‘The Walking Dead’ 7.01 Recap: “Welcome to a Brand New Beginning”

Following a controversial cliffhanger that enraged half of the show’s fan base, ‘The Walking Dead’ returns for its seventh season with a premiere episode that seems almost willfully designed to drive away viewers.

Season 6 of course ended with new villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) introducing himself by killing one of the show’s main characters. The identity of the victim was left a secret. Even though cliffhanger endings like this have been a time-honored tradition on television since a mystery assassin shot J.R. Ewing in March of 1980, and ‘The Walking Dead’ closed previous seasons similarly, fans of the show absolutely lost their freakin’ minds over this, demanding immediate answers and calling for show-runner Scott M. Gimple’s head on a pike. Even our ‘Walking Dead’ recapper Shannon threw his hands in the air and swore never to watch again.

The season premiere answers the cliffhanger but waits a good 15 minutes to do so, seemingly just to toy with viewers. The only thing we’re told immediately is that Rick is still alive. When he defiantly vows to kill Negan, the latter finds that attitude unacceptable. He drags Rick to the camper and drives it some distance away into the middle of a horde of zombies. He taunts Rick by leaving an axe within his reach and daring him to pick it up, then plays a game where he tosses the axe onto the camper’s roof and throws Rick out the door, ordering him to fetch the weapon and bring it back. Throughout, the episode teases us with quick flashback glimpses suggesting that any other character could be dead.

Finally, after an interminable wait, an extended flashback reveals that Negan murdered the hulking Sgt. Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz). When the first bash with the bat wrapped in barbed wire fails to knock him out, a bloodied Abraham snears, “Suck my nuts!” – a perfect Abraham-ism for the character’s last words. In graphic detail, we see Negan repeatedly club Abraham’s head again and again, laughing and joking about it the whole time, continuing long after his skull is crushed in and Abraham is decidedly dead.

I called this early on. (See my comments to the Season 6 finale recap.) Abraham was the most logical victim. As the most physically intimidating member of the group, he was the best person for Negan to make an example out of. At the same time, of the group of core characters, he was fairly expendable. Last season made a point of wrapping up most of his storylines. I didn’t find his death surprising at all.

Much more shocking is what happens next. Furious about Abraham’s death, Daryl jumps to his feet and punches Negan in the face. Negan’s men drag him off. Negan is displeased and declares that he needs to set another example. Rather than kill Daryl, he smashes his bat down onto Glenn’s head.

As with Abraham, the first hit doesn’t kill him. With part of his skull caved in and one eye popped out (yes, we see it all), Glenn mutters something unintelligible, then turns to Maggie and promises, “I will find you” (in the next life, presumably). Negan hits him again and again and again and again until his head is completely pulverized.

Back to the camper, Rick scrambles to the roof and retrieves the axe. He fights off the zombies (a gag where one hanging off a bridge from a noose is ripped in half is the “fun” type of gore we usually enjoy in this show) and finally, defeated, hands the axe back to Negan. All the while, he has fantasies of Negan beating the rest of his friends to death if he doesn’t comply. (This must allow the show’s producers to use all the fake-out death footage they shot to throw fans off.)

Negan and Rick return to the others, but Negan says that he still doesn’t like the look in Rick’s eyes. He isn’t convinced that Rick is completely broken yet. To make that happen, he orders his men to put guns to everyone else’s heads, then calls Carl over, makes him lie on the ground, and draws a line across his left arm. He commands Rick to take the axe and cut off his own son’s arm. If he doesn’t do it, Negan will kill everyone else and make him watch.

The badly shaken Rick cries and begs. He offers his own arm instead (a fan-service reference to the fact that Rick is missing a hand in the comics). Negan isn’t swayed. He begins a countdown. Carl tells his dad to do it. In total distress, Rick picks up the axe and prepares to swing when Negan stops him. He’s convinced now. He tells Rick, “You belong to me,” and allows Carl to go free. He then has his men toss Daryl in a van and says that he’ll be held as collateral. If anyone from Rick’s group disobeys or misbehaves, he’ll cut off pieces of Daryl and send them to Alexandria.

Negan and his people then quickly pack up their things and depart, leaving Rick’s group with a truck to return home in. Shell-shocked, the characters all sit silently for a moment processing what happened. Maggie stands up, vowing to fight. The others try to talk some sense into her. She tells them to take the truck and go back to Alexandria. She’ll walk to the Hilltop alone. (The only reason any of them left Alexandria in the first place was to get Maggie to the Hilltop’s doctor.) Sasha insists on going with her. The others promise to bury Glenn and Abraham.

