When death came to “The Walking Dead” on Sunday, there were more than tears at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where the Season 7 premiere was screened for thousands of fans. It started raining as soon as the first death happened.
After six months of waiting, the 90-minute premiere revealed who Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) whacked, in gruesomely violent style, with his barbed wire bat. And death came in a pair. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
First came the death of Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz), by way of an “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” elimination round. The barbaric beating by Negan’s bat, named Lucille, came just as drops of rain began to fall from the sky in Los Angeles.
And then, as “Talking Dead” host Chris Hardwick would later note on the post-mortem episode, the “heavens cried.” Still reeling from Abraham’s death, fans let out a clamor of gasps that rippled through the misty cemetery as Negan set his sights on his next victim: fan favorite Glenn (Steven Yeun).
No amount of free popcorn and refreshments on the cemetery grounds could soothe the heartache.
“Now I know why they handed out tissues,” one attendee said. Elsewhere, attendees let out sighs of grief and expletive-filled exclamations as they shrouded themselves in blankets.
Executive producer Robert Kirkman, showrunner Scott M. Gimple and the main cast (minus Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl) joined Hardwick for a special “Talking Dead,” which was broadcast live from the cemetery, to discuss the episode — where expletives were used aplenty when describing the intensity of the episode.
Gimple noted that he and Kirkman had this episode planned for two years. And, he said, the key was finding a believable way to show the breakdown of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln).
“The hardest thing about it was starting the script and thinking about what would break Rick,” Gimple said. “It was all in Issue 100 [of the comic on which the AMC series is based] but [also] looking for a way to break the audience, too, but not in a way to hurt them but for them to believe that Rick Grimes is under the thumb of Negan.”
We wanted to send a clear message that we are just getting started and there is a lot that we’re going to be getting from this.
Kirkman was quick to point out that the introduction of Negan sets off a whole new chapter in the story.
“We still have a lot more to do,” said Kirkman, who also created the comic. “We’re setting the stage for more to come.… We wanted to send a clear message that we are just getting started and there is a lot that we’re going to be getting from this.”
Yeun, who is one of the original series stars, received a standing ovation from fans — at one point during the commercial break, he went to the front of the stage and raised his glass to the audience in a nod of thanks.
“Living that out was very wild but, at the same time, that moment happening and being realized on television in a different medium and to do it in the way that we did it is brave and at the same time super-affecting, and that for me was motivation,” Yeun said of his character’s death.
Cudlitz, who joined the drama as a recurring player in Season 4 before being promoted to regular in Season 5, came out to the “Talking Dead” stage with a flask in hand to the cheers of fans.
It was very clear there was full eye contact left with Negan. It was very appreciated for him to go out that way.
The actor said he knew he wouldn’t last forever on the series, considering his character’s fate in the comics, but was happy Abraham got in one last zinger with his final words (that we, uh, can’t print).
“If he’s going to go out, these guys had a tough job inserting any dialogue with Abraham because of the way we left the end of last season,” he said. “It was very clear there was full eye contact left with Negan. It was very appreciated for him to go out that way.”
And just as the rain came pouring down came the man who has so quickly and brutally crushed the hearts of “Walking Dead” fans as supervillain Negan: Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Morgan spent some time justifying his actions, saying he can’t play Negan as a bad guy.
“Remember, they took out quite a few of my folks. And remember, if it weren’t for Daryl, Glenn would still be alive!”