Wow! What a way to start off Season 7, huh? Whether you loved or hated the cliffhanger finale from Season 6, it was impossible to deny that the premiere more than delivered on its promises.
And so we head into year 7 of The Walking Dead with a bang (or a thwack or a thump or whatever you'd like to call it) and things will never be the same. The finale of 6 and the premiere of 7 line-up roughly with issues 100 and the beginning of issue 101 in the comic books. As with the rest of the show, there are similarities and differences between the show and the books. Never before has Scott Gimple and company used those differences to such great effect. We will dig in to some of those similarities and differences for you here. Please be warned that there are SPOILERS for both the show and the comic in here. Now, on to the misery and mayhem!
10 The Song Remains the Same
Negan is a dangerous man, and he means business. Apart from some facial hair, maybe a couple years, and some different word preferences (more on that later), the character seems to be staying true to his comic book roots. That's a good thing and a bad thing, mind you. Bad because Negan is absolutely terrifying and unlike any other villain that we've seen so far in the television show. Good because he might well also be the greatest character in the series (if you think that's too bold a statement, it just means you haven't read the comic).
What also seems to remain the same is the reason that Negan did what he done did. Rick and his group of survivors had a cushy home in Alexandria, and made contact with the Hilltop community. The leader of the Hilltop, Gregory, made an agreement that pitted Rick's group against the Saviors (Negan's group). Rick proceeded to get Negan's attention with some successful attacks on his men. Negan then proceeded to make a statement of his own... in the most brutal of ways. He executes one of Rick's group (or in the show, two) as a show of force, and then insists from now on that half of Alexandria's resources go to the Saviors. In both the comic and the show, the Saviors run the best protection racket this side of the apocalypse.
9 Maggie Goes To Hilltop
So this one is mostly a similarity between the book and the show, but contains a few key differences. In the comic, Maggie and Glenn decide that they will be breaking apart from Alexandria and living at the Hilltop (with Carol's daughter Sophia, who they've adopted) in time for their baby to be born. The doctor at the Hilltop, Dr. Carson, has had experience delivering babies in the post-apocalyptic world, and it was decided that his experience would be a great benefit.
In the show, Maggie and Glenn are still trying to get to the Hilltop, but out of medical necessity. Something has gone wrong in Maggie's pregnancy, and she is rapidly deteriorating. Rick and company are driving them to the Hilltop in order to get medical attention (as Denise, Alexandria's resident doctor, is no longer among the living).
Once Negan leaves in the books, Maggie states she still wants to move, and Rick's group all escort her there (and tell Gregory about what had happened). In the show, it appears as though just Sasha will escort Maggie to the Hilltop so that Rick's group can head back to Alexandria.
8 Dropping the F-Bomb
Colorful character that he is, Negan has a choice command of the English language, and a proclivity for some very particular words. In the comics, Negan swears up a storm to a superhuman degree that we're unsure has ever been achieved by a person in everyday conversation. In fact, in the sixteen pages he appears in in issue 100 (his first appearance in the comics), he manages to use the F-Word a remarkable 41 times. For you amateur statisticians out there, that's a rate of over 2.5 F's per page over 16 pages. There is a point where he says it 4 times in a row (in different variations) in the same sentence! That's a lot of f-ing being done.
How many times does Negan use the word in the season premiere (or finale of Season 6, for that matter)? Zero. Zero times. Not once does he use the F-Word. That's not to say he doesn't swear; not by a long shot. TV's Negan is still just as salty, but the edgiest his word usage gets is a word that starts with "s" and rhymes with "hit". And he uses it a lot, too, just not as much as the comics have him saying the other bad boy. It is worth noting that Negan's lines were also shot with the F-bombs attached, and the alternate take appears on the Season 6 DVD/Blu-Ray release.
