With an episode title like “Start to Finish”, one would think that the writers of AMC’s The Walking Dead would actually provide a mid-season finale that aired from start to finish. Instead, viewers were left with a lukewarm facsimile of the Wolves’ attack on Alexandria, a host of unresolved philosophical conflicts, and one of television history’s worst episodic cliffhangers. Yes, I’m calling the end of the Season 6 mid-season finale worse than that infamous hatch ending of Lost. Let’s talk about why.
In tonight’s cold open, Jessie’s son Sam (aka the Harbinger of Certain Doom) listens to Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe through the Tulips” over and over in his room, afraid to come out since the world is a scary and monstrous place, but is totally fine with leaving half-eaten cookies on his bedroom floor. (That’s how you get ants.) Aside from reminding viewers that Sam is by no means cut out for survival in this new world, this overt shot of the horde of ants swarming over a food source also gives a none-too-subtle nod toward the Walker herd that’s about to flood the town.
When the fallen watchtower takes out a section of the wall, the Alexandrians are all scattered to the wind. Deanna makes a surprising sacrifice play to help keep Rick out of harm’s way even though she gets injured in the process. They’re soon joined by Michonne, Carl, and Ron, but it’s Jessie to the rescue when she takes out a few Walkers and gets everyone safely inside her house (where Judith is also resting peacefully). Morgan and Carol end up dodging inside the nearby home where the sick Wolf is being held, though Carol takes a bad fall and bumps her head on the pavement. (Probably a concussion, right?) Elsewhere, Tara and Rosita once again save Eugene’s hide and they all shelter inside a garage. Maggie – whom you’ll remember is pregnant – falls down amidst a gathering crowd of Walkers, but manages to climb to relative safety atop a guard post where she watches Glenn’s balloons soar off into the sky.
All pretty chaotic, right? Sure, and it should have been, but the Wolves’ attack on Alexandria earlier in the season carried much more tension and a palpable sense of dread. The Walker invasion in “Start to Finish” amounted to little more than a game of hide and seek for our survivors.
Let’s take a look at each of the pairings and what befell them this episode. If you’ll remember, Glenn (alive!) and Enid had made their way back to Alexandria only to find it swarming with Walkers. They do little else in this episode other than spy Maggie safely atop the guard post, but at least Glenn seems to convince Enid that there’s more to surviving than leaving your friends behind and doing it all on your own.
The next slightly more interesting group is that of Eugene and his guardian angels. While Tara and Rosita discuss whether or not this is the end of Alexandria, whether Abraham is dead, and other heavy subject matter (with Rosita taking the half-empty cup stance), Eugene reads a book of World History by the light of a flickering cigarette lighter. (Since we saw this shot a few times, it looked like the director was trying to draw our attention to the map behind it, but I couldn’t make out whatever was in the scene. Could be nothing.) Desperate for a way to escape the Walkers pounding on the garage door, Eugene reveals that he’s apparently got lockpicking skills. (What is this, “Fallout”? Did Eugene pick up a bobblehead along the way?) This trio soon crosses path with the next group on our list.
Carol’s acting a bit funny, but won’t let Morgan inspect her head wound. Why? Because she’s faking and wants to throw Morgan off his guard so that she’ll be able to sneak downstairs and kill the Wolf before the villain can get free and kill anymore of their friends. There are two problems with this plan: the first is that Denise is downstairs (by herself) treating the injured Wolf; the second is that although Morgan won’t kill, neither will he let himself or others be killed in the process. This was probably the best standoff in the episode but it was unfortunate to see such strong characters butting heads; unfortunate, but necessary. When Carol promises to go through Morgan to get at the Wolf, Morgan knocks the knife from her hand and a battle between the two breaks out. It ends with Morgan slamming Carol onto her back on the cement floor – knocking her unconscious – during which the Wolf manages to snag a knife and hold Denise hostage with it. The Wolf’s weapon of choice is upgraded when Tara, Rosita, and Eugene pop by and readily hand over their guns to the escaping lunatic. The last we see of the Wolf is him walking out of the building with Denise at gunpoint. Cliffhanger #1.
But the major cliffhanger came from the resolution – or lack thereof – of the episodic story surrounding Rick and his closest companions. Once they dragged a wounded Deanna into Jessie’s house and secured the entry points – a scene which Sam watches play out in a nightmarish haze – Michonne discovers that Deanna also has a nasty bite wound to her side. She knows she’s not long for this world and uses her remaining time to make sure that Michonne is sure about who she is and what she wants to do, and to convince Rick that the Alexandrians are his people, and he’s one of them as well. And despite a brief scare in which it looked like Deanna had turned and was feasting on Baby Judith, she hangs in there until the very end, shooting the invading Walkers until her gun runs out of bullets. While getting torn apart and eaten alive by Walkers is not my preferred way to go, you’ve got to admire Deanna’s chutzpah.