The episode ends with a fantasy dream of the happy ending these characters will never get. On a sunny afternoon, everyone gathers around a picnic table for a meal. Glenn sits at the head holding the son he’ll never meet, with Abraham right beside them. In reality, Rick gets into the camper and drives it away (why did Negan need to leave them with a truck?). In the rearview mirror, he sees a zombie stumble out of the woods and crawl over to the spot where either Glenn or Abraham died, and begin feasting on the bits of gore left behind.

Episode Verdict

This is a very difficult episode to watch. Even by ‘Walking Dead’ standards, it’s unrelentingly grim and disturbing. We’ve seen these characters in bad situations before – we’ve even seen them feeling broken and despondent before – but nothing like this. The show doesn’t just kill off a couple of important characters here; it shoves their deaths in viewers’ faces, locking the camera’s unblinking gaze on people we care about as they’re savagely, gruesomely murdered in just about the most horrific way possible. And it doesn’t just do this at the beginning and then move on to set up the rest of the season’s story. The premiere spends an entire hour dwelling on every detail of their deaths.

I honestly don’t know how I feel about this. Unlike many of the show’s vocal fans, I wasn’t upset by last season’s cliffhanger and I thought the reaction against it was kind of ridiculous. However, the premiere is extremely unpleasant to watch and leaves me questioning whether I really want to continue with the show anymore.

From a narrative perspective, I understand what the show-runners are trying to do here. Every season, they feel pressured to raise the stakes for the characters higher and higher. These people have survived some of the worst the apocalypse could throw at them. As a writer, how do you keep topping yourself? How do you establish dramatic tension when you’ve set a precedent that some characters are essentially unkillable and undefeatable? I totally get that.

Nonetheless, I think the show has gone too far. This episode has almost no sense of entertainment. It’s pure torture porn, elevated to an especially disturbing level because we actually care about these characters and can’t simply detach ourselves from their fates, like we might the anonymous dipshit victims in a ‘Saw’ or ‘Hostel’ movie. Watching a beloved character like Glenn (Steven Yeun) die like this goes beyond simple suspense or even tragedy. Frankly, it’s sickening.

Killing off Glenn here is also aggravated by how badly his bullshit fake-out death in the middle of last season was handled. For him to survive that only to die here feels like a direct insult to fans. Some may argue that the character died at this spot in the comics, but the show frequently diverges from the comics. This shouldn’t have been his time to go.


  1. Kraig McGann

    Dear Mr. Zyber Thank you for the excellent Recap and “Verdict.” I had almost the exact thoughts and feelings. The only thing that I could not disagree with more is questioning whether to continue with the show anymore after a single episode of an arc driven show. THE WALKING DEAD has been, IMO, by far, the Best Show on Television since its debut and the Comic is still leaving me awestruck. I thought the Premiere of Season 6 was weak, but the Season was terrific. I think the show has deserved waiting for the end of the season to decide on continuing to watch or not.

  2. Les

    Remember, as I recall, after the Glenn Dumpster ordeal, it took several episodes to even find out whether or not Glenn even survived. Waiting 15 mins. to find out who died, oh yeah, who dies, really wasn’t a problem for me. Now if it would have taken (2) or (3) episodes (I don’t remember) like the Glenn Dumpster to find out who died(s), then everyone would deserve to be ticked off. I admit I did not expect for Glenn to bite the big one, although, maybe his death now makes up for the stupid Glenn Dumpster episode. He shouldn’t have survived that one. I mean, is there really a dumpster that allows people to crawl under it? I guess I have never seen one. Of course, I think I figured if Glenn could live through the Dumpster, he would never die.

    Admittedly, this episode was graphic and brutal. We are used to seeing zombies go out like this but not our main characters. Maybe they wanted to us to really hate Negan and want to be there the day/season that Negan goes down, assuming he does at some point. Anyway, I am in for the season as I have been since S1. It is still, in my opinion, one the best shows on TV.

    Of course, the entire scenario from late last season that got our main characters in this situation to begin with seemed lame to me with our main experienced characters making all kinds of stupid decisions which ended with most of them getting caught by Negans bunch. I mean someone was actually able to sneak up on Daryl in the woods who is supposed to be a fantastic hunter/tracker. TWD is still way better TV than FTWD or pretty much anything else for that matter to me.

  3. Chris B

    I agree with your review, gross episode for a show that’s been getting grosser for the last few seasons. It reminded of me of how revolted I felt watching that Terminus scene from a season or two back when the bad guys were hitting people with a baseball bat and slitting their throats while they were kneeling in front of a bathtub for all the blood to drain into. Except this time the repulsion lasted almost the whole episode.

    To me TWD has de-volved into nihilistic, gore-porn. Just a “feel-bad” weekly episode of TV. The fact that it’s so popular and not very many people take issue with or even seem affected by the extreme level of brutality kind of makes me concerned for society as a whole TBH.

