The Walking Dead Season Finale Is a Harsh Mistress
This blog contains spoilers for both The Walking Dead television series as well as the comic series.
Turn back now to avoid spoilers. If not, don’t blame me!
If there is one thing that the writers of The Walking Dead know how to do, it’s build up their viewers to the brink of an emotional breakdown, only to leave them with the fan version of blue balls. Season six of the survivalist thriller has been nothing short of an emotional roller coaster. The attack of the Wolves, a literally explosive mid-season premier, Richonne finally happening, and Carol’s incredible story arc have made season six one of the best to date.
How the mighty fall.
In my opinion, the problem with season six hinged on its overuse of cliffhangers. The last one may have been the final nail in the proverbial coffin for many fans who were already on their way out. Leaving us hanging for weeks after Dumpstergate, followed by last week’s cliffhanger of Daryl being shot, and now not knowing the fate of one cast member, may be too much for some.
Last night’s episode was beautifully done as far as the building of suspense. If you’re going to follow up last week with not seeing Daryl, Glenn, and Rosita until the final scene, the writers executed well (pun not intended). Here we have our crew, desperately trying to get a sick and pregnant Maggie to Hilltop to receive medical attention. The Saviors have blocked seemingly every possible route away from Alexandria to get literally anywhere. (In hindsight, Carol’s run-in with the Saviors last week was foreshadowing this week’s events.) They are outnumbered and outgunned and they know it. Rick, smartly for a change, doesn’t attempt to run and gun. He makes Maggie and the baby his first and only priority. However, in the end, it was still the wrong choice.
The intensity built and built, bringing us to an incredibly touching moment where Eugene volunteers to basically run a suicide mission to help the Alexandrians get Maggie to Hilltop on foot, while he drives the RV around as a diversion. It is at this point that Eugene fully earns the respect of his Alexandrian family, most especially Abe and Rick. It was a heroic moment for Eugene that left me sobbing like my puppy died, as I assumed he was driving off to imminent death.
After Eugene departs from the group, the creepy, Katniss Everdeen Mockingjay whistling begins tearing through the woods, surrounding the Alexandrians as they work to carry Maggie to safety. This is the first time I have been legitimately afraid on this show in a very long time. I’ve been worried, sad, and anxious watching this show for the last few seasons, but it hasn’t been since probably the line up at the trough in Terminus that I’ve felt afraid.
Which brings us to the long awaited arrival of Big Bad Negan. Every last one of our main characters are lined up on their knees, reminiscent of the trough, awaiting their fate at the hands of Lucille. Due to spoilers I’d heard of Lucille, I assumed she was a person. How wrong I was. Lucille is Negan’s Mad Max style baseball bat, adorned in barbed wire.
We sit and anticipate through his stereotypical, villainous monologuing. We sit and wait as turn after turn up and down the line, he picks apart the group, deciding whose life he will take as vengeance for the number Daryl and the rocket launcher did on his crew and the subsequent attacks at the telecommunications station (I assume) and on the Kill Floor.
We wait, and we wait. We listen to our beloved characters crying, watching the horror and despair on their faces. We feel it. The grief and fear is palpable. And then, Negan swings Lucille. Over. And over. And over again. Screaming. Crying. Blood. Black. And then absolutely nothing.
Who did Negan kill? We don’t know. We don’t know and we won’t find out until October. 90 minutes bringing us to this climatic and critical moment in the show’s history and there is no payoff. There is only darkness.
For 90 minutes, the show put fans through the emotional ringer, with interruptions for the Carol and Morgan storyline, which frankly kept pulling me right out of the episode, and left us with no release. For an entire season, we knew that Negan was coming. We knew that someone we love was going to exit the show in an absolutely brutal and horrific manner. We were ready to mourn, but the writers and producers of TWD decided to play it their way. Scott M. Gimple on Talking Dead promised that they wouldn’t do this to fans without planning an appropriate reward and a hell of a story.
I don’t believe that this formula works for fans or that it will work on screen once it actually plays out. They’ve made it difficult to care. And why watch TWD if you don’t care? We were ready to say goodbye, most likely to Glenn if the writers are keeping faithful to the comics, but that opportunity was stolen away from us. It will take nothing short of a miracle to bring fans back to that moment and mindset in 6 months where we are waiting for someone to meet their end.
Frankly, as I’ve had overnight to mull over the episode, I’m so salty that I don’t know if I'll be returning to the show for season 7 or that I’ll continue to read the comics. I have actually been pacing the comics with the show. I’ll watch the season, go back to the comics, catch up with the show, and then stop until the next season because I decided that I didn’t want any more spoilers. (Unfortunately, a friend’s a-hole husband purposely ruined the details of Glenn’s death for me, so I already knew it was very likely to be him on the receiving end of Lucille. It doesn’t mean that it will be Glenn, but it’s possible and probable.)
Knowing all of this, do I even want to go back and invest myself in the story further? Do I want to continue watching Fear the Walking Dead, which I absolutely love, knowing that the writers are cool with this failed formula for suspense? I was amped up for the FTWD season premier next week, but now I think I’d rather not even continue to put my emotion there.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s just a book. It’s just a show. But all good books and shows are meant to make you feel and to explore and question your own life based on the lessons and characters. Who am I in this situation? Am I Rick, who ranges from timid to borderline psychotic? Am I Carol, a chameleon who adapts to her environment for the sake of self-preservation? Am I Glenn, our ideal who knows how to survive, but doesn’t do it at the expense of his humanity?
Right now, I don’t think it matters. Right now, I am simply a dejected fan whom was ready to say goodbye to a character and a friend, but may just be ready to say goodbye to the show. We’ll see what San Diego Comic Con brings as far as previews, but at this point, TWD needs to do its own soul searching on what will keep fans hungry for more, rather than repulsed by what is on their plate.