7 Daryl Gets Drafted
It is tough to put the blame on any of Rick's group for the events that transpired at the hand of Negan and the Saviors. It is likely, though, that only one of their group would have been killed in the premiere if everyone has followed the rules. Unfortunately for the group, Daryl's hot-headed lone wolf nature got the best of him after Abraham was beaten to death by Negan. Daryl broke away from his captors in order to land a fierce punch on the jaw of Negan. In retaliation for the strike, of course, Negan picked out, and promptly murdered, Glenn.
Impressed by the gumption Daryl possessed, Negan ordered his men to throw Daryl into one of their vans to add to him to Negan's army. Negan proclaims to Rick in that moment that Daryl belongs to him, echoing an earlier conversation in which Negan essentially says that everything Rick and co. have is now his property. In the comics, Daryl doesn't exist; so that's a pretty big difference right there. Moreover, nobody strikes out at Negan to force him to claim a second victim. Furthermore, Negan does not forcefully recruit a member of Rick's party. This element of the story belongs solely to the television show, and it will be an interesting little wrinkle from here on out (and may well portend an entirely different fate for television Dwight).
Grief takes many forms, and both the show and the comic help to illustrate that point. After Negan has finished making a puree out of Glenn in the comic book, the group mourns silently while the Saviors make their exit. When they've left, Rick lets out a little statement of disbelief, at which point Maggie gets up and starts wailing on Rick, accusing him of cowardice. To stop the beating, Carl pulls a gun on Maggie and tells her to quit it. Fearing for Maggie's safety, Sophia jumps into the fray and bites Carls arm, and is subsequently restrained by Heath. After that heated exchange, they get about to the business of gathering up Glenn's remains and getting to where they need to go.
In the television show, everyone is distraught. Through tears and sobs, there is a discussion between Maggie and some of the rest of the group about getting Glenn scooped up, where everyone stays polite and insists that Maggie should not be left to do it alone. Carl comes over and gives her a hug. Sasha goes to Rosita and informs her that she will help with Abraham's remains, and Eugene helps them in picking his body (or what's left of it) up.
5 What They Said
Scott Gimple wrote the season premiere, and did a bang-up job (pun intended) keeping the level of menace and unsettling humor relatively the same as in the books. Negan's character is slightly different from the books to the show, as the television show Negan is seemingly more subdued and more willing to let his actions do his talking for him than his comic book counterpart (if you can believe that). Comic book Negan was something of a revelation for what villains could be like, and Robert Kirkman made him brash and brazen and completely unhinged in a terrifyingly-hinged sort of way. There is a logic to what the villain does, and it appears as though Negan is the funniest man in the world, if only to himself.
Since Kirkman laid much of the groundwork for Negan's character, a good deal of the writing was taken directly from the book (or at least slightly modified in order to avoid any F-Words). Some of the more memorable bits that came directly from the books are Negan's crack (again, pun intended) about Lucille being a 'vampire bat', and his words to his batting practice victims regarding 'taking it like a champ' and being 'still in there' and eyeballs being 'popped out'. On top of toning down the language slightly, Negan did have to divide up his comments between Abraham and Glenn for the show (we'll dive into that in a bit). The "suck my nuts" bit, though? All Gimple.
In both the comics and the show, Rick threatens Negan with an ominous promise to one day kill him. In the comic books, Negan bombastically calls him out in front of everyone and lets Rick know that our hero's best chance for killing him would be to pick up an ax or knife and do it right then and there. Of course he follows that up by telling Rick that if that happened both he and his group would be killed much more harshly than Glenn just was. Negan then goes on to tell Rick that if he still needs to be "broken", that he could have some of the Saviors "run a train" on Carl (kids, please don't ask your parents what that means).
Television Negan handles things a bit differently. TV Negan drags Rick up and into the RV Rick had been driving and proceeds to drive off with him... and an ax. In the RV, Negan makes his intentions more clear, attempting to make sure Rick knows who's in charge. Driving toward a fog-covered zombie horde, Negan throws the ax out into the fog and forces Rick to play fetch with it. No road trip and no ax in the books. And as for how Negan breaks Rick...
