Oh yes, he’s back. I kinda gave up on TV reviews a little, mainly because I was unable to keep current with episodes as they aired, but The Walking Dead has always had an exception made in that field. Mostly this is because I am still an avid reader of the comic series and I regularly watch it every week with one of my friends who is not so aside from the show, I get a great joy out of watching her reactions to moments from the comic as they unfold and indeed getting caught out myself as the show “remixes” some key moments. It doesn’t hurt either that since Scott Gimple took over as showrunner on Season 4, the quality has been escalating consistently. That is, until, the last two or three episodes of Season 6. Or is it? It’s a really weird one being honest because in the 16 hours or so since I watched the finale my opinion on it has been bouncing back and forth and online I can mostly only see opinions coming in from fellow comic readers. So I’m deathly curious, show only watchers, what did you think of it? I make that statement now because I want to clarify, I may say some slightly mean things about the finale (as well as many SPOILERS too!) and I want it to be known that I’m mostly saying these things as someone who knows what’s coming next. Take that as you will but it is, in my opinion, an important factor to keep in mind. Let’s get started.
First of all we’ll get the grips out of the way – the season ended on an absolute bitch of a cliffhanger, even if you read the comics because whomever is on the receiving end of Negan’s wrath in the show may differ from the source material. Cliffhangers are nothing new to the TV world, but they are creeping into TWD universe more and more and it is anything but a good thing. This show gets a bad rap for being a soap opera with zombies, ending episodes and in turn seasons with Dallas level cliffhangers doesn’t help that in any way. To my knowledge the first of these senseless cliffhangers came along in the season finale of Season 4 with the now infamous “They’re screwing with the wrong people” ending (seriously, check it out on Blu Ray where Andrew Lincoln gets to actually say “Fucking with the wrong people”, changes the entire scene). This moment was a massively underwhelming finale unless, ironically, you were a reader of the comics and knew what was coming next. Sure enough, the Season 5 opener was one of the best and most exciting episodes of the entire series, but I don’t think they can get away with that this time around. It is also worth noting that Season 5 also ended with a “WTF?!?!?” ending that appeared as though a few minutes had been cut from the end and then Season 6 did little or nothing to directly address it when the show returned.
So what happened, what am I whining about? Well, Negan showed up. And it was beautiful. Jeffrey Dean Morgan just, he is Negan. He was absolutely fantastic in the role and for me, his sinister charisma on screen even made me completely ignore the fact that he has been completely watered down for American television (can’t be saying “fuck” on TV, but keep going with those decapitations and disembowelment please!). Everything is going great, and somehow he has absolutely transformed himself into Negan even though he had very little turnaround from casting to filming the titular scene. Then we get a cringeworthy POV shot from whomever it was the got to meet Lucille, complete with blood running down the screen á la GoldenEye N64 and cut to black. I’m not saying it wasn’t effective, it absolutely was, but the cliffhanger element was so entirely unnecessary. Whether it is the character from the source material that buys it or someone else, this death is a huge shift in the plot. In the comics it kicks off an epic run of issues and that is what Robert Kirkman (creator of The Walking Dead) keeps repeating in defence of this finale, that the moment we see up until finishes the story of Season 6, who died and the effect it has on the group kicks off the story of Season 7. But I don’t buy that. How are the event and the person involved in said event mutually exclusive? It is relevant that Rick’s arrogance in Season 6 and willingness to fight first against The Saviours gets him on the wrong side of Negan, and in turn he gets one of his own killed, but it is just as if not more relevant who he gets killed. Whether it is the original victim or a replacement, any one of the group assembled there on their knees will have a huge impact on the show. And we won’t find out until next October.
It doesn’t hurt either that the episode itself was a little lacklustre, basically the RV driving up and down roads as well as a Morgan and Carol B plot that came good by the end but served little purpose throughout. This episode, like other premieres and finales, got a somewhat last minute extension to 90 minutes. That’s only an extra 15 minutes of actual footage when commercial breaks are taken into account but man did it feel like those 15 minutes should have stayed on the cutting room floor. Furthermore, the ending felt like it was missing 2 minutes. Arg, I really can’t make up my mind here. Am I pissed because I have to wait the entire summer before I can check out people’s reactions to what I know is gonna be an earth shattering moment for fans? Maybe I am, but I’m not fully confident it is that. The Walking Dead doesn’t need cliffhangers. Each episode, for the most part, features some big “Holy shit!” moment so rather than traipsing from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, just give episodes a resolution and catch us all with the next week’s big moment. We’ve had the aforementioned Season 4 cliffhanger, we’ve had the pointless Glenn death fake out, we’ve had the abrupt end to Season 5, we’ve had the mind numbingly stupid “Daryl got shot” ending last week…overuse of cliffhangers simply clichés a cliche and it is getting tiresome.
To try and further clarify why this was a genuinely bad season finale and this isn’t just a fanboy rant, let me ask you this – did you hinge your decision to watch the next season based on how this finale went? After six years of investment, would you really have decided “OMG, they killed ****, I’m done with this show!”? I highly doubt it, but that’s what AMC thought would happen and I specifically say AMC because with the whole debacle over Frank Darabont being fired and the budget cuts etc it’s hard not to imagine them breathing down Scott Gimple’s neck, and to be fair to the man he has well and truly turned the series around since taking the reins and the only real shortfall we have seen has been the season finales. These are the money spinners for AMC. When it comes to organising advertising revenue for the next season, they can show a massive cliffhanger with the promise of yet another record breaking amount of viewers tuning in to the Season 7 premiere. That will diminish though, something the network won’t acknowledge until it is too late. Furthermore, this is the single most iconic scene from the comics and it has now had its effect halved. I have no doubt in my mind that Season 7 will open with an explosive episode that follows directly on from these events, and it may even be the case that they try their best to justify this ending. But the hollow feeling that viewers would have been left with had this episode ended correctly and then been made to wait six months knowing that our group are knee deep in really bad times and that one of their motley crew has bitten the dust in a severely grim fashion would have been a far more effective note to end the season on and would’ve brought high stakes back to the show. Need I remind you all that it has been more than an entire season since a character who wasn’t introduced along with Alexandria has died? No, that’s not a measure of quality if major characters drop like flies, but one of the comics strengths was that Kirkman has the balls to make the tough decisions and we find out there and then within the same issue what happened. The show had that initially, with Shane, Lori, Dale, Hershel and Beth. These were all massively impactful and all happened within the same episode the situation of peril began in. It’s the show’s thing!!
Look, I’m still an avid viewer, I’m sure you are too. I’ll be right back on the couch this Halloween and I’m sure I’ll enjoy what comes next, but I know there was a better way of doing this sequence of events, and if I, as a dude with an opinion and a blog can see that, why couldn’t an entire writer’s room see it?