I’m going to keep this as non-spoilery as possible. But this will require some knowledge of the plot of The Walking Dead TV show (I am setting aside the comics for now, what was depicted in the TV show was far worse for the medium used than black and white panels in a comic)
I was and remain profoundly disturbed by The Walking Dead season 7 premiere. Never before have I watched such a brutal 45 minutes of television. It is an assault from beginning to end. It’s also going to be the last episode of the show that I will watch, not because of the quality of it or that I feel offended by it; but because it’s essentially the series finale.
Let’s set aside for the moment standard complaints about the show. I’ve stuck with it through its affectations or deficiencies. Let us instead think about the world described here.
“This is how it is now.” Negan says repeatedly during the episode. In that he is correct. With his brutality and the joy in conducting it he made me realize this world simply has no hope at all.
Everyone is infected with the virus, which means this world will feature a dwindling number of humans who are forever at risk. A sudden heart attack in the middle of the night means a person in this universe will reanimate and infect or eat the loved one next to them. Who knows how many they will infect in a household before someone is awake enough to combat the threat. In the later few seasons the creatures have come to travel in hordes of hundreds or thousands. So no matter what location you fortify you are always at risk of being over run simply by numbers.
Then there’s Negan. In this universe he has embraced the lack of hope. He is riding the nuclear bomb all the way down, whipping his hat in glee. He appears to be the only character thus far who realizes his only chance of living at least long enough to die naturally is in embracing the cruelty and hopelessness of the outbreak that has destroyed humanity. Even then, he doesn’t really have living longer as a goal.
I don’t know if something broke him. I don’t care. I don’t even care if he is killed or made to pay for what he has done so far, because he would only enjoy it. He represents the purest embrace of what has happened. He is the most evolved in this world.
And that’s where the show should end. The only way out for the show now is some type of revenge against Negan (which would be a replay of The Governor storyline) or a miraculous cure. The latter would pretty much be a conceit that would bore me.
Negan was right, the image of everyone sitting down to a nice outdoor lunch around a long table being happy and carefree is never going to happen. Not just because of the actions he took during the episode, but because that future was *never* going to happen in this universe.
I don’t really care what happens from here. It represents the ultimate in the worst world a post-apocalypse can conjure. Even the monstrosities of a film like The Road were clearly acting out of fear and survival. Negan acts out of revelry. He’s not just watching the world burn, he wants to contribute in a concrete way.
I wonder if that episode went so far is to reach the zombie world nadir. Once you’ve gone this far depicting such cruelty, it’s just human-centipede level one-upping from here.
Shows like Game of Thrones or others that have showed us no one is safe somehow manage to so without the extended graphic brutality and sheer gleefulness of the perpetrator. What made the episode so hard to watch was the lingering on each horrible thing. Even the Red Wedding or the death of Oberyn were done in seconds and (almost) dispassionately. The Walking Dead chose 45 minutes of pure unadulterated torture porn with a gleeful antagonist.
Something about this episode got to me deeply. It made me realize this is the logical endpoint of the plot of this story. It could go no where but here. It could produce no one but Negan.
I can’t say it was a good run, but it was an interesting one. I’m done with The Walking Dead. Again, not out of pique or frustration with the show. I’m done with it because they reached their conclusion. Perhaps they don’t even know it.