I keep up with the biggest Western shows, you know. Actually, I went through all of the six seasons of the Walking Dead earlier this year (must henceforth warn anyone reading this that this will contain many many many spoilers for the Walking Dead, including the latest episode, so if you haven’t caught up, don’t read this). I was catching up with the show halfway through its most recent season then and seeing Negan’s killing of an unknown character at the end of that season, giving the whole world a summer of speculation over who it would be. Mostly disinterested speculation, as it turned out. That moment had the potential, I recall people saying, and I agree with it myself, to be The Walking Dead’s Red Wedding moment, had we seen the identity of the person who was killed, abruptly in front of everyone and had that image in our minds the whole summer while wondering how the rest of them will escape that. As opposed to the guessing game they turned it into, and we got a repeat of that guessing game last night.
In fact, given that it turned out that two deaths were to be on the cards after all, imagine how much more effective the story would have been had it cut coldly away from Abraham’s brutal beating to death and kept viewers focused on that during the break, while not expecting Glenn’s death to come, and open with that. Suddenly, no one is safe from the whims of the writers, as long as they make good on that, while also balancing very carefully the deaths of characters whose arcs needed little more in the way of expansion. It is something that The Walking Dead has fumbled a bit in the past with their trigger-happy approach to death, killing off characters is something no show should take lightly, as the finality robs you of most story possibilities that those characters could bring in the future, for a short and powerful story in the moment.
As for the episode itself, disappointingly but in an expected way, it opened with some pussyfooting about with hiding the identity of who got killed for ages, such that I thought it almost might go the entire episode before revealing who was the target of Lucille. I’ve been burnt before with shows like that so that wouldn’t have surprised me.
Negan himself is proving a delight, capturing all of the attention on the screen and being so charismatic in an evil way that as of now, we cannot see how our designated heroes are going to get out of this one. He had to carry that episode as Rick and the rest of the crew acting all shell-shocked was understandable but doesn’t make for very compelling watching.
Other than that, the deaths up the ante and in a little note I really liked they added a scene showing how a happy ending would have looked, something not really done often enough. But I don’t feel like the deaths, the latest deaths, even though they are big characters, make The Walking Dead any more of a great show as far as the rest of this season is concerned. Negan and his crew are clearly powerful and won’t be dealt with easily, which is something that was missing in earlier seasons, and there’s likely to be at least one more casualty among the main cast before he is, because that’s the kind of show this is. But we will need something to be made from the deaths, Maggie and Eugene and Rosita need to come to the fore to exact revenge for those they’ve lost. I think they can do it but I don’t expect any more masterstrokes until at least the end of the season.
One day later edit: I happened to see the last episode of season 1 as my younger brother is watching through the show from the beginning and when Jenner said the title of this episode, I got chills. That’s an impressive callback and one I completely missed at first.