“The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”
There are many spoilers in this post. You’ve been warned.
I’m not really sure how it’ll end up being categorized, but last night will definitely go down in the annals of TV history. After more than 200 days of waiting for one of the most frustrating season-ending cliffhangers in recent memory, we finally found out who in the Ricktatorship was killed by Negan, but did it really matter?
Anyone who’s read the comics (or the internet), knew that Abraham was already on borrowed time, with Denise subbing out his role of getting shot with a crossbow by Dwight, a ranking member of The Saviors. Even though Michael Cudlitz, who
plays played Abraham had done press excited at the prospect that his character would be around “at the same time as Negan,” which I suppose was true on a technicality.
Given that showrunner Scott Gimple as worked aggressively to re-align the show’s narrative with the comic since he took over at the beginning of season four, starting with retrofitting the Governor’s takedown of the prison, Glenn would’ve been the obvious choice. After all, the lines that Jeffrey Dean Morgan was given for Negan were lifted almost word-for-word from the comic page, so why would the outcome be any different?
What really struck me about last night’s episode was the online climate that it generated, with most #TheWalkingDead hashtags connected to longtime fans who were either frustrated with or outright sick of the show’s constant need to double-down on its own sense of hopelessness. And not that I didn’t feel that same sense of unease, despite how ready I was for this exact outcome, but I couldn’t help but wonder what any of us were expecting.
The episode was even titled “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” a warning from Dr. Edwin Jenner, the scientist held up at the CDC at the end of the show’s first season, after Rick tells him that he’s grateful for giving his group a fighting chance. Last night, we saw that day. Maybe not the one Jenner had imagined, given that he “opted out” back when the undead flesh-eating monsters was the biggest threat to humanity, but it was the day he predicted.
Ever since midway through the rudderless second season, The Walking Dead has slowly leveled up its human threats, starting with the random bar stragglers in “Nebraska,” to the tyrannical rule of The Governor, all the way through the bizarrely philosophical Wolves. Like a mask slowly being pulled off a Scooby Do villain in the final seconds, the show has wanted to make clear that mankind was the real threat to itself as the social contract steadily erodes into nothing.
Now, at long last, the show’s slowly caught up with its comic book narrative, insofar as bringing Negan into the fold, a brutal, yet charming psychopath who’s part politician, part military commander, and part cult leader, and is totally enamored with his own sadism. The purpose of last night’s episode was to break Rick down into his subordinate, making seven Rick into a blubbering, snot-blowing version of season four’s “I’m not makin’ decisions anymore!” Rick.
What it also did, intentionally or not, was break down the audience, too. We see the brutality through the show’s unflinching camera, delivering on a promise made more than seven months ago. It was a promise with absolutely no positive outcome, only varying degrees of tragedy based on the longevity of the character(s) that ended up chosen by Negan. While the show was preparing for numerous outcomes — they even filmed a version with Maggie being killed — would a different victim have really affected the overall purpose of this (admittedly well-crafted) episode?
As the show moves forward with one interesting point in play, which is Daryl being a captive of The Saviors, it certainly left a lapful of existential hopelessness in its wake. Which, to be fair, is pretty much what it’s been aiming towards this whole time.