[This post contains SPOILERS for the Walking Dead season 7 premiere.]
The season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead was incredibly visceral, even by the standards of a show known for an abundance of gore and extreme violence. Although fans knew it was likely that Glenn (Steven Yeun) would meet his end at the hands of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the prospects of an unknown death left viewers on a seven-month cliffhanger.
The premiere coldly went 20 minutes depicting the aftermath of Negan’s killing, even showing brief glimpses of every major player taking a barbed-wire bat to the head in order to perpetuate the buildup. Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) took a deadly beating that seemed like the only one, but staying true to Robert Kirkman’s infamous 100th issue of the source material, Glenn got a vicious, agonizingly drawn-out death of his own.
The initial reaction to the season 7 premiere, directed by executive producer Greg Nicotero, has been polarizing. Many viewers felt manipulated by excessive and misleading buildup to not one but two major, series-altering deaths. It even drew criticism for its violence from the Parents Television Council. But in a conference call with reporters (via THR), Nicotero explained the explicit, uncompromising way in which Negan's murders were depicted.
Nicotero said the premiere was intended to establish Negan as a ruthless psychopath who would do anything without hesitation to force others to bow to his rule.
"[Negan] is by far the most despicable villain we've ever encountered. ... He's doing all of this to prove a point and show that 'This is my world; these are my rules.' ... We felt it was important to launch us into the season to show what Negan is capable of doing. That drives so much of where the series is going from here on in. ... Yeah, it's graphic and horrible."
When asked about the depiction of the deaths of other characters, which turned out to be false alarms, Nicotero explained that the premiere was not meant to mislead or manipulate viewers, but to illustrate the chaos swirling inside Rick Grimes' (Andrew Lincoln) mind at the time.
"Picking up moments after the death and going into the beginning of Negan going to try and break Rick ... Negan realized what he has just done did not do the trick. ... The episode is 100 percent designed for you to go on this journey with Rick and start thinking as he did about what happened. When he starts reliving it, it's the beginning of him being broken. By the end of the episode, that's where he ends up."
It was certainly hard not to feel Rick being torn apart inside as he nearly maimed his own son Carl (Chandler Riggs) near the end of the season 7 premiere. Nicotero is partially correct about the premiere's depiction of Glenn and Abrham's deaths; the violence itself is not necessarily what made them so hard to endure, but the intense emotions and ramifications involved with the departure of two major characters.
It's understandable for viewers to feel cheated by the way the buildup was dragged out and gratuitously shrouded in mystery. But by the standards of The Walking Dead and its pervasive savagery, Negan's violent acts weren't much more visually graphic than most of the show's content. It was the shock, heartbreak and agony associated with the loss of Glenn and Abraham that amplified their deaths to unbearable degrees, and to that end, Nicotero's premiere could be considered a huge success.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with ‘The Well’ @9pm on AMC.