It’s all led to this. The sixth season finale of The Walking Dead and the first appearance of arguably the comic series’ best villain: Negan.
Is it good?
A group of Saviors drag a guy out into the middle of the road. This probably won’t end well.
Meanwhile, Morgan happens to find that missing horse from last episode. You know, the one some guy was looking for before Rick shot at him because he “doesn’t take chances anymore.” Morgan sweet talks the creature, gets on it, rides around for a while, and locates Carol—which (once again) completely blows my mind. It’s like these people have homing beacons for each other or something.
Anyway, Morgan tells Carol that she needs medical attention for her wounds, which they can get back in Alexandria. Carol insists that she can’t go back because “caring about people means you have to kill for them.” Never mind that going out on her own resulted in her one-woman massacre, but whatever.
They go back and forth for a while. Morgan hears something and goes outside. Then Morgan comes back inside and acts surprised that Carol is gone. He gets back on his horse (that apparently does not require food or water) and rides off to find her again.
Meanwhile, Carol stumbles upon a random walker and fights it with about the same combat adeptness as Season 4 Eugene. After nearly getting bitten/killed, she’s ‘saved’ by the Savior who she left alive last episode—and apparently tracked her to this exact location (HOMING BEACON). He claims to want to watch Carol die and shoots her in the arm. Carol begins to laugh because she’s ready to die. Then he shoots her in the leg. Carol responds to this by challenging him to finish her off. The Savior looks like he’s about to when, out of nowhere, Morgan rides up on his horse to the exact same location (HOMING BEACON).
He threatens The Savior with a gun, who snarls and points his own gun down at Carol. Morgan finally breaks his ‘no killing’ vow by shooting the Savior dead like a seasoned marksman. Later, the people who were looking for the horse show up in the exact same spot (HOMING BEACON). They even offer to help Carol and everything.
Ugh. This whole subplot was stupid. Let’s just get to the good part.
Back at Alexandria, everyone is getting ready to take Maggie to the Hilltop. Enid tries to force Carl to let her go. He responds by locking her in the closet, which I found commendable. There’s also a nice exchange where Aaron (successfully) forces Rick to let him be part of the road crew.
Before they take off, a newly competent/somewhat badass Gabriel assures Rick that the town will be taken care of in their absence. When Spencer asks if they should try to make a deal if the Saviors show up, Rick smirks and replies “Tell them to wait for me. I got a deal for ‘em.”
This statement was a perfect (and missed) opportunity for Rick to grab his crotch. More importantly, however, it shows us just how confident he’s become in his crew’s ability to fight and survive…which pretty much guarantees that things are going to go downhill.
Divide and Detour
On the road, Abraham has a talk with Sasha about the possibility of making ‘pancakes’ together. It’s kind of a sweet moment until they run into The Saviors and their victim from the beginning of the episode.
Rick and their defacto leader have a chillingly courteous talk about killing each other before the Alexandrians turn around to look for another way to the Hilltop. (The Saviors also spray painted the guy on the ground, which made absolutely no sense to me. If anyone knows what the point of doing that was, please drop it in the comments).
After heading down an alternate path, they are once again blocked by a group of Saviors. There’s no conversation this time—one of them just fires warning shots into the air until Rick & Co. turn around. Their next route brings them to another blockade consisting of walkers that have been chained together. Rick gets out to inspect things because he doesn’t want to risk the RV (?). Not only is it clear that this obstacle was set up by The Saviors, but one of the walkers has a lock of Michonne’s hair attached to its head. Another has Daryl’s arrows lodged inside its chest. I guess Rosita and Glenn weren’t cool enough to get their own zombie trinkets. Either way, Rick barely has time to process this before some hidden Saviors begin firing at them from the trees. Luck for the Alexandrians, the shooters have some serious Star Wars Stormtrooper aim.
Turns out, however, that the bad shooting was on purpose. After running into two more blockades, including one that featured the hostage from before being hung off an overpass, it becomes clear that The Saviors are herding Rick and his group into a trap.
