Well, we can all breathe again.
Tonight saw the premiere of the seventh season of The Walking Dead. All this summer, we’ve been wondering who Negan would end up killing with Lucille, his barbed wire-covered bat. Glenn seemed to be the obvious candidate, particularly since he had already miraculously (and, some would say, implausibly) escaped certain death on the show and he was also Negan’s victim in the comic.
However, none of us wanted it to be Glenn. Ever since the show began, Glenn has been one of the most popular characters. In many ways, he served as a stand-in for the audience. Sure, everyone loves Darryl and Michonne but Glenn …. well, there was just something special about Glenn. Whereas both Darryl and Michonne were born warriors and Rick Grimes was a former police officer who had been trained to think quickly in a crisis, Glenn was just a pizza delivery boy. He was the guy who, by all logic, should not have survived the first week of the zombie apocalypse. And yet, he did survive. For sic seasons, we watched as Glenn grew and developed as a character. When he “married” Maggie, it was more than just a plot twist. It was proof that, even in the worst of circumstances, love could survive.
So, a lot of us told ourselves that there was no way that Glenn would die. We told ourselves that Glenn was too popular of a character. We mentioned all the other times that the show had led us to believe it was going to follow the plot of the comics just to suddenly go in a totally opposite direction.
Myself, I believe that Negan would kill Abraham. Abraham seemed like the obvious choice, popular enough that his death would mean something but, at the same time, not so popular that the show would risk losing any viewers by killing him.
I was so confident in my prediction that I ever decided to make it official:
And I was right.
But I was also very wrong.
It took about 25 minutes for tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead to get around to showing us who Negan killed. The episode really pulled out the suspense and I have to admit that I was worried they were going to go the entire hour without letting us know for sure. (I remember Lost used to do that and it would drive me crazy.) And when we saw Negan beat Abraham to death, I think a lot of people said, “Poor Abraham but at least it wasn’t Glenn…”
And then, a few minutes later, Darryl charged Negan and, after Darryl was subdued, Negan responded by beating Glenn to death.
(As Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who was so chillingly good as Negan, pointed out on The Talking Dead, Glenn would not have died if not for Darryl’s actions.)
It was hard to watch. You can say that it’s just a TV show and that there are bigger things to worry about than the fate of a fictional character but, at that moment, it felt as if I was watching an old friend die. For seven years, Glenn has been one of the show’s constants. He’s been one of the few stable elements of The Walking Dead. He’s always been there.
And now, he’s not.
While we were all still trying to recover from the deaths of both Glenn and Abraham, Negan was busy breaking Rick. Rick has always been the leader. He’s always been the guy who you can count on to ultimately do whatever needed to be done to protect the group. Rick was the one who stepped up to shoot Sophia when she came out of that barn. Rick was the one who, no matter how bad things got, everyone felt they could depend on. In a world where it was often hard to find meaning or morality, Rick has always stood for something more than just ruthless survival. And yet, last night, we saw a totally defeated Rick. Not only did Rick watch helplessly as two of his people were brutally murdered but he was also nearly forced to chop off Carl’s hand.
(I know that a lot of viewers — myself included — were expecting Negan to chop off Rick’s hand in the RV.)
As I watched that scene with Rick and Carl, I couldn’t help but think about the biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac, a story that I have always hated. God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son and he waited until Abraham raised the knife to say, “Stop, it was just a test of your faith.” (Abraham is so overjoyed that he never stops to ask, “What type of God would ask me to do something so terrible in the first place?”) When Negan ordered Rick to chop off Carl’s hand and then stopped him only after he raised the hatchet, it was Negan’s way of saying that, for all intents and purposes, he is God.
Again, it wasn’t easy to watch. But at least Maggie doesn’t appear to be ready to surrender. Rick may have been broken. Darryl may now be a hostage. But Maggie is going to keep fighting.
Finally, I have to say that, after watching all of this, I am so incredibly thankful for Chris Hardwick and Talking Dead. When Chris opened the show by promising that we were going to talk through what we had just witnessed, he wasn’t kidding. Tonight’s episode of Talking Dead felt like a televised group therapy session. It helped to see Steven Yeun and Michael Cudlitz on that stage with the rest of the cast. After we just watched, we needed to see them all together. We needed to see them laughing and joking and crying and hugging. We needed that catharsis.
Talking Dead served as a reminder that it was just a TV show and nobody had really died.
So, why do so many of us still feel like we just said goodbye to a member of our family?
One final thought:
RIP, Abraham and Glenn