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[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the season seven premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” as well as the comic book series it is based on.]
AMC’s The Walking Dead pulled a massively violent one-two punch during Sunday’s season seven premiere.
Months after the polarizing season six finale, the zombie drama based on Robert Kirkman’s comics killed off not one but two series regulars during the episode. Exiting the zombie drama are Steven Yeun (Glenn Rhee), one of the show’s remaining original stars, and fellow fan favorite Michael Cudlitz (Abraham Ford). (Glenn and Abraham ranked as the two characters most likely to die in a THR analysis following the season six finale. Glenn and Abraham also ranked first and second, respectively, in a THR reader poll.)
Glenn’s death and Yeun’s departure had been wildly anticipated. Yeun, sources told THR, had only a one-year deal that covered season six. Additionally, Glenn’s death at the hands of Negan largely mirrored the events of the landmark 100th issue of the comics in which the new villain uses Lucille, a bat covered in barbed wire, to savagely beat and shatter his skull as his friends and family look on.
That The Walking Dead — which typically takes a remix approach to the source material under showrunner Scott M. Gimple — would kill off Glenn comes as the pre-apocalypse pizza delivery guy was finally forced to kill in the new world. In six seasons, Glenn had a strict moral code and refused to kill another living human. (Walkers, however, were fair game.) Last season, faced with the rising threat of Negan’s dastardly Saviors, Glenn was forced to finally kill when Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) group attacked the Savior compound in an effort to quash the threat. Glenn’s death in the season seven opener — which came when Negan killed him to prove a point to Daryl (Norman Reedus) following his outburst — shows the price the married father-to-be had to pay for his actions.
Glenn’s death also comes after the AMC series had repeatedly planted seeds indicating that the character would be killed via Negan and Lucille. Season six put Glenn at death’s door multiple times, with the critically panned “dumpster episode” resulting in Yeun’s name being subsequently removed from the opening credits. Other close calls included when Noah sacrificed himself to save Glenn in the revolving door of death scene, and the midseason premiere when Abraham saved Glenn from death by walkers when his back was against Alexandria’s walls as he attempted to pull the undead away from his pregnant wife, Maggie (Lauren Cohan). In perhaps the biggest nod to the moment, the season five opener nearly saw a guy at Terminus bash Glenn’s head in with, yup, a baseball bat.
Abraham’s death, meanwhile, comes after Cudlitz’s character barely outlived his comic book counterpart. The former military hero was killed first in Sunday’s episode, the result of Negan’s “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” line that he delivers in the comics before landing on Glenn. Instead, the AMC series had Negan land on Abraham, who in the season six finale had volunteered to take one for the team. His death arrives as the character last season turned a new page — one filled with hope for a family, perhaps with Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). The loss of the character, who in the comics was Rick’s right-hand man but never really seemed to find a place to fit in on the AMC series given Daryl’s existence, will impact Sasha, former girlfriend Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt), the latter of whom learned how to protect himself thanks to Abraham.
On the page, Abraham was killed in The Walking Dead #98 when he was shot through the eye with an arrow — the same way the AMC series killed Merritt Wever’s Denise in season six. In the comics, it was Dwight — the reluctant member of Negan’s Saviors — who murdered Abraham. (Dwight was also responsible for Denise’s death on the series.)
“It’s more pressure than we’ve ever felt,” exec producer Kirkman told THR of needing to remix the events of the comics. “We are changing things here and there as we always have done. To a certain extent, we’re staying the course.”
That both Glenn and Abraham would be killed off together comes as Abraham was inspired to start his own family in the new world after seeing Glenn care for pregnant wife Maggie. It sends another tough message to Sasha, who has now lost two romantic partners in Abraham and Bob.
Their deaths leave nine survivors who are now faced with Negan’s regular visits to the Alexandria Safe Zone, where he expects to take half of their supplies. Left to contend with the charismatic killer are Rick, Michonne (Danai Gurira), Daryl (taken hostage by the Saviors), Rosita, Carl (Chandler Riggs), Maggie, Aaron (Ross Marquand), Eugene and Sasha.
Season seven finds The Walking Dead opening with its largest cast to date, with 21 series regulars. With Yeun and Cudlitz now gone, the tally is up one from the top of season six and still an all-time high. The big roster comes as The Walking Dead is set to feature its most sprawling season yet as it branches off into four different communities: Alexandria with Rick’s group; Negan’s Saviors; Gregory’s (new series regular Xander Berkeley) Hilltop community; and Ezekiel’s (new regular Khary Payton) so-called Kingdom.
“Season seven as a whole will have so many new environments, so many new characters and so many new scenarios that it will almost seem like season one of an entirely different show,” Kirkman told THR ahead of the premiere.
Stay tuned to THR.com/WalkingDead for complete coverage, including interviews, analysis and theories. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. What did you think of the premiere? Share your thoughts (and questions for the cast and producers) in the comments section below.
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