3 A Farewell to arms?
Negan goes to great lengths in the season premiere to cement in the minds of our heroes that he is now very much in charge, but even after the Lucille-ing and joyriding, TV's newest big bad still isn't convinced that Rick gets the picture.
He takes the ax that Rick recovered from the zombie horde and menacingly cleans it with rubbing alcohol and a rag while talking to Rick, before driving back to the group. Negan has his Saviors train a gun on everyone's head except for Rick, calls young Carl over, and informs Rick that if he doesn't use the ax to cut off his own son's arm, he'll kill everyone. At the last moment, Negan stops Rick, proclaiming him a broken man.
While completely twisted and brutal, it provides a very interesting play on the expectations of any Walking Dead viewer who knows the comics. A longstanding difference between the comics and the show is that The Governor, early in the books, cuts off Rick's hand. By forcing all that interaction between Negan and Rick and an ax, it seemed at multiple points as though Negan would be making TV Rick match comic Rick literally limb for limb. Thankfully, enough blood had been shed for one episode, and the Grimes boys were left intact. For now.
2 Abraham: A Bat for a Bow
Comic book Abraham never had the (mis?)fortune of being held hostage by the Saviors. In the comics, Abraham died the way that the show killed off Denise: shot through the back of the head mid-speech by Dwight with an arrow (in the show, it was by Daryl's own crossbow). Denise, in the books, died from a zombie bite that she refused to treat because she preferred to treat her boyfriend Heath's wounds (yes, Denise was dating Heath and not Tara in the comics [also there is no Tara in the comics]).
Television Abraham steals a line from Negan meant for Glenn, in which Negan proclaims everyone's favorite red head to have taken a bat to the dome "like a champ". Abraham, head bleeding, tells Negan to suck his nuts -- a very fitting ending for the character. Abraham being turned into a bloody pulp by Lucille likely was used as a way of psyching out the viewers that would find Abraham's death a cop-out of sorts (as his character wasn't from the original core and was a tad on the redundant side with tough man Daryl still around to play commando). While truly sad, the apparent return to the status quo was a terrific way of setting up the other tragedy, throwing those in the comic know off the scent.
1 Poor, poor Glenn
Glenn Rhee really had the best of times and the worst of times after the zombies took over. He found true love with Maggie and learned that he would become a father. But he also was beaten to death in front of his pregnant wife by a baseball bat, so there's that. Glenn's death was absolutely devastating in the comic books, and was wholly unexpected (he seemed to be an untouchable). Helping fuel that feeling, Robert Kirkman himself had Negan exclude Glenn from the possibility of execution by having the villain proclaim that he didn't want to come off as being racist. That didn't stop him of course, because the former pizza boy ends up biting the big one after Negan's rousing rendition of 'Eeny Meeny' determined the victim.
After the teased "is he/isn't he" death at the hands of the frustratingly incompetent Nicholas, it appeared Glenn's life would be spared by fan sentiment. When Abraham was given the batting cage treatment, we thought that he might just be safe from Lucille's wrath after all.
Even though some of us might have been upset that a character as beloved as Glenn wasn't being taken away from us and therefore paying off that Season 6 cliffhanger (fans of The Walking Dead can be real emotional masochists sometimes), we were relieved when it appeared he'd live to see the birth of his child. Then Daryl had to jump up and pop Negan in the mouth. The deaths of Abraham and Glen are sure to have a profound effect on all of the survivors in this season and the ones to follow, and while the show made some significant departures from the source material, they both end up in what is pretty much the same (absolutely horrifying) place.
What did you think of the premiere? Would you really have preferred to see Abraham and Glen bite it seconds before Season 6 faded to black? Sound off in the comments.
The Walking Dead Season 7 continues next Sunday at 9pm on AMC.