This review contains spoilers.
6.16 Last Day On Earth
When a show’s executive producer is taking cues from Lost, is that a good thing or a bad thing? For this half-season, The Walking Dead‘s actors and crew have promised to leave viewers shocked and dismayed with the season finale, with actors describing being sickened as they read the script. Would this sickening display be translated to the screen in the lurid style that The Walking Dead is known for?
After an odd cold opening featuring a blacked-out screen, lens flare, and whistling, The Walking Dead kicks off its season six finale with Morgan following the clues to Carol. A sign reading “You Are Alive,” a horse missing a rider, a dead body with a crucifix clutched in its hand… Meanwhile, Maggie, as we saw last week, is in some kind of distress, and it’s up to Rick and an RV full of important characters to get her to Hilltop and the care of the doctor there. All the while, Alexandria prepares itself for a potential revenge attack by the Saviors, who Rick and company awakened, but haven’t quite killed as they’d hoped.
The Walking Dead makes very effective use of The Saviors as antagonists. Wherever Rick and the gang want to go, there are Saviors waiting, and each time they round a corner and run into a Savior roadblock, it’s different. A small group of men at first, then more, then a burning pile of logs and a dangling hangman warning, and finally, a tense chase through the woods, pursued by whistling men. When the survivors find themselves surrounded by Negan’s men, all of whom are whistling in unison, it’s really unsettling.
This is clearly a more capable group than Rick thought at first, and at every turn, it’s interesting to see that his unfounded optimism doesn’t slip until the last possible moment, when he’s forced to his knees with the rest of his people, waiting to meet their fate. The Saviors have far superior numbers, better equipment, and a willingness to waste a lot of time and effort just to intimidate Alexandria. It’s tense, the constant thwarting and the increasing likelihood that Rick and the RV Squad aren’t escaping from this particular trap. That tension only grows once Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) steps out and gives a great villain speech about how the new world order has Negan and the Saviors at the top, and everyone else working for him. Well, everyone else who survives.
That’s the tease. Comic book fans who are familiar with The Walking Dead know that a character is killed during Negan’s introduction. Television fans have suspected the same thing, if only from all the chatter from the comic readers. Negan does indeed kill someone during this episode. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we don’t see who it is. That’s right, another cop-out, another unnecessary cliffhanger. It’s a disappointment, because it’s not necessary.
This isn’t a show that needs to tease the audience; they’re coming back no matter what, and every year the ratings improve. This is a show that loves to dangle cliffhangers out, be they during the season or at the end of seasons, but I don’t remember a cliffhanger that’s this unsatisfying. The lead-up is great, and the point-of-view shot of Negan bringing the bat down is fairly good for the first stroke, but then Negan keeps beating and CGI blood slowly dribbles down the screen like the opening credits of a Vincent Price movie. It’s so laughable that it deflates all the incredible tension that the episode had so patiently built up over its ninety minutes, and it doesn’t leave me excited to see more, it just makes me roll my eyes and grumble in frustration that this long-awaited debut had its teeth pulled by a need to drag things out over the next six months. It’s an odd choice from Greg Nicotero, who until that moment had really put together a great episode in Last Day On Earth. He’s still the best director in the show’s arsenal, but I can’t help but thing this is a case of the director being let down by the CGI folks; later in the episode, a person is shot repeatedly without any blood or blood spray, either CGI or real.
It’s a shame, because the ending detracts from a very strong episode. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is phenomenal as Negan; he makes an impression just stepping out from the inside of the RV, and when he brings out Lucille, the terror just spikes. However, he’s not the only impressive savior; a stand-out was the great performance by Steven Ogg, better known as the voice of Trevor Phillips from Grand Theft Auto 5. He’s one of the latest in a long line of great villains, both funny and threatening at the same time in Scott Gimple and Matthew Negrete’s script. Both are great additions to the cast. Lennie James and Melissa McBride also do some good work, though their storyline is a lot less fun and feels less eventful than the Saviors stalking Rick in the RV.
If this were a mid-season finale, this kind of dangling story might be more forgivable, but I like my season finales to have a little bit of resolution before throwing our characters back into a terrible state again. I have my suspicions as to who is going to be written off the show courtesy of a barbed-wire Louisville Slugger, and I’m sure everyone else does too. Until the show reveals it, anyone can be getting their skull crushed. Will it be Glenn, Abraham, Daryl, or maybe even Rick or Carl? Eugene and Rosita are both there and at risk, too.
Whoever gets it, I’m sure their death will be really horrifying and awesome. I may not like who they choose to sacrifice on the alter of “make Negan a hated villian rather than just a super-charming and handsome Rick stand-in”, but I do like that this is a show brave enough to kill anyone at any time. I just hope this doesn’t kill the fanbase.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, East, here.