bound to be high for last night’s season premiere, given that The Walking Dead faithful have been waiting all summer to find out who Negan smashed. But it’ll remain open to debate for a while whether the cliffhanger was worth the irritation fans felt back when the Season Six finale ended without a resolution – or the frustration some felt last night, when the episode took so long to get to the point. Tacking on Glenn’s death after Abraham’s was also a daring move on the part of Kirkman and Gimple, since viewers could’ve reasonably assumed that the first death let all the other characters off the hook. Even riskier: Fan-favorite Daryl was indirectly responsible for Glenn’s murder, since his impudence toward Negan prompted another bloody “lesson.”
It’s probably fair to say that all of the show’s major characters – with the exception of the bad guys, and possibly the currently AWOL Carol and Morgan – are at as low a point as they’ve been in the entire run of the series. If the show doesn’t counter that with some rays of sunshine sometime soon, viewers may decide that it’s not worth it to be miserable every Sunday night. But even if Kirkman and Gimple do start the rebuilding process soon, Talking Dead host Chris Hardwick hit the nail on the head last night when he called Glenn “the heart and the hope” of the story and Abraham “the strength and the valor.” Those are hard qualities to replace.