Unless you live under a rock, by now you’ve all seen the Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead. Unless you were born without a heart, you’ve also probably had at least a dozen emotional breakdowns over the last 72 hours. You’re not alone. I have to stop myself from crying at the mere mention of Glenn’s name. (Sorry, Abe. Your absence and lack of wisecracks will be just as heavily felt, but I just can’t imagine the Walker-World without Glenn’s endlessly generous heart.) That said, it’s time to address the zombie in the room.
Since the premiere, there’s been a whole lot of “fans” who claim they’re quitting TWD after this week. While I will be the first to agree this was by far the hardest, most traumatic hour of television in the history of television (GoT’s “Red Wedding” included. Your move, Martin), I don’t believe anyone who says they had no idea this episode was going to be so brutal. Any true fan of TWD has at least done some research/read into the graphic novels and has known for years now what they were in for with Negan and his savage band of Saviors. So why the scandalized attitudes?
Before I go on, I wouldn’t be doing my job as an unbiased viewer if I didn’t take the time to analyze the new dynamics of the show. For the last six years, we’ve watched TWD from the side of Rick Grimes. We’ve stood by our fearless leader of the apocalypse as he’s had to make one impossible choice after another, as he’s continued to find security for his people, then gotten his people into trouble, even after he bit that guy’s ear off (which was totally awesome, by the way). But the further the show progresses, the more I find myself asking, “Can Rick really be considered a hero?”
Don’t get me wrong, the whole point of the zombie apocalypse is to buck up and put who you once were behind you. Saps don’t survive. I get that. But what about when Rick assassinated an entire town of people without any instigation. Yes, he thought he was doing what was right by helping another town of strangers. We all know it was a mistake, though. Just think, if Mr. Grimes had minded his own business, we would still have Glenn, Abe, Denise, and countless other people. So thanks, Rick. This brings me to the group’s fateful encounter with Negan. As much as I hate what the leader of the Savior’s did Sunday, I honestly can’t say I blame him. Furthermore, when you compare how many men Rick killed versus the two Negan killed, homeboy actually let them off easy. (Forgive me, Glenn and Abe.) What’s worse is that Negan truly believes he’s the one who’s been wronged. This sole dynamic between cat and mouse makes for a hell of a season. Now, back to what I was saying earlier.
To add to the ridiculousness of people’s reactions, apparently the Parents Television Council has recently spoken on the matter by voicing their distress regarding the violence of Sunday’s episode. Um, what? Where was it ever stated that TWD was a show for children? At the very least, if you don’t have the foresight to make your kid cover their eyes or leave the room when you know someone is about to get their skull bashed in, then what what are you even doing with your life?
My favorite feedback since the premiere has come from those who don’t even watch the show, the people who have been asking why people like me watch a show that clearly causes misery. To be fair, I was asking myself the same thing as I covered my mouth while two of the show’s most beloved characters literally bit the dust the other night. But then I stayed up for the exclusive clip for next week’s episode, which I fully intend to watch, because I apparently love to torture myself.
The bottom line is this: The Walking Dead is a show notorious for crossing the line. It’s violent, gory, mature, and all-around depressing. But I, like any other lover of the zombie-genre, knew all of that going in. This isn’t a show one watches to feel good about life. This is a show we watch when we need to be reminded that things could always be worse. You just lost your job? At least your wife didn’t die giving birth in the middle of a walker attack. Your relationship just ended? At least your father wasn’t decapitated at the hands of a severely misguided, one-eyed dictator. (Do you see where I’m going with this?) THAT SAID, the beauty of TWD lies in the rare instances when something good actually happens to Rick or Carol or Daryl. It’s the purest feeling of joy in the world. (Maybe this makes me sound lame, but I don’t care.)
Fans like me have spent six years watching this show, of suffering through all the (many) moments of horror and sadness, because at the end of the day we’re all rooting for these fictional people’s happiness. We watch TWD to be reminded that no matter how bleak things get, there’s always a small ray of light waiting for us at the end of the tunnel. Though fundamentally a show about the undead, TWD is actually at its core a show about the living. It’s about seeing how hard times can change a person, for better or for worse. Regardless of what the critics say, TWD will forever be one of the most brilliant shows ever to grace cable television simply because of its ability to reflect the essence of who we are. At the end of the day, The Walking Dead reminds us what it is to be human. That’s why we continue to put our emotional stability on line for the sake of a TV show.