"Who did Negan kill?" For over six months, that's been the only question on The Walking Dead fans' lips. And now we know. The Season 7 premiere "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" has aired, the crying has begun, and half of everything we have belongs to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), if you consider your emotions "things you have."
But the central death scene in the episode (and yes, they did show off who was on the receiving end of Lucille, Negan's deadly baseball bat) is just the beginning of a much larger story. So who lived? Who died? Who told their story?
Let's break down all the big moments on this week's The Walking Dead:
Massive, massive spoilers for The Walking Dead past this point. You probably should have known that already, since you clicked into a Walking Dead recap, but in case something bizarre happened, I'm giving you one last chance to get out of Dodge.
Are We Out of the Woods?
Let's start where we kind of knew we were going to start: after Negan had already killed the Season 6 finale victim, with that Season 7 sneak peek that got released. But just to review the lineup, in case your memory is foggy, here's who was in the clearing, threatened with death: Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln); Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs); Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun); Aaron (Ross Marquand); Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus); Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan); Michonne (Danai Gurira); Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green); Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz); Rosita Espinosa (Christian Serratos); and Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt).
Instead of immediately showing the act (more on that in a minute), we see the aftermath, as Rick, shaking and enraged, does his best Casablanca impression by telling Negan he'll kill him for this — maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, someday soon. Negan, of course, is like "cool beans" and lets Rick go.
Just kidding. Strongly suggesting he'll be cutting off Rick's hand (he doesn't, by the way), Negan drags Rick, an ax ("a... hatchet?") and Lucille into his RV, and locks the door.
Dragged into the RV, Negan slams the axe into his table, tries to start the engine... And can't. So instead he challenges Rick. "Keep acting tough, go ahead. Grab the damn ax," Negan taunts Rick. Rick grabs it, Negan pulls out a gun and beats up Rick. What's most interesting about this scene — and what it's setting up — is that Rick may have been mentally defeated by Negan, but he still needs to be broken.
And he's starting to break, flashing back through his memories of the group before someone(s) died. Rick is starting to feel the weight of what he's caused. Negan seems to make a mistake, though, throwing Rick's ax into a mist-filled road infested with walkers. Rick has experience escaping walkers on top of RVs, and the break allows him time to get perspective on what's happened, both literally and figuratively.
It allows him to think about what's occurred, clear away the mist and pause. For Mr. Grimes, this is a good and bad thing. After being driven to the edge in the Season 6 finale, he hasn't had a moment to rest. This is his moment to crumble privately. But Negan is still there. He taunts Rick more, saying he knows Rick thought his makeshift family would be together forever, "Sitting around the table at Sunday dinner, living happily every after. Think about what happened." #FORESHADOWING
And then it happens. Rick flashes back to the scene, from his perspective and we finally get to see who Negan killed. It's Abraham, as Negan beats him over and over. Abraham gets in one last amazing line though, telling Negan to, "suck my nuts."
I'll say this: versus the comic, which showed Glenn looking stunned as one eyeball hung out, Abraham's death was relatively tame. It was still gross, as Negan smashed Abraham's head to smithereens, but could have been worse? (Yes, read on.)
If anything, it was emotionally worse (sorta), with Negan waving his bloody bat in Rosita's face. It was certainly enough to motivate Daryl to run at Negan and punch him in the face. Negan decides not to kill Daryl — even though Dwight (Austin Amelio) wants to — and that's when the other bat drops.
In order to prove he still means business, Negan whacks Glenn in the head. That's when we get the exact scene, nearly beat for beat, from the comic and it. Is. Horrifying. Glenn hangs there for what feels like forever, his eyeball hanging out as Negan talks to him, and the rest of the group. Negan laments he has to do this, but he has to do it anyway, so he kills Glenn.
Look, I've seen a lot of gore in my life (in movies, and on TV). I've even read this exact scene in comics, and seen it posted everywhere on the internet. But seeing it live, with a nice guy like Steven Yeun on the receiving end... it was a lot to deal with. Abraham was a punch in the gut, but Glenn was over the top. We know Negan means business. We understand that. We appreciate that. And we've had months to deal with the idea that someone — or ones — would die. But seeing it?
I'll leave it up to the fans to decide whether it was necessary. For me? I'm just glad we're finally past it, and can move on with the rest of the plot.
Axe Me No Questions
So what is that rest of the plot? Zombie insanity, for a bit. Rick is still on the RV's roof where Negan is demanding he give him the ax back. Rick jumps for a walker hanging from a bridge, and as he fights his way through the herd of walkers, he flashes on every member of the group getting Negan's bat — proving (I'd guess) those rumors that they filmed 11 death scenes — using the visions to motivate him to bring the ax back to Negan. Also that he doesn't want to die in a herd of walkers, that might be another motivation.
Speaking of motivation, what exactly is Negan's motivation for spending so much time with Rick? He's proven dominance by killing two of his group. He's worn him down by throwing him into a herd of walkers. He's taunted him, beaten him. What does he want?
Correction: we know what he wants, to get Rick to lead his group into giving Negan half of everything they own. But why spend so much time breaking the leader of the group? Is it that Negan thinks if the leader crumbles, so will the rest? That probably worked with Gregory (Xander Berkeley) over at the Hilltop, and it may have worked with other strongholds (in fact, I'd bet on it), so that may be the reasoning here. But why doesn't Negan just kill Rick, and move on to the next guy?
And perhaps, that hubris is his weak spot. His over reliance on proving himself top dog might mean that when the day comes, he'll underestimate the underdog.
I'll Tell You No Lies
But just kidding, because The Walking Dead is nothing if not explanatory. Negan immediately tells Rick what he was doing: "That trick was about the way you looked at me. I wanted to change that. I wanted you to understand. And you still look at me the same damn way."
So it's back to the lineup, where the rest of the group is still huddled and broken; Abraham and Glenn's bodies lying on the floor. Negan puts guns to the back of everyone's heads, and brings over Carl. He makes a deal with Rick: cut off Carl's arm, and he'll spare everyone else.
Michonne begs Negan to stop, but he — correctly — keeps with it, because he knows everyone else "gets it," but Rick still doesn't. And as Negan starts to count, Rick breaks. Snot pours from his nose. He screams. "Just do it," Carl whispers. Rick raises the ax.
And Negan was just kidding. "You belong to me," Negan spits in Rick's face. And Rick, with a look, agrees. "That... was the look I wanted to see," Negan says, and then speechifies to the rest, welcoming them to a "brand new beginning."
He kidnaps Daryl, tells the group he'll back in a week, and "that's it."
Oh, is THAT IT? Just KILLING TWO PEOPLE, and TRICKING A MAN INTO CUTTING OFF HIS SON'S ARM? COOL, DUDE, THANKS FOR A GREAT NIGHT HANGING OUT TOGETHER.
But more seriously, what's most curious about this is the structure of the episode... We started tight on Rick and Negan, and rather than ending there — with Negan leaving the group — we still had a few minutes more.
The Fighting Maggies
Those last few minutes are crucial, though, because Maggie steps up in a big way. She tells the group she's going to fight — even though a minute before she had been kneeling on the ground, dying from The Baby Sickness. And Sasha steps up too, telling the group she'll stick with Maggie, and mends fences with Rosita.
What we're seeing is that Rick might be defeated, but as we mentioned earlier, Negan's mistake is that there was more than one leader in the group. Last season, the last Greene was building herself up for a time when Rick would no longer be in charge. That time is now, and Maggie is going to have to be the one to rally the group against Negan.
What will happen to Rick, and whose side he'll fall on? We'll have to stay tuned to find out.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.