Examining The Walking Dead Season 6’s Strengths & Controversies

Did Glenn and the dumpster rile you? How about that finale cliffhanger? We revisit The Walking Dead season 6's most talked-about moments...

This Walking Dead article contains major spoilers. 

A version of this article first appeared on Den of Geek UK

Despite its unrelenting pace and the fact it contains some of the most spectacular episodes to date, season six has proven to be the most divisive run of The Walking Dead yet. And we’re not just talking about that cliffhanger, either. Throughout the season, the writers kept the viewers guessing, putting their patience to the test, as they explored twists and turns plot-wise that some fans might call “ill-advised.”

With that in mind, The Walking Dead season six seems ripe for a further look at what made the series so strong and the reasons that so many fans had a little wobble, especially when it came to…

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Glenn Rhee’s Houdini Dumpster Surprise

Now this was a genuine shock. When watching the episode for the first time, I just took the death at face value and was upset that as the credits rolled, it looked like Glenn’s nine lives were finally up. It was my wife, however, who turned to me and questioned if he was actually dead, something I was certain wouldn’t be the case, as death in The Walking Dead usually happens with utter certainty.

After initially dismissing the idea, it transpired that not only was she on to something, but the entire internet was awash with conspiracy theories about how Nicholas’ suicide was framed and shot, how the bodies hit the floor (cue music), and how Glenn could have survived.

In a stroke of genius, the show then chose not to show Steven Yuen’s name on the opening credits until his fate was revealed, but by that point fandom had whipped itself into the usual frenzy – a state from which there is no victory for the showrunners. Personally, I was relieved that one of the most beloved characters had lived to see another day, but somehow his survival was viewed as a cheat, with accusations being thrown at a poor, unsuspecting bystander – the dumpster.

There was outrage concerning the viability of whether Glenn could fit underneath it, yet alone escape the seething horde of walkers, but when it came to the reveal everything played out with plausibility. I was hoping for a more in-depth discussion about the controversy as the home release’s sixth disc is entirely devoted to special features, one of which, “Guts & Glory: The Death of Nicholas,” I felt certain would have a few more answers. While it’s great to hear the actors involved discussing what the characters’ emotions were, there’s no explanation given as to why they chose to bait the audience, which is a shame.

Curiously, the clearest explanation came from the interview we had with Greg Nicotero earlier in the year, when he was talking about supervising the effects in that scene by being made up as a walker to be as close as he could to the action, saying: “What’s funny is, I’m there and there’s a camera here and one over there and I said to the director, Michael Slovis, put another camera over there under the dumpster and if Steven can get away and he can crawl under the dumpster you’ll have a bonus angle. So when we did it when he crawled right up to the lens, everyone was like ‘Did you guys know that he was going to do that!?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, of course I knew he was going to do that, that’s why I put a fucking camera there!’”

So even the crew actually shooting that episode seemed surprised by the way it played out, which must have been extremely validating when predicting how an audience would react. One thing’s for certain though – whether you loved or hated the decision, Greg Nicotero sure as hell knew what he was doing. 

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And while we’re on the subject of the great man…

The Nicotero Effect

Watching Greg Nicotero’s directorial skills evolve over the course of The Walking Dead’s six seasons (well, five if you want to be pedantic) has been an absolute pleasure. As a special effects and makeup legend, especially in the world of horror, he’s been able to take that skill and love for the genre, and use the intimate relationships he’s developed with the actors since day one to become one of the show’s strongest assets and directors.

Season six saw him take the reins for the biggest and most action-packed episodes we’ve seen so far, deftly balancing character work, explosive effects, and shocks. On another of the disc’s special features, “The Making of The Walking Dead” (which is broken down into small, episode specific chunks), Andrew Lincoln talks about Nicotero’s skill as a director, referencing how well he knows the characters and their personal motivations. Lincoln’s words make you appreciate how difficult the juggling act must be.

For example, if you take into account how many characters are running around in various locales within the midseason premiere “No Way Out,” throw in a lake of fire, and then add dramatic and gory deaths of multiple cast members, while sewing up the conclusion with an epic zombie massacre, it’s no mean feat.

