Short version: Don’t bother watching this bloated, commercial-filled, over-stretched bit of audience-trolling TV, especially if you were hoping for some sort of resolution and payoff.
Long version: If you want to experience some extra psychological trauma by reliving tonight’s season six “finale” of AMC’s The Walking Dead with me, then by all means, read along. While I’ll aim to keep my emotional reaction to the decision to rob viewers of a satisfactory yet heart-breaking conclusion from coloring my recap of this episode, I’d like to get this out of the way first: cliffhanger endings of this magnitude are a sign that the writing team has run out of creative ways to keep the story compelling enough on its own to guarantee that audiences will return for the fall’s premiere; they also run the risk of doing the opposite and alienating an otherwise rabid fanbase. With that said, let’s get into it.
Essentially, we have four different groups we get to spend a “Last Day on Earth” with: Morgan and Carol; Rick, Carl, Abraham, Sasha, Eugene, Aaron, and a very sick Maggie; the captured Glenn, Michonne, Rosita, and a gun-shot Daryl; and the Saviors themselves. Believe it or not, the most thematically interesting of this group might have been the odd couple of Morgan–now on horseback–and a physically and psychologically injured Carol. Morgan repeatedly tried to patch up Carol’s mind and body over the course of these 90 minutes, but even when he saved her life from Roman (the Savior she wounded with a spear on the previous episode), Carol wanted Morgan to just leave her alone. What’s curious here is that Morgan was forced to kill to save a life, and Carol was the one who was actively begging for a release from this world by not fighting back; it’s a bit of a reversal from their mantras held throughout the season. Curiouser still was the arrival of two oddly dressed patrolmen, who are from another area that might be showing up in season seven. (Don’t click if you don’t like spoilers.)
The main group throughout this episode had gathered together in the RV in order to escort a very ill/pregnant Maggie to the OB/GYN residing at Hilltop Colony. The problem: The Saviors blocked their path at seemingly every turn. Normally, we watch as our heroes mow through any resistance either through brute force, clever tactics, or dumb luck, but Rick took a chance that the Saviors weren’t numerous or well-armed enough to block every path to Hilltop; he chose wrong.
One strong point of this episode was the manner in which the encounters with the Saviors ratcheted up the tension over the course of the finale. In the first stand-off, they were roughly equal in numbers and the Saviors only held a stranger hostage to influence Rick’s decision. From there on out, Rick was forced to back out of every situation or put his people in jeopardy, like during the beautifully/horrifically produced scene in which the gang has to hack their way through a daisy chain of Walkers strung across the road while dodging gunfire (aimed at their feet, however) and dealing with the psychological torture of knowing the Saviors had Glenn and Michonne hostage. Ironically, Carl’s suggestion to take on the Saviors–five on 16–might have been the stronger play considering how the episode ended. However, the ploy to have Eugene act as a diversion to draw the Saviors away while the others carried Maggie to safety through the woods was actually a fairly solid plan (Respect, Eugene!), assuming that the Saviors didn’t have enough people to account for such a possibility. They did. And because they did, Rick & Co. end up on their knees in front of a massive group of well-armed Saviors and their leader, Negan.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s arrival as the much-anticipated Big Bad was a solid one. Not only does he look the part and bring years of veteran experience acting on the big and small screen alike, his debut has been built up by fans of the comics, producers of the show, and the other actors themselves. Some of Negan’s dialogue was pulled straight from the comics, some of it had to be tweaked due to censorship, but you got the idea: Negan is a big bad mother who doesn’t deal in half-measures. That’s exemplified not just by forcing Rick and his incredibly resourceful followers to their knees, but also by hauling out the foursome his men had captured on the previous episode. With everyone now lined up and ready to pledge allegiance to a barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat named Lucille, all that was left was the bloody sacrifice of one that would buy the relative freedom of the others.
But that didn’t happen, not really. What siphoned the energy right out of the performance was the decision to not show Negan’s final act of brutality on camera, but rather leave it for the Season 7 premiere to sort out. Look, I get not being able to show a very alive human being’s skull being smashed to bits on live cable TV (if it was a Walker, there wouldn’t be any problem) and I was pleased with the way they chose to shoot that particular scene. What I don’t get is the decision to draw that conclusion out until the fall (contractual issues?), knowing that audiences would be strung along over the intervening months with gripes unanswered and very dull axes to grind.
However, there were some solid moments from the cast overall in this episode: Father Gabriel got a great moment in defense of Alexandria and was left atop the Wall as the hardened fighters left for Hilltop, Abraham and Sasha might be the next to make a baby (even if their relationship doesn’t seem to have all that chemistry), Eugene’s heroic sacrificial play, Glenn’s desperate attempt to protect Maggie, Carl’s dead-eyed stare, and Negan’s arrival. But those bits and pieces weren’t enough to save this unsatisfying episode from being an unmitigated disappointment.
“Last Day on Earth” featured great direction and solid acting, with incredible production, effects, and staging as always, but was hampered by lazy and nonsensical writing, topped by the decision to end with an unsatisfactory cliffhanger. Robert Kirkman’s comment on Talking Dead about how this episode was about Rick’s confidence crashing down around him was a cop-out. I also blame Scott M. Gimple’s self-professed love of
masochism cliffhangers for the way this episode played out. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back had a satisfactory cliffhanger ending, while Lost and others of its ilk simply trolled audiences. Promising a better episode down the road is straight-up lazy. If Negan bludgeoned me with Lucille by proxy, I’d be left feeling pretty much the same.
Rating: ★★ Fair
Enid: “What happens if you don’t come back? How am I supposed to live with that? What the hell am I supposed to do?” Carl: “Just survive somehow.”
Gabriel: “Are you comfortable leaving me in Alexandria’s defense?” Rick: “…yes.”
Rick: “Tell them to wait for me. I’ve got a deal for them.”
Steven Ogg, a.k.a. Trevor Philips from “Grand Theft Auto V”, stepping out of the woods to lead this group of Saviors. Respect!
Rick: “As long as it’s all of us, we can do anything.”
Abraham: “Enemy close.”
Rick: “I was about to ask for all of your stuff, only I’m thinking I don’t have to kill any of you…any more of you.”
Rick: “Do you want to make today your last day on Earth?”
Carol: “If you care about people, there are people to protect, people you will kill for. If you don’t want to kill, or you can’t, then you have to get away from them. You do not get involved. You, you should know that.” Morgan: “Everything in this world is about people.”
Abraham: “Bitch nuts.”
Eugene: “Putting together a red rover like that takes people. A lot of them.”
Rick: “Go back.” Abraham: “Where?”
Roman: “Let’s see who wins, bitch.” Stuart Greer played the vengeful Savior, Roman.
Abraham: “We are neck-deep up shit creek with our mouths wide open.”
Savior Gang Leader: “Good, you made it! Welcome to where you’re going.”
Negan: “It’s gonna be pee-pee pants city here real soon.”
Negan: “Here goes. Pay attention. Give me your shit or I will kill you.”
Negan: “Someone knocks on your door, you let us in. We own that door. You try to stop us, we’ll knock it down.”
Negan: “I’m not growing a garden, but you killed my people, a whole damn lot of them; more than I’m comfortable with, and for that, for that you gotta pay. So now, I’m gonna beat the holy hell outta one of you.”
Negan: “This is Lucille. And she is awesome!”
Negan: “Shit, kid. Lighten up. At least cry a little.”
Negan: “I gotta pick somebody! Everybody’s at the table waiting for me to order.”
So, did our Death Poll for season six of The Walking Dead claim the correct victim? No, of course not, because no one effing died (on camera, at least).