Meanwhile, Carl is checking in with Ron. He knows that they have issues that go beyond their feelings for Enid; those issues quickly come to the surface as Ron attempts to shoot Carl. What follows is a fight between the boys that’s much better than the slap fight from a few episodes back, but does little more than cause a ruckus that draws more Walkers in and eventually allows them easy entry into the house. What’s interesting here is that Carl chooses to take matters with Ron into his own hands, opting not to involve either of their parents in the discussion. Carl’s all growed up!
The problem is that the Walkers are flooding into the house; soon there will be far too many to fight their way through. So Rick and the gang resort to the old tried-and-true tactic of gutting Walkers and covering themselves in their rotten entrails. Guess which person is totally not on board with this … that’s right, Sam. Though the gang manages to gut enough Walkers to cover themselves in this visceral camouflage – even Baby Judith – it’s Sam’s repeated calls for his mom that attracts the Walkers’ attention and puts everyone in mortal peril.
And that’s where the episode ends.
Look, I’m all for cliffhanger endings that leave audiences wondering what new mystery is about to be revealed, or what a new character is all about, or what a surprising turn of events means for the future of the show, but this was a flagrant example of cutting an episode mid-scene, let alone mid-story. It’s a poor way to pause what had started out as a fantastic season, but has been taking steps backward, treading water, and stretching storylines since the Season 6 premiere.
Oh, but wait! There’s a prologue for the next episode! Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha encounter a roadblock of seven heavily armed bikers, who call them out, promising to “end their asses, split them right in two, straight through to their sinuses.” It’s clear the leader of their little gang has been working on that line for a while. The biker wants their weapons, the truck and anything else they own, from their mints to their napkins. Who do those things belong to now? Negan, of course.
Look, it’s a good namedrop, but I’d much prefer a climactic ending to the mid-season finale over a teaser about an episode airing more than two months from now. Poor form, AMC, but you know we’ll all be back for the second half of Season 6 if only to see who survives this ill-advised walk through the Walkers.
The Walking Dead returns to air the second half of this episode on February 14, 2016.
Rating: ★★★ Good
“Tiptoe through the tulips with me.” Yeah, this really is “Fallout.”
Everyone, either please stop saving Eugene or give him something worthwhile to do…
Glenn (to Enid): “You want to run away, be afraid, forget about this? Just go. That’s how you lose people, even after they’re gone.”
Morgan: “You don’t trust people, do you?” Carol: “Some more than others … but you’re dead last.” Morgan: “Well at least we’re being honest.”
Leaving your town’s only doctor locked up with a feverish Wolf is a perfect plan…
Denise: “You weren’t born this way. You changed. You can change.”
Here’s one of tonight’s philosophical conflicts: Does Denise have a responsibility to treat the Wolf even though he’s clearly dangerous (and even though she probably hasn’t taken the Hippocratic Oath)?
Deanna: “Well … shit.”
Apparently Reg was the one who used to quote Ovid in tough times.
Philosophical Conflict #2: Does it matter what you do or how well you’re able to do it, as long as you discover your true self along the way? Deanna certainly seemed to think that personal discovery was the most important part of the journey.
Ron: “Your dad’s a killer.” Carl: “So was yours.”
Carl: “Look, man, I get it; my dad killed your dad. But you should know something: Your dad was an asshole.”
Philosophical Conflict #3: Carl’s coming into his own, but Ron is clearly harboring some hatred for the murder of his father. Was either father in the right in this situation? Is either son? Is anyone right 100% of the time in this world?
Deanna: “I ran over to help because you are one of us. That’s the right answer.”
Eugene: “Lockpicking is within my skill set.” Finally, something useful!
Morgan: “This could have waited. It should have. Now it can’t.”
Philosophical Conflict #4: To defend life at all costs or to take a life to prevent death? This is easily the most interesting question posed on this episode. Apparently the answer is to knock all your opponents unconscious.
Haven’t seen them gut Walkers in a while. Still pretty gross.
Gabriel: “I will not give up out there. I will not turn back, no matter what happens.” No one cares.
Biker: “Your property now belongs to Negan.”