That Nicotero is now the man entrusted to open and close one of the biggest TV shows of all time is testament enough, especially when that closing episode happens to involve…

Negan Sending Fandom Batty

Ah yes, that ending. Was there an outcry of “Nooooooooo!” in our house when the screen faded to black? But of course. Was there then a calm sense of relief yet again and an appreciation for the difficulty in keeping the identity of the victim a surprise for the start of the next season? Absolutely. Did a vocal part of the worldwide audience lose its shit and threaten to never watch the show again? You bet.

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At the end of the day, whatever your take on the decision by Nicotero and showrunner Scott M. Gimple to end the season on such a huge cliffhanger, it is a show and a clever one at that. Why not set the internet ablaze with yet more speculation? It’s a slightly risky move, with anger levels exceeded in many corners of the web, but the show is such a success that even if people decide to walk away from it, the season seven premiere will most likely break viewing records, as we all wait to see who has been battered to a pulp.

It’s also a strange phenomenon in fandom that six seasons in people still seem to watch it just to be critical, when there are so many fantastic shows out there – at this point surely you must be aware that The Walking Dead will always take chances and risk upsetting even the most ardent fan in order to keep the thrills high and the experience fresh.

I just hope that viewers have braced themselves for the possibility that the character death might not be revealed in the opening seconds of the debut episode. We’ve endured flashbacks and forwards before a payoff before.

As an aside, I’m putting my money on Abraham. His defiant look to Negan, talk of having a baby, and the fact he was an absolute shit to Rosita and Eugene put him at the top of my list.

“Then I settle for your eyes.”

If you believe that eyes are the window to the soul, then season six was smashing glass left, right, and center. The two moments that involved socket violation were both traumatic to watch and utterly disturbing.

Let’s start with the death of Denise. There’s an extra layer of tragedy to the timing of her demise, as is discussed on the “In Memoriam” disc feature – she’s helped that small band find a stash of great medical supplies, is proving to be stronger than ever, and found the elusive can of pop for Tara. Her character is at her peak when she’s cut down.

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There’s something very specific about the way it’s shot though, that makes it stick in the mind (no pun intended), as she’s in the middle of a rousing speech when the arrow hits her, leading to the delayed delivery of her final words in a vocal death spasm. It’s haunting, alarming, and completely unexpected. That the crime is perpetrated by Daryl’s trusty crossbow makes it more sickening. Even writing about it makes me shudder.

Cleverly though, it was another character that suffered her fate in the comics – Sgt. Abraham Ford, which adds yet another reason for his likely death by Lucille, having side-stepped his comic book fate.

Mercifully, the other ocular casualty is still alive, but again the show expertly conveyed the chill of seeing young Carl Grimes look up after taking a bullet to the eye. It’s such a beautifully composed reveal, as our attention is drawn to the sight of Michonne taking out the last of the (let’s face it) rubbish Anderson family, and there’s just the right amount of pause before cutting back to Carl’s face and the grim spectacle.

What follows though is arguably worth the painful accident, as it leads to another fantastic Rick rampage and unites the previously useless Alexandrians into finally taking a stand, though the gratification of watching Sir Grimes go bananas with an axe will always elevate an episode’s standing for me.

Shooting Daryl Dixon

Interestingly, the nature of Daryl’s relationship to Dwight keeps resurfacing throughout the various special features quite prominently, even if their encounters were fairly brief in the actual episodes. What’s interesting though is how slow the build has been. At first Dwight is acting out of fear and a need to help his own, rather foolishly stealing Daryl’s bike and crossbow, but his reappearance, now with added facial burns, has seen him become a total bastard.

It’s Dwight who kills Denise with the stolen crossbow, adding insult to injury, especially after Daryl had the chance to end his rotten life and spared him, so even if there is a story behind Dwight’s rise in the Saviors’ ranks, it’ll be insignificant to Mr. Dixon the moment he has a chance to rectify his mistake. There aren’t many certainties in The Walking Dead, but you can be damn sure of one thing – Dwight is a dead man walking, I mean honestly, who in the hell shoots Daryl Dixon and expects to live? Roll on season seven and his inevitable sticky end, let’s hope it’s the colorful one he deserves.

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