    Also, the writing for Negan’s charcter seems rather lacking thus far. None of his rambling dialougue has been particularly memorable, clever or provided much of an insight into the character. He’s pretty one-dinensional at the moment. Hopefully as the season develops he becomes more interesting as opposed to just being the stock “evil leader” character. I probably wouldn’t bother continuing with the show but my wife feels compelled to stick with it and I’m sort of indifferent. I’ll probably end up seeing the whole season, and I’m sure there are plenty more gross-outs to come.

  4. spockzombie

    This episode was extremely hard to watch even knowing from the comic how brutal it was going to be. It served as a wake-up call for not only the characters in the show that their world is so much more complex than what they’ve encountered, but for fans as well. There is so much more story yet to tell, and this episode will bring the show to in whole new direction that, to be frank, is sorely needed. I’m looking forward to seeing where the show goes from here now that the group has lost their undeserved sense of superiority.

  5. Eric

    I have struggled to continue and watch this show for a while because of the blatantly obvious bad choices that nobody in that crew would make after living this long in a zombie apocalypse world. The show seems to love leaving you hanging so you feel like you have to tune in next week. I am also still a fan of the show but I just wish that it would not use cheap stuff like cliff hanger endings. On the outlook for season 7 the first episode is very hard to watch and as I think of it I think of how I felt when I read about these parts in the comic and it really was difficult in the comic as well so for people to say it was brutal I agree that they maybe went a little far but I think that it needed to be something that you think about for a while after but I do think toning it down would have been a better choice. Looking forward to seeing what the rest of the season will turn out like I just hope that on seasons end they don’t leave us hanging so much.

  6. eric

    Loved the episode. Was worried that they were going to drag out the reveal for an episode or two but they got right to it and did it in a way that really ratcheted up the suspense. I was stressed during the entire episode. I was worried Negan was going to cut ricks hand or arm off when he was in the motor home. I like he methodically broke Rick down through out the episode. Rick will be a weaker man for this and may never recover 100%.

    The killing of Abraham was brutal and made sense, he was the biggest guy there and one could easily assume he was Ricks right hand man. Abraham took it like a champ and went out being classic Abraham. It was nasty and gross but amazing.

    The killing of Glenn was incredible. It was a surprised and unexpected. As soon as that happened nobody felt safe anymore. Anything could happen at this point.

    The whole scene with Carl and Rick was intense and crazy. I didn’t know what was going to happen.

    I was worried that even after Negan stopped Rick from cutting off Carls arm that he was going to do it anyway or instead cut off Ricks. This was heavy stuff and kept me on the edge of my seat. I was expecting another person to get killed, shot in the back of the head in this case

    This show of course could’ve killed of characters that are more popular or more beloved, but I think they got their point across without having to do that. I hope Daryl doesn’t disappear for the entire season, otherwise they should’ve just killed him. That was the most watched episode ever, so they did it right and really built up the tension over the summer.

  7. Joshua P. Christie

    You shouldn’t have given up on The Strain as it has quietly put together its strongest and most consistent season to date. The penultimate episode of Season 3 was a hell of a lot more fun than The Walking Dead premiere and wasn’t outdone by offing 2 of its main cast as well. Watching both of them back to back, it was clear that even with all of The Strain’s faults at times that The Walking Dead simply isn’t all that fun of a show anymore. To briefly touch on the Glenn fake out death which annoyed me as much as anyone, on the Talking Dead both Kirkman and Gimple said they had this double Negan death and the victims in mind for at least 2 seasons, if not slightly longer. This was to illustrate how far they plan these stories and season arcs in advance which is all well and good, but it begs the question why they would choose Glenn for the fake out death knowing he would die legitimately less than half a season later? They could have accomplished the same thing with a different character or not done it at all. Bottom line is it is stunt writing and you can only get away with that kind of thing once or twice in a series run. After the S7 premiere, the quota has been met so I guess we’ll see how long it is good for.

  8. Marc

    I’m done. The show has officially jumped the shark. It has been too pretentious for a while, and I had already lost most of my interest. This episode was so gruesome, I had no regrets about turning it off for good.

  9. dlh0310

    I’m done too. I’m not shy about gore or violence. But the best series rely on character-driven arcs. This episode does none of that, and does nothing to drive the story forward. But most disappointing is that Negan is far from an archetypical villian – the character is a cardboard caricature , a hack’s uninteresting idea for cheap, short-term sensationalism. If the makers of TWD wanted to make SAW 20, they should have named it as such. I’ve been insulted for the last time by the bottom-dwellers that are responsible for the new season. Good riddance.

    • Josh Zyber

      I didn’t make it that far in the comics, but assuming they maintained the same pace as early issues, I imagine that the events of this entire episode comprised two panels total.

  10. Charles M

    It’s not torture for fun if you feel bad about what’s happening to the character. Tarantino movies have more in common with that because he expects you enjoy the hero/villain killing everyone in the most gruesome way.

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