SPOILERS AHEAD -- READ AT YOUR OWN RISK
Negan is a bat-shit crazy prick. Let’s just get that out of the way, first and foremost. Those who follow the comic book have known this for a while. The rest of us found out in the Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead during some of the most brutally shocking and heartbreaking scenes to appear on television in recent memory.
However, The Red Wedding from Season 3 of Game of Thrones is considered, by many, to be the unsurpassable king of shocking, jaw-dropping, heart-wrenching TV moments. Indeed, the actions of Walder Frey were no less heinous than Negan’s and the deaths were just as agonizing.
Both scenes were ridiculously epic and made an indelible impact upon millions of viewers. But was one of these scenes more impactful and, overall, more impressive than the other? I definitely think so.
The Walking Dead: The Negan Murders
Season 7, Episode 1: The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be
This episode was about as perfect as an episode of television can be. And that’s saying a lot coming from me because, even though I’m a fan, I’ve also been an ardent critic of The Walking Dead. In my previous article, entitled 14 Reasons The Walking Dead Sucks Right Now, I listed several problems I believe are hindering the show’s quality.
Notwithstanding my previous critiques, there were virtually zero flaws evident during Season 7, Episode 1 of The Walking Dead. It was just good damn television, in every respect. The cinematography, mood, and lighting were superb. The dialogue was riveting and perfectly executed. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan) may have delivered the best character performance we’ve seen in seven seasons of The Walking Dead.
Before the season premier aired, many viewers believed Glenn was destined to die since Negan was the cause of Glenn’s demise in the comics. The genius of this episode lies in the subterfuge the writer’s employed to make viewers believe they had diverted from the comics and Glenn actually wasn’t going to die.
After Negan violently bludgeoned Abraham to death, most fans assumed (hoped) there would be no further mortalities. And if anyone else were going to be killed, it seemed like Daryl would have been the next obvious choice after Abraham since it was Daryl who jumped up and struck Negan in the face in a fit of rage. When Negan unexpectedly turned the wrath of “Lucille” upon Glenn, viewers were genuinely stunned and horrified.
Many people didn’t expect Glenn to be the victim because he’d already been “killed” once during Season 6 in the “hiding-under-the-dumpster” incident. But, alas, the lovable pizza boy was brutally terminated and most fans, including those who follow the comics, were blown away by how it all played out.
Game of Thrones: The Red Wedding
Season 3, Episode 9:The Rains of Castamere
By this episode, the Lannisters hold a firm grip on the iron throne. But Robb Stark’s army is quickly building momentum by winning battle after battle and it’s beginning to look like the fan-favorite Starks have a good chance of taking back their home (the North) and destroying the much-despised (Tyrion excluded) Lannisters.
Despite some setbacks along the way, things were looking good for our heroes and viewers were giddy with excitement over the possibility of the Starks getting revenge against those who had wronged them. We even got to witness the wonderful wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey, which starts off as an absolutely joyous occasion. Robb and his wife pregnant Talisa are in attendance, along with Robb’s mother, Catelyn Stark.
Following the marriage feast and the consummation between Edmure and Roslin, Catelyn becomes suspicious when Walder Frey’s son closes the doors and the musicians in the ballroom begin playing ominous music. Feeding off Catelyn’s growing sense of concern and the menacing atmosphere, viewers begin realizing that something is terribly wrong, even though we don’t know quite what it is yet.
It is one of the most foreboding feelings I’ve ever experienced while watching a television show. The mood was absolutely electric as that beautifully eerie music played and the fearful anticipation began to rapidly build. But even in their wildest dreams, most fans had no clue what was about to transpire (other than those who have read the books).
Within a few quick moments, Robb, Catelyn, Talisa, and most of the Stark’s bannermen are viciously massacred in one of the most unexpectedly horrifying scenes one could possibly imagine. It was exceptionally shocking and gruesome, even by Game of Thrones standards. It is a scene that elicited feelings of traumatizing awe that are hard to put into words.
The timing and pacing of it was impeccable but that kind of goes without saying because almost everything on Game of Thrones is executed impeccably. But this scene was unusually perfect in it’s execution, from the first gut-wrenching stabs suffered by Talisa, to Catelyn’s final anguished scream before her throat is slit. Riveting doesn’t even begin to describe this sequence of events; no adjective exists that can appropriately capture its essence.
Winner: The Red Wedding
Although the Negan murders were unbelievable, nothing I’ve seen in recent memory quite compares to the events that transpired during The Red Wedding in Game of Thrones. Unlike The Walking Dead, the writers for Game of Thrones did not rely on a cheap trick—namely, a season-ending cliffhanger—to crowbar tension and suspense into the show.
On Game of Thrones, everything transpired organically. They didn’t run advertisements for months announcing that someone was going to die. They just let it happen, with no forewarning, whatsoever. In comparison, The Walking Dead made it clear that someone was going to die and this took some of the impact out of the episode. Regardless of how good the Negan scenes were, they would have been far more effective if they had transpired unexpectedly at the end of Season 6, instead of forcing a cliffhanger into the mix.
Hence, The Red Wedding scores much higher with regards to surprise factor. Those who haven’t read the books had absolutely no inkling that Walder Frey was conspiring to get revenge on Robb Stark for breaking the marriage agreement between House Stark and House Frey. In fact, viewers were under the impression that House Stark and House Frey were strong allies who were ready to move forth into battle together.
Walder Frey’s betrayal came completely out of left field. One moment, everyone was making merry and seemed to be at the absolute height of happiness—especially Robb and his wife—and within mere moments, a scene of pure carnage and bloodshed was transpiring. And even though we didn’t see it coming, it all made perfect sense—especially when we learned that Tywin Lannister was the true mastermind of the entire thing.
In contrast, there wasn’t really anything surprising about the Negan murders—other than the fact that two people were killed, rather than one. And we’ve known for months that Negan is the show’s prototypical bad guy, so there was no surprise there either.
Moreover, the Negan murders just don’t make as much sense, generally speaking. After dispatching of Abraham and Glenn, why would Negan let anyone in Rick’s crew live? Ostensibly, Negan spared them so they could “work” for him and essentially serve as his slaves. But Rick’s group has already proven they are capable killers, and it would have made more sense for Negan to eliminate the threat of revenge by executing everyone.
I understand that the writers couldn’t do this because it would have meant the end of the show but, from a logical perspective, it just doesn’t add up. When Walder Frey exacted his vengeance, he killed every single Stark in the room because he wanted to completely eliminate the threat and that makes a lot more logical sense.
All that being said, my decision was largely based on gut feeling. Although both scenes were stunningly epic and emotionally explosive, The Red Wedding simply gave me a more significant emotional jolt than the Negan murders. Some will say otherwise but, in my opinion, The Red Wedding was just the “better” scene and its probably number one on my list of the most impactful scenes I’ve witnessed on modern television. The Negan murders would probably rank second for me.
However, The Walking Dead has one major thing working in its favor: unlike Game of Thrones (which is close to coming to an end), it appears that there are several additional seasons in the works for The Walking Dead. This means The Walking Dead will have far more opportunities to create more great TV moments and I look forward to witnessing them all.