The night was dark and full of unease. As I walked briskly toward my destination, my mind was racing at the possibilities that pervaded the night: who would it be? The cold breeze mixed with the dim road lights of the townhouses lent a dramatic atmosphere that felt all too relevant to my situation. I arrived at my friends’ house with unabated expectation; anything could happen. I walked in, took my seat on the couch and we turned on the T.V. — only to hear the grim sounds of discordant violins decaying into a world driven by survival. “The Walking Dead” had begun.

Season seven of “The Walking Dead” premiered on Oct. 23 and the season opener was teased to much anticipation over the past several months. Fans were left with a maddening cliffhanger that capped off the sixth season, as the show’s main characters were left bound and helpless to the cruelty of the newly introduced villain, Negan.

The disturbingly charismatic psychopath decided to set an example to protagonist Rick Grimes by randomly choosing one of his friends to be the unlucky victim of a grisly death. Negan’s weapon of choice? A baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire called Lucille. The premiere had to live up to the unenviable task of deftly resolving last season’s cliffhanger and answering the one question that fans waited for months to know the answer to: who died?

The episode opens with a quick recap of the characters’ situation and then the story suddenly cut ahead to show the aftermath of Negan’s massacre. Grimes, with a look of shell-shocked horror, is then taken by Negan into an RV, and the rest of the episode follows their battle for emotional dominance.

The episode focuses primarily on making an already dark and depressing world even more cruel with the introduction of Negan. In many ways, it thematically explores the fragility of the human psyche, as Negan attempts to break the show’s hero down into a helpless follower through a series of mind games.

While the theme of the episode is particularly striking, the manner in which it is explored is too overwrought. It is not until 20 minutes into the episode that viewers even get to see which character fell to Negan’s bat, which was easily resolvable to greater impact during the ending of season six. The amount of time it has taken to reveal who died in this review, ironically enough, mirrors the agonizing wait that the showrunners of “The Walking Dead” put fans through over the course of the episode.

Halfway through the episode, Grimes recalls the terrifying scene, where Negan chooses Abraham Ford, a no nonsense ex-marine who joined Grimes’ group late in the show, to be the first victim. What follows is certainly disturbing to viewers not accustomed to the show’s gory depiction of violence. Negan swings his bat into Ford’s head and the camera looks away, leaving viewers to imagine the horrible image produced by the grisly sounds of Negan’s bat beating a human skull to a pulp.

However, in a shocking twist, Negan chooses another victim after being attacked in retaliation by Daryl Dixon. Instead of killing Dixon, Negan swings his bat into another show favorite, Glenn Rhee. In a brutal moment that recreates the traumatic scene from the comics, Rhee also meets a gory end as his pregnant wife, Maggie watches in the worst form of horror. After part of his head is caved in, Rhee senselessly mutters a string of final, broken words to his wife, effectively destroying the emotions of viewers. By the end of the scene, there is no form of happiness left in the show and the rest of the episode becomes senseless in its quest to break Grimes down even further.

“The Walking Dead” has followed a trend lately that emphasizes gimmicks over storytelling and while the strategy may occasionally be effective in manipulating the emotions of viewers, it sacrifices its overarching theme.

The show was always about a group of survivors that not only deal with the dangers of the living dead, but also a world that thrives off of uncertainty and cruelty from the remaining humans. Instead of continuing to develop characters, the show has focused on creating moments instead of stories. Fans will finally witness the long awaited scene following Negan’s introduction, but may feel empty afterwards as the show spends the remaining time toying with expectations and meandering in misery.

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--Junior| Opinion Editor -- Communications

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