Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for the season finale of The Walking Dead! Proceed with caution, survivors. For reals, if you haven’t yet watched last night’s episode, “Last Day on Earth,” we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Let’s go.
Oh dear. That wasn’t what I was expecting at all.
For most of last week I was thinking about what yesterday’s season 6 finale of The Walking Dead would bring. I’d no doubt that at least one of our survivors would be killed by Negan, as part of his long-awaited, much-talked-about arrival. But which one? I assumed this review would turn into a eulogy for a fallen friend; and since none of the show’s regular characters had perished during this season, I’d guessed I’d be watching the murder of a close friend.
Boy, did I ever guess wrong.
Remember the controversy of Dumpstergate? Or last week’s fake-out shooting of Daryl? The fan disgruntlement and teeth-gnashing that resulted from those moments were peanuts compared to what I’m expecting to hear from Walking Dead fans this summer. In fact, I’d argue that that there’s never a greater disparity between what the show’s producers thought fans would appreciate and the harsh reality. Because this isn’t just a case of pulling the rug out from under audiences. This speaks to the fundamental, unspoken agreement that’s made between storyteller and audience. Ever since Jeffrey Dean Morgan was announced as the leader of the Saviors, we’ve been guessing how he would arrive, when he would arrive, and, most importantly, which of our heroes he would take out first with his barbed-wire-laden baseball bat. Sure, it was a morbid guessing game, but Negan is most famous among fans of The Walking Dead comic book for his arrival in the landmark issue #100 and his butchering of Glenn. Of course it didn’t have to be Glenn here. Hell, it didn’t have to be any of the show’s stars. But there should have been some payoff for the wait, especially after the level of hype surrounding Negan’s arrival that was manufactured by creators, cast, and viewers alike.
Yet “Last Day on Earth” is notable mainly for its utter lack of payoff, not only in the Negan storyline but in most other areas. Carol’s big exit? Didn’t really go anywhere. Morgan chasing after Carol? They’re more or less where they were at the start of the episode. Carl locking Enid in the closet? Nope, no follow-up to that. Heck, even Eugene’s sacrifice, the most moving part of the episode, was all for nought. I’d have been happier if Eugene escaped or was killed or even joined the Saviors. But to just get thrown back into Rick’s team to witness Negan’s arrival? I’m upset that I didn’t feel anything besides indifference. Keep in mind that this episode ran a half hour longer than usual, so it had more than enough time to nail some landings. But far too much time was wasted by having the group driving around in circles, literally and narratively.
Yes, their horror at discovering they’ve been played all along, and their encirclement by the Saviors in the middle of the woods (to the accompaniment of that damn whistling), is creepy as anything we’ve seen so far. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is, as expected, great as Negan. His introduction is nothing short of terrific. He’s genuinely chilling as he paces before the hapless Alexandrians, his bat ready to go off like a rocket at the slightest provocation. The way in which he’s framed, in the cold night, from Rick’s POV on the ground, distinguishes him from any of the other Big Bads we’ve seen on The Walking Dead. But then his big scene goes on. And on. And on. Until… Nothing. Just a spray of blood on the lens to match last week’s similarly lackluster final shot.
We now have six months to wonder exactly who Negan introduced to Lucille. And it’s unlikely the answer the show comes up with, or its outcome, will be as satisfying as the ones we’re already forming in our heads. No, it won’t be Rick or Carl, based on Negan’s final bit of dialogue. Fans will outright riot in the streets if it’s Daryl and feel cheated if it’s only Aaron. So I guess anyone else is fair game. But right now, after watching this over-inflated, unnecessarily supersized episode, I’m just not sure it’s a game I’m in the mood to play.
— Sasha now describes her and Abraham as a “package deal.” Awww…
— But was I the only viewer who felt Abe’s conversation with Sasha about having children all but guaranteed he’d meet the business end of Ms. Lucille by episode’s end?
— “I’ll be your anchor man. Yes, I damn will.” From his farewell hug with Abe to his smile of satisfaction as he drove off on his suicide mission, Eugene was far and away the MVP of this episode.
— Gabriel too came off looking surprisingly great this time around. Though that’s largely because he didn’t hop in that damned RV.
— Carl, on the other hand? Son, please don’t ever speak again when your father is trying to strategize.
— Andrew Lincoln, it must be said, continues to give a damn fine freak-out. Even if we could see this one coming a mile away.
— Was there any opportunity the show’s writers missed to have the characters say the title of this week’s episode?
— I don’t know who the cavalry are that rescued Carol and Morgan, but for the time being I suspect they’re Rick’s best chance of keeping his people alive. Of course, it could be a huge Easter Egg for next season…
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).
Image Credit: AMC