With Maggie’s condition worsening, Eugene comes up with an idea: He’ll drive the RV solo while the rest of them sneak around the blockades on foot. It seems like a great idea—and a great moment for Eugene—until a short time later when Rick & Co. are surrounded by Saviors. Dwight and the defacto leader from before shove Daryl, Michonne, Rosita, and Glenn into the group along with Eugene, who must have not gotten very far with the RV. Everyone is then forced onto their knees (including a still very ill Maggie) for the arrival of Negan, who provides us with ten of the most chilling minutes we’ve ever had on The Walking Dead …followed by one hell of a terrible ending.
Is it Good?
Let’s get one thing out there before I unload on this episode: Jeffrey Dean Morgan is PERFECT as Negan.
Where a villain like The Governor just seems generically selfish/evil, you get the sense that Negan not only enjoys what he’s doing, but sees it as completely necessary. Unlike Rick, he has taken the terrible things this world forced upon him in stride. Instead of becoming unhinged while desperately clinging to his humanity, Negan fully embraces the savagery that his continued survival requires.
His mere presence is terrifying. He is equal parts imposing and congenial. Unsettling, but somehow soothingly pragmatic. He is everything I thought the TV version of the character could be and then some…minus the cursing, of course.
That ending, on the other hand was all types of terrible.
And yes, I know that season finale cliffhangers are common. But this cliffhanger was not earned or executed well. Not at all.
For starters, it wasn’t even organic from a technical standpoint. To go from the viewpoint we’ve had to the ‘victim’ POV was not only cheap, but kind of hokey. More importantly, however, is the fact that this wasn’t a true cliffhanger in the flow of the real-time narrative. It was a trick played upon the audience. The rest of the characters all know what happened. It’s been confirmed by the show’s writers/producers that someone died — right there in front of everyone, too. We’re just going to have to wait until October to find out who it was.
Show runner Scott Gimple tried to justify this on Talking Dead last night via other examples of great show cliffhangers:
- Locke opening The Hatch on Lost.
- Riker ordering Warf to fire on the Borg ship when a Borged-out Picard was still on it in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I’ll help you out with a few other examples, Mr. Gimple:
- Dallas: Who Shot JR?
- X-Files: Is Mulder dead?
- Twin Peaks: Who shot Agent Cooper—and is he dead?
- Alias: You’ve been dead for two years.
- 24: Jack Bauer taken prisoner by China.
- The West Wing: President Bartlett shot.
- Friends: Ross’ wedding.
- Battlestar Galactica: Boomer shoots Admiral Adama.
- Alias (again): My name’s not Michael Vaughn.
…and a lot more. Do you know what the cliffhangers I listed (and the ones Gimple mentioned) above have in common—besides being universally recognized as GOOD cliffhangers? The characters didn’t know what the heck was going to happen next, either! I’m sure the writers/actors did, but the CHARACTERS, who drive the narrative, were just as shocked/dismayed/curious as we, the audience, were.
In The Walking Dead’s cliffhanger, however, information that is readily available to virtually every major party is purposefully withheld (via a corny camera effect) from the audience. It was cheap—especially when you take into the account the amount of trust the show lost with the Glenn’s fake death from earlier in the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if at the beginning of Season 7, a dumpster fell from the sky for him to crawl under.
Not really. But you get what I’m saying.
Making things even worse was how the show built up such an incredible moment only to snatch it away at the last second. This wasn’t a very good episode on its own, but it did do a good job of setting up those last few minutes, which were utterly terrifying. Add in what seemed like way more commercials than usual, and you have an ultimately frustrating episode.
So why isn’t my score lower? Because Negan was just that good. Being a comic reader, I’m obviously biased, but I probably would have been even angrier if the series’ best villain wasn’t portrayed properly. Thankfully, Jeffrey Dean Morgan came through to salvage some good from an otherwise horrendously handled finale. Let’s hope he and his Saviors can continue that trend when The Walking Dead returns…and we all know who died thanks to the casting news that will be splashed all over the internet by then.