The Walking Dead Season 7 Premiere Review: Gut-Punching The Expectations

The Walking Dead Season 7 arrived with monumental expectations. The show had to deliver one of its best episodes after a summer in the spotlight. Capping the show's sixth season with the cliffhanger mystery of "Who did Negan kill?" left fans feeling anxious, betrayed, and hungry for blood - both from the characters and the The Walking Dead's writers.

All of those bitter fans returned for the show's Season 7 premiere on Sunday night, some giving it one last chance to redeem the moments which infuriated them six months ago. The Walking Dead did that and more. Showrunner Scott Gimple should be forgiven for the iconic mystery he created in April and instead should be targetted for the nonstop emotional roller coaster which pushed the boundaries of television for 66 minutes in his return.

The show didn't start with the kill every fan has been hungry for but it delivered what was probably the only satisfying alternative form of story telling. Negan taking Rick on a journey through a foggy land of terrors, both physically and mentally, was horrifying and wildly engaging. However, it was far from the most horrifying moment of the episode. The actual kills, revealed about 20 minutes into the premiere in a flashback format, took the boundaries of network television and shattered them. The execution of the episode (directed by executive producer Greg Nicotero) was nothing short of brilliant.

Despite months of fans digging for answers, comment section heroes swearing to have the spoilers, and a leak online (which turned out to be a mislead), no one would have been willing to bet their house on who Negan's victim(s) was. Sure, trolls insisted on telling you Abraham and Glenn were going to die but they were thrown for a loop when footage of Maggie getting her head bashed in surfaced online. It was a very impressive feat by AMC and the team to keep the spoilers home, for the most part, in an age where fans are constantly seeking for instant gratification.

Full spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 7 premiere follow.

In addition to the ultimate shock of seeing Negan's victims selected, the brutality of their kills took The Walking Dead's violence to gory new heights. Fans who wanted to see the Lucille beatdown were granted their wishes as Abraham lay dead in front of his closest friends, girlfriend, and ex-girlfriend until Glenn's comic book death was realized in the most visually accurate way imaginable. Both of the victims stayed true to their roots with the sendoffs, as well. Abraham delivered one last, "Suck my nuts," as Glenn uttered a promise to find Maggie as his eye bulged from his skull.

All the while, the best musical score The Walking Dead has featured since The Governor's eerie pulsing had broken hearts racing. It all culminated into the most emotional moments of The Walking Dead since Lori said farewell to her son while bringing new life into the world back in Season 3.

Let's not forget about the stunts in tonight's episode. Nicotero's prop and make-up crews served up some headsmashing violence with that baseball bat but also threw a handful of zombies into the mix during Rick and Negan's adventure. In a moment which had every viewers gasping for air, Rick leapt from the RV and grabbed on to a hanging zombie until its neck snapped and he fell into the pit. The stunt was flawless.

Not only were the visual effects, stunt and music departments putting in the impressive work to make sure the emotions were on point but the actors themselves were the real heroes tonight. The heartbreak in Lauren Cohan's Maggie was some of the most truly horrific heartbreak as the character dealt with her pregnancy complications and the loss of her husband all at once. Next to Cohan (literally, in terms of the line-up) was Rick actor Andrew Lincoln. The true terror delivered by Rick's broken voice, the tears, snot, and horror made the episode scarier than the brutality of the kills did.

However, the performance of the night award may just have to go to Jeffrey Dean Morgan for his spinechilling, yet somehow joyful portrayal of Negan. When was the last time any villain has instilled such fear in characters and audiences? Morgan was burdened with bringing a character known for coarse language and random acts of violence in Robert Kirkman's comics to live-action, FCC-approved life and, in fact, crafted something more terrifying. It wasn't just killing people which made him scary but the charismatic, yet never serious demeanor which followed - not to mention his true breaking of Rick Grimes with the whole "cut off Carl's arm" moment.

It's safe to say the cliffhanger has been forgiven.

The violence, however, may have gone a touch too far. In a time where most audiences have been desensitized to gory content by R-rated movies and M-rated video games, the AMC series managed to portray brutality to the harshest degree. Some might say the show went a step too far with its overly exposed beatdowns of Glenn and Abraham to start the season.

Looking ahead, The Walking Dead Season 7 premiere masterfully created the biggest gamechanger in the series history - possibly on all of television. Seven years into its run, over 80-episodes deep, the entire landscape of the show has changed. It's a theme cast members tease every single yet but has been maximized with the introduction of Negan. This year won't be more of the same. There won't be a villain who hates Rick and finds himself on the receiving end of his revolver's unloading. Rick will bow down. Alexandria will be oppressed and victimized.

MORE FROM THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 7 PREMIERE:

Kingdom Preview Released / Norman Reedus On Daryl's Guilt / Season 7 Premiere Recap (SPOILERS) / Who Is King Ezekiel / Where's Daryl Now? / Negan's Comic Book History / Twitter Reactions to Negan's Kill / Was the Premiere Too Violent?

The new hour introduced not only brand new threats but brand new dynamics between characters. Rick will constantly be dealing with the threat of Negan's Saviors for the next who-knows-how-long. More importantly, Daryl was the cause of Glenn's death. Maggie must hate the last standing Dixon brother for getting her husband killed, right? How can such guilt ever be lifted from Daryl? How does forgiveness ever get granted for something so awful?

As if the episode as whole wasn't enough, in its extra minutes, The Walking Dead delivered one last gut-punched by putting all of its core characters at a table in Alexandria for an imaginary happy ending before snatching us back to the harsh reality which was the family sitting with two dead bodies.

The Season 7 premiere was an emotional roller coaster for all parties. Every fan of the series is gripping their seats waiting for more, eager to see Negan's demise and Rick's return to power. However, it will be a long road to rebuilding.

The Walking Dead has proven, again, it is a force to reckoned with. The foundation has been laid for what can play out as the most visceral, engaging, and somehow still loveable series on television. It is the highest rated show on cable with good reason - when was the last time a show left its viewers with such a stir? Between the cliffhanger reactions and nausea upon the mystery's reveal, the show has more than a couple tricks up its sleeve to keep audiences hooked.

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You can hardly say The Walking Dead is back when it feels like it's just getting started.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC. For complete coverage and insider info all season long, follow @BrandonDavisBD on Twitter.