Don’t worry, fellow The Walking Dead fans. The show heard the criticism from this season (especially prevalent over the last two episodes) and responded accordingly – by supersizing the finale to 90 minutes to cram in every single poor storytelling choice and character decision they could. The irony was that they still denied viewers a satisfying climax, instead going with the tired who-is-dead? for the third fucking time this season. Except this time, the audience has to wait six months to get an answer.
Like me, a lot of viewers are rightfully upset and a lot of critics are walking away. The producers can defend it all they want and they’ll probably have the ratings and “fuck you” money to get away with it. But the show has become a stunningly predictable slog with a propensity for foot-shooting almost at every turn. This was the worst conceivable version of a finale. Let’s recap.
With Maggie suffering from labor pains and Denise dead, Rick put together a team including Carl, Sasha, Abraham, Eugene and Aaron to take her to Hilltop for medical help, leaving Fr. Gabriel and Spencer in charge of Alexandria’s defense (one of Rick’s many questionable leadership decisions this episode).
What follows is precisely this: they drive, hit a roadblock contrived by the Saviors (a blockade of cars, a chain of zombies, a pile of logs etc.) rinse, repeat. Literally, that is the plot of this “special” 90 minute episode. But really all this nonsense does is reinforce that “plot” has been a nonentity the final three episodes this season, with characters going on mad dashes from the safety of Alexandria’s walls per script requirements.
It also continues a trend I hate: villains keeping the heroes alive way past suspension of disbelief. The Saviors’ herding of our survivors as part of Negan’s mind game was reminiscent of the way Terminus did the same to get our survivors trapped in a train car in the other, superior Walking Dead cliffhanger finale of Season 4.
Instead, the show meanders into narrative brick walls every few episodes, to the point that it seems not only intentional but malicious. Given the amount of dirty storytelling tricks played this season, it seems like the producers and showrunners are deeply out of touch of the wants and needs of the audience. No amount of semantics will change the fact that the ending withholding Negan’s victim, regardless of their identity, only lessens the impact of the death.
The last time the show actually fulfilled a promise like that was season 4’s midseason finale “Too Far Gone,” the final prison/Governor episode that understood audience expectations and delivered in an gratifying way. But even that was only after an entire third season that built to a prison battle . . . that happened next year!
Look at its AMC sibling Breaking Bad. That was a show that wrung every decision for every ounce of drama. Everything had consequences, everything matter, the show was constantly evolving and changing within the framework of Walt’s descent/ascent as a meth kingpin. The Walking Dead doesn’t come close to that but you can tell it wants to. It needs to.
But when you have to hit preconceived beats, the writers end up coasting over drama beats others would milk. Like, how is Carl dealing with one eye? Seems like a big change. Haven’t heard a word on Glenn’s crisis after taking his first life since the show had to bother. Is Rosita actually a character? Why is Spencer around? All these strands exist indepedent of the narrative, not because of it. Thus, the show feels destined and predetermined as opposed to organic and natural.
A lot of these problems are probably traceable to creator/producer Robert Kirkman, who has always been insistent the show follow the comic to a large degree. In my opinion, a big reason Darabont left in Season 2, beyond budgetary constraints by AMC, was that Kirkman wanted to follow the comic and he was interested tangents like the CDC (which Kirkman didn’t like) and hanging out on a farm. At the time, it worked to boot Darabont but now the show is little more than a few years behind the comic and its attempts to “remix” classic moments, like tonight’s Negan/Lucille introduction, lack the necessary dramatic power.
I haven’t even mentioned the Carol/Morgan side-story, which as I’ve written about all season, worked for me . . . until this episode. Once again, recap: Morgan finds her, loses her, Carol gets shot by the survivor Savior from last week’s confrontation (who inexplicably went on a suicide mission instead of driving away) Morgan finds her again, kills the Savior (a moment which should feel weighty but doesn’t), then gets helped by two armored dudes on horseback. They’re members of the Kingdom, another new community led by Ezekiel, a former zookeeper with a pet tiger(!), whom I imagine we’ll be meeting this fall. I’m glad Lennie James is sticking around for Season 7 but is it just me, or did Carol seriously under-react to getting shot?
The ending scene and cliffhanger shittily resolved last week’s “cliffhanger” of Dwight shooting Daryl by simply showing us a bloody Daryl. Awesome. Between Carol and him, bullet wounds seem positively minor. We got our monologue dose of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan and we got another bloody camera lens to end an episode. This isn’t a cliffhanger that asks possibilities. It’s just an excuse to tease out a death for six months. Any sense of dread built by the episode or Negan’s game was drained by a lack of consequence. Oops, see you in October!
It didn’t succeed in exciting me for Season 7, which will open on the crushed-in skull of the victim, presumably. As far as what to expect when it returns, I think the first fall half of the season will be the reign of Negan that will open up the show to adapt the epic All-Out War arc for the second half in winter/spring 2017.
In the meantime, I’ll be reviewing Game of Thrones Season 6, just as I did Season 5 last year, but doing it for Heroic Hollywood, the premiere site for pop culture buffs like me! It’s an exciting step up and I hope you’ll follow me there. And you can always get other reviews and updates right here on the Slog. Until October, fellow Dead-heads!