[This article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 7 premiere.]
After months of waiting, dreading, and speculating about just who Negan killed at the end of The Walking Dead‘s season 6 finale, we now have our answer. And rightly so, the reveal of who Negan killed is already causing a stir among viewers, with reactions ranging from shock, disgust, horror, to of course, vows of swearing off the show altogether.
Whether or not the events of the season 7 premiere will harm or help the viewership of what is arguably television’s most-watched drama remains to seen, but they will almost certainly have an impact on the remainder of season 7, and really, the continuation of the whole series. The Walking Dead has always been brutal, and it’s never shied away from delivering truly heart-wrenching deaths, but what transpires during the season 7 premiere is a tipping point for the series. In the comics, this moment sets off a chain of events that fundamentally shifts the story from one solely of survival to one of reclaiming civilization. The television series is likely to take the same approach, but whereas the comic continues on that path, The Walking Dead television series may use it as a fitting point with which to leave off with these characters.
The man behind the camera, so to speak, the character from whose point of view we witnessed Negan’s bat come a’swinging down during the season 6 cliffhanger, was Abraham’s. Though a later addition to The Walking Dead‘s survivors, Abraham quickly became a fan-favorite thanks to his blunt personality and an almost unparalleled ability to wreck the walkers. Last season, Abraham even began to earn a new outlook on life, becoming more hopeful about what the future may hold.
Cruelly, Negan robbed Abraham of having any kind of future, choosing him as Lucille’s victim and sending a firm message to Rick and everyone else. The decision to kill Abraham wasn’t a random choice. Negan purposely selected Abraham because of his imposing size and demeanor, noting the clear advantage he brought to the group of survivors. It’s a tactical move on Negan’s part more than anything else, removing an important piece of Rick’s “arsenal” while also demoralizing those still alive.
When Abraham dies in the comics, his death serves a similar function. Though it doesn’t come at the hands of Negan, at least not directly. Instead, Dwight is sent to kill a member of Rick’s group in retaliation for Rick killing some of The Saviors, and Abraham is just the unlucky soul who Dwight took aim at first. (On the show, Abraham’s comic book death of a crossbow bolt through the eye was given to Denise last season.) But the impact of losing Abraham is tremendous, not only for those closest to him but in practical matters, too, like defense and fortification. Abraham was a huge asset, and losing him is what forces Rick to consider new allies. Not long after Abraham’s death, Rick decides to seek aid from The Hilltop, realizing he needs as much help as he can get if they are to have any hope of defeating The Saviors.
Chances are the television series will treat the loss of Abraham in a similar manner, mourning the death of a dear friend and needing to fill the void his death leaves in the group. But being that The Walking Dead television show is fueled by its audience’s pain, Abraham wasn’t Negan’s only victim…
Coming almost out of nowhere and after Lucille had already brutally dispatched with Abraham, Negan chose to kill a second person — Glenn. And on the one hand, Glenn’s death shouldn’t be all that surprising for those familiar with what happens in the comics, but on the other hand, it is an interesting move for Negan to make. He’s already killed Abraham, braining him in front of everyone, proving himself to be a sadistic man who will absolutely go there to prove a point. So why kill a second person? And why Glenn?
Glenn isn’t as physically imposing as Abraham, nor is it as obvious how beneficial he is for the group. Plus, Negan has already hurt Rick by removing one of his strongest allies, and Abraham even took it “like a champ“, showing no fear when Negan bashed in his skull. But Negan still needs to hurt to Rick and everyone else in a way that’s gut-wrenching, that’s so wholly unbelievable and agonizing they’ll do whatever Negan asks in order to prevent anything like it happening again. That’s why he kills Glenn, a perfectly random choice that no one is even expecting, solidifying the idea that any one of them of could be next.
In the comics, Glenn is Negan’s only victim, but the moment is no less chilling or significant (in fact, it may even be a more affecting death). Where the season 7 premiere gave us a whole episode of Rick being repeatedly subjugated by Negan, the comics distil all of Rick’s despair into a single scene where, after threatening to kill Negan, Negan openly mocks Rick and walks away, leaving him with Glenn’s mangled corpse. In that moment, Rick is utterly helpless to do anything and he knows it.
However, spurred on by that feeling of helplessness, Rick begins making strides to make sure no one is ever murdered so cruelly again. When faced with Negan’s new world order, Rick counters it with a return of law and order, a return to a civilized society where people aren’t butchered as a means of coercion. And if losing Abraham has Rick realizing the need for more allies, it’s Glenn’s death that has Rick realizing what he and those allies must do: defeat Negan and bring back the sense of human decency missing since the world ended.
Where The Walking Dead television series goes from here is anyone’s guess. After all, creator Robert Kirkman has already suggested that the show and the comics will have very different endings. But considering that the television series just included two significant deaths from the comics, and in the same episode no less, it would seem very likely we’ll see the TV show explore a similar fallout. One in where while mourning for both Abraham and Glenn, the survivors and their new allies become even more determined to make their world one worth living in. And if that ideal is achieved and a sense of society is reinstated, then isn’t that as good a beat as any to end a wildly popular, post-apocalyptic series?
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with ‘The Well’ @9pm on AMC.