We had to learn how to break Rick, showrunner Scott Gimple said on Talking Dead after the seventh season premiere of The Walking Dead. Everything that happened to Rick in the episode was in the comics, he continued, so for the show, “we had to figure out how to break the audience.”
In that respect, the return of The Walking Dead was a huge success. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has watched the series for six seasons and invested themselves in these characters who was not broken by the episode. Or devastated. Or angry. Or grossed out. Or completely over The Walking Dead. Not because of who died — but maybe that, too — but in how it was executed. For some fans, it was heartbreaking. For other fans, it was hard to feel heartbreak because it was so agonizing, so brutal, so repulsive. It’s hard to experience the loss of a television character when his eyeballs are popping out of his head.
It’s also difficult to grieve lost characters when the sadness is overwhelmed by the burning hatred we feel for another character. If the goal of the episode — beyond showing how broken Rick is now — was to make viewers hate Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character, Gimple and Co. again were wildly successful. In the episodes to come, we may warm up to Negan’s charms and he may someday show a human side, but for now? He’s the most despised character on all of television, not just because he killed Abraham and Glenn, but because he did it in such a vicious fashion. And then he put Rick through the psychological wringer, culminating in the moment when Rick was asked to — and nearly did — cut off his own son’s arm.
For many viewers, cutting off Carl’s arm in that fashion might have actually gone too far. For everyone else, I think The Walking Dead took us to the precipice and thankfully pulled back before it was too late. A lot of viewers threatened to quit The Walking Dead last night. If Rick had actually cut off Carl’s arm, many of them would have actually followed through on the threat.
Ultimately, I think the show wrote itself into a corner that was nearly impossible to escape with last season’s finale. With a cliffhanger that huge, The Walking Dead had to pay it off. They needed a big premiere. It wasn’t enough to kill Abraham. It wasn’t enough to kill Glenn. It wasn’t enough to break our hearts. They had to rip out our hearts and stomp on them until they were unrecognizable. They had to move us beyond “OH NO NO NO NO” and straight into “Oh GOD. Ew. I can’t look. That’s disgusting.” In that respect, The Walking Dead may have gone too far in simply robbing us of our moment of sadness. That said, this is the nature of the graphic novels. The comics are brutal and graphic, so kudos to AMC for not holding back
For the millions of viewers who will continue on this season, however, we have a few questions.