I’m not even going to make an attempt to avoid spoilers. Seriously, I’m gonna go into detail on everything up to the final fade to black at the end of the final episode and even some of the stuff covered by news stories too probably. The spoilers and this review WILL impact how you approach the show, or at least they will if I do it right.
I’ve been pretty vocal in my appreciation for The Walking Dead in the past. I’ve recently gone back and binge watched all the first five seasons and I stand by all the gushingly enthusiastic words I’ve written in the past. This however is not going to be a gushing review. It’s going to be a really pissed off one.
My annoyance with the show’s sixth season started with the manipulative and cruel cliffhanger on whether Glenn was dead (covered in more bitter detail in the review of the first half of the season). The cliffhanger at the end of that episode itself was harsh, dragging the uncertainty out for a couple more episodes and then having him save himself in a clumsy and improbable way was almost unforgivable.
So the writers were on rather shaky ground with me as we entered the second half of the season. But things were going ok. There were some really interesting evolutions for characters and the world as a whole. Alexandria is not the only community out there, and it’s interesting to think how outsiders might view our characters, and how they can integrate with both the brutal Saviours and the more hippy Hilltop. We’ve always known that our ‘heroes’ aren’t really entirely on the side of the angels, but where do they fall on the spectrum that’s left after the world change? The community as a whole needs to decide its rules of behaviour, and the individuals within the community must decide where they stand and what to do if they can’t agree with the rest of what has become their extended family.
All that stuff, The Walking Dead still absolutely excels at. It was often really uncomfortable to watch and think about, which is almost a defining factor for The Walking Dead. It’s not the gore and violence of the undead that’s the real horror, it’s the morality and violence against each other. Seeing what the world has done to the people is fascinating, Carol started out the mousey victim of domestic violence, lost her family and turned into a fighter, but she doesn’t realise she needs to stop until it’s too late and how can she stop? The great survivor doesn’t want to survive anymore. There are similar complex characters throughout the cast (particularly from the women I’d have to say) – Maggie, Sasha, Michone, Abraham, Denise (oh Denise!), Carl, Daryl. They all question who they have become and who they really want to be. It was about doing what you had to to survive, but just as they did at the Prison there’s now a chance to do more than just survive. But they know what happened at the Prison.
So where’s the anger? Well, basically in the last 5 minutes. All that careful character writing and discussion of complex moral questions is blown out the window for an extended soliloquy from a villain who lacks the depth of even The Governor followed by a drawn out debate of who was going to die and then…. smash to black. So all that tension building across the last half of the season, the growing reality that someone important was going to die was all blown away with a cheap “come back in 6 months”.
The audience of Walking Dead deserves better than that.
The showrunners immediately go on the defensive, confirming that “someone beloved” is going to die and that it’s not a trick. So why not show who it is? To make sure we all tune in next season? Look at your ratings guys, I don’t think that was in any doubt. It’s possible there are a couple of characters that if killed might cause people to not tune back in, but you’re gonna lose that audience either way whether it’s now or after the first 5 minutes of the start of season 7. Plus, if you’re worried about that – don’t kill that character.
There is no good reason for that sort of mucking about. In fact I don’t think there’s even any creative impact. I would think that showing someone dead and leaving the audience to spend the summer wondering how the rest of the group will continue without them would have just as much emotional impact. To me, an end of season cliffhanger (if you must do them at all) should be about wondering what will happen in the whole of the next season, not just about the first 2 minutes.
On many series a character death would be that kind of event, but that’s not true on The Walking Dead as they’ve killed plenty of major characters before. I think the only character death that would be genuinely paradigm shifting is Rick, and if you listen carefully to what Negan says – both Rick and Carl are safe. Yes, losing Glenn, Maggie or Daryl would be hard, but I don’t think it would fundamentally change the direction of the show. Think of all the characters that have been lost. From integral members of the group like Hershell and Lori all the way through to people who impacted one character. Did anyone but Sasha care when Bob died, would anyone but Abraham and maybe Rosita really notice Eugene dying? Would anyone at all notice if Aaron died?
The more I think about it, the more I come to rationalise away each option and how it wouldn’t have that epic an impact. It would be sad, but everyone would keep moving as they always have. I think the writers have made an epic mistake. Not only have they pissed people off today, but I think they’ll find that when they finally reveal who died, there’ll be an overwhelmingly apathetic response. We will have spent the summer pondering it, thought through all the options, it can’t help but be underwhelming.
I have other gripes with the season that I guess I should mention. Where did Jesus go? Introduce a fascinating character and then have him disappear. And were we really supposed to care for any of the Alexandrians? Denise was an absolute standout, but even Aaron was relegated to background noise in preference to whiny Spencer. . Why are the characters so stupid? You know there’s a huge threat out there but you endlessly all leave to wander the wilderness and walk into traps, taking your only medic wandering about. How many saviours are there? Are you saying a violent gang, numbering well over a hundred and with huge resources were living within a short distance of Alexandria all this time and no one noticed? And that the same vast army never came knocking on Alexandria’s door before? These were the things I was thinking as the tension was supposed to be building to the final reveal of Negan. Not “ooo how scary is this?” but “how stupid are you?”. Stupid isn’t a word I’ve previously associated with this show.
My anger has reduced in the few days since the episode aired, partly helped by forcing myself to take my time over this article and remember all the good stuff that happened too. But my anger hasn’t been replaced by good feelings, it’s just turned into apathy and sadness. I’m sad that the writers felt the need to reduce all the good work they’d done before into a set up for a cliffhanger. I’m apathetic about who dies. Which before the episode aired I had been utterly obsessed about, but now that I have to wait 6 months, I’ve got plenty of time to come to terms with all the options (I could probably spend almost a whole month carefully thinking about each option) and the writers are gonna have to do something truly incredible to make me feel anything other than underwhelmed. Still, I guess if anyone can do it… it’s probably them.