This review contains spoilers.
6.8 Start To Finish
One of the best things about dying on The Walking Dead is that you always get a lot to say before you shamble off the mortal coil and find your way to your shallow, post-apocalyptic grave. That usually works out really well for the actors, who get to do something dramatic and capture a lot of attention, and it’s typically fun for the writers, because they get to write up some sort of dramatic or emotionally resonant dialogue where a dying person conveys some truth to a still-living person. Given the set-up for this week’s episode—a building damaged in the fight with the Wolves collapses into the wall—it’s only natural that people plural are going to die, usually due to some sort of fluke accident or stupidity.
The Walking Dead has put together a very good first half of season six, but the mid-season finale seems to grind everything to a halt as far as show progress is concerned. The episodes leading up to this have been pretty tense and tightly plotted, and rather than getting some sort of plot resolution as we’ve seen in previous mid-season finales, Start To Finish is full of cliffhangers. Unfortunately, most of them are unresolved by the end of the episode, leaving everyone waiting for another Glenn-like deus-ex-machina to get the situations all resolved by episode nine or ten.
The promise behind the foot-dragging, at least per show runner Scott Gimple, is that the audience will be put in the same sort of turmoil and confusion as the people of Alexandria, but the result is the worst episode of the season thus far. The show has done a fairly good job until now of introducing plot elements, solving them, and moving on to the next problem that comes as a result of that original solution. The zombies break out, the team separates, the Wolves attack, the zombies head back to Alexandria, a building damaged by Wolves and zombies collapses… everything progressed like dominoes, but that progression grinds to a halt this week in favor of some irritating cliffhangers. That’s not to say that there weren’t some good moments in the episode, but they were overwhelmed by the taste of hanging fates and some pretty stupid character decisions.
Let’s begin with one of the season’s longest-running issues, Jessie and her mentally fragile children. Ron’s walking around with a gun, ready to shoot Carl, and Sam is locked in his room, blasting Tiny Tim records while watching ants mill around on top of a half-eaten sandwich or cookie or something (you know, just in case you needed to know Jessie was a bad mother, she doesn’t bother to go into Sam’s room and make sure he’s not bringing ants into the house). I can understand being angry and wanting to kill the guy who killed your father—one of the better moments is Carl telling Ron that a) his father was an asshole and b) his father was a murderer, just like Rick—but I don’t understand deciding that picking a fight in a garage surrounded by zombies is a good idea, even for someone who feels like he’s already dead. As for Sam, well… apparently when Carol takes a shine to a kid, that kid is going to end up getting someone killed or killing someone, and the jury’s still out on Sam and his inability to keep his dumb mouth shut while trying to escape from the zombie-infested Alexandria.
As if that wasn’t enough, Carol and Morgan’s extended pas de deux of conflicting morals also broke out into violence. Fair credit to Lennie James, Melissa McBride, and director Michael Satrazemis, the fight itself is really good, albeit short and kind of poorly placed. It doesn’t make sense so much for the two of them to fight in front of a prisoner, or for Morgan to really leave Denise alone with a killer, even if he feels like everyone deserves a second chance and all that nonsense that he’s been spouting that makes Carol want to stab him. However, I will say this for Lennie James; they’ve done a real hack job on the character, but his performance is great. He’s mouthing the words, asking not to kill, but it’s not really registering to Morgan as anything other than a pipe dream wish for those around him. He doesn’t want to let the Wolves go, but he feels like he has to, because someone gave him that chance long ago. Granted, after the second or third time that’s backfired, he might want to change his plan, assuming he actually survives getting bashed in the head with his zombie monk staff and Carol doesn’t wake up first and kill him in his sleep.
Were this not the mid-season break, and had the last few mid-season episode breaks been so good, this episode wouldn’t be quite as disappointing. It’s a bit of a step back from how the show’s been functioning to this point. Matthew Negrete’s script has some fun lines in it, particularly the exchanges between Carl and Ron/Morgan and Carol, and Michael Satrazemis is able to wring a lot of tension out of the build-up to both of those fights, but it just ends up feeling tepid because nothing actually gets resolved. The streets are full of zombies and everyone’s hiding from monsters, but it feels like the status quo continues unabated with multiple unresolved personal conflicts flaring up at the worst possible time.
It’s disturbingly like season two, but I don’t think one mediocre episode is enough to kill the momentum of the sixth season. That episode comes at the worst possible time, to be sure, but even the flatter second half of the season has remained really good, albeit not consistently great. A great performance from Tovah Feldshuh, some tension, and a few jokes aren’t enough to cover up the sound of spinning wheels.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Heads Up, here.