Every promise made by cast and crew of “The Walking Dead” that the seventh season opener of the AMC drama would be emotionally draining was neither a cheap promotion nor excessive hype. The series, already known for playing off the brutality of man against man, took that theme to its bloodiest level with Sunday's episode. Spattered with the blood of characters who had endeared themselves with fans was the message that those of you who continue to think of “The Walking Dead” as only a zombie story have never been more disconnected with the truth.
By now, you have probably read numerous social media blasts about what happened Sunday night. If this is your first, please be warned that there are spoilers to come. If you have not seen the episode, stop reading and experience it as it unfolds in its unforgettable manner.
Fans of the comic book have been waiting for (or dreading) the arrival of the maniacal Negan, a character whose insanity is only outweighed but his blood lust. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was tasked with bringing Negan to life and he accomplishes the goal with a performance that is terrifying and mesmerizing to watch.
Negan’s weapon of choice is a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire.
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He uses the weapon of destruction, that he’s nicknamed Lucille, to pulverize the skulls of two major characters – Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn (Steven Yeun). Both were top picks among fans trying to predict who would fall. The curve thrown was that it was two brutal murders instead of just one.
The term “pulverize” doesn’t completely describe Negan’s animalistic assault. He pounds each man so many ferocious blows that there’s nothing left above the shoulders. The only thing worse is seeing the glee Negan takes in his tasks.
This violence is haunting enough but it is Morgan’s performance that makes each swing of the bat echo with a spirit-crushing connection. This drives home the point that the makers of “The Walking Dead” have been pushing from day one. There is a horror to the attacks by the mindless waves of zombies who seem to never stop. Those assaults are merely instincts for survival.
The real terrifying violence in the show has come at the hands of men like Negan. Whether driven by greed, a lust for power or some insane fascination with death, the humans have always been the real terrors. And, there has not been anyone as terrifying as Negan.
One death would have made the point. But the second brutal beating of Glen resonated even louder because of his impending fatherhood. Family has also been a big theme and Negan even attacks that with a sequence where he pushes the group’s leader, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), to make a bloody decision about his own son’s fate.
Episodes of “The Walking Dead” often drain the audience either with acts of violence or the unrelenting tension that exists in this world. Those were all just warm-up episodes to the seventh season opener that stands out as one of the most memorable in a series that continues to give viewers moments that with an unwavering action grabs our attention and won’t let go.
The only big question is where do they go from here.