You’ll be SO SHOCKED.
It was me.
And my interest in continuing to watch this show. Game over, man, game over.
(Full spoilers for Season 6 and its season finale ahead)
Look, before I get into the episode itself, I think AMC panicked. I think in a moment of weakness, maybe over fear that perhaps ratings for the show have been dwindling, or fear that their big season finale ending wouldn’t sustain “buzz” or “hype” over the summer, they had someone step in from outside of the show to make damn sure we KEEP TALKING ALL SUMMER!
Well, be careful what you wish for, AMC!
For those who don’t have any clue what I am talking about, the season 6 finale, “Last Day on Earth”, featured the long awaited debut of the psychotic, naming-his-baseball-bat-that’s-wrapped-in-barbwire, oddly charismatic Big Bad, Negan, played by Jeffery Dean Morgan.
This is a character that the entire season has essentially been built around, and it’s kind of an odd thing. As a television show, it’s gotten accustomed to crafting its season long arcs around a specific Big Bad. We’ve had The Wolves, The Governor, The Termites etc.; so for someone completely unfamiliar with the plot of the comics, the word “Negan” being bandied about throughout the season is still going to have some kind of dread associated with it. Viewers have been trained to expect a “VILLIAN” to show up every season, and the show I think, within the narrative alone, attempted to subvert this expectation multiple times by giving the viewer some reason to question “who” Negan really was, and why he should be so feared.
They “tricked” us into thinking Rick killed him when they assaulted that Satellite tower thing, the writers tried to pull some weird, “WE ARE ALL NEGAN” thing with one of the random Saviors that Rick or whoever it was killed, and so on.
But it didn’t really work.
The show’s advertising has been structured in such a way, that unless you lived in a veritable cave and somehow only watched episodes exactly when they aired, and nothing else, you knew this was all a ruse, that there was a specific guy named “Negan” and he was probably going to show up at some point. It’s hollow then, to think anyone actually believed these red herrings, and that feels like the largest problem with this season as a whole.
Traditionally, The Walking Dead has attempted to structure its seasons over some kind of theme; not just a Big Villian, but also some sort of overarching emotional blanket for the narrative.
Season 1 was Leaving Behind the Past!
Season 2 was Farmville!
Season 3 was Can You Have it All?
Season 4 was Doing Whatever it Takes to Survive!
Season 5 was Can You Come Back From All That Doing?
Season 6 has been How Many Times Can We Trick the Audience?
Up until this point, I think the show has been (mostly) really good about season ending cliffhangers. They end in a way that’s reasonable and expected; the narrative ties up, to a point, and we are left thinking, “Well, what is going to happen to Rick and the Gang next season?” It works within the constraints of the show’s given plot and world to build suspense and conflict, forcing us to wait, as one does, when a season ends.
There’s an agreement we make as viewers of serialized mediums. “When this season is over, I will have to wait until next season to find out how it continues.” That’s fair! We are trained for that.
This season though? It’s relied WAY too much on using external methods outside of the show’s actual plot to build any kind of drama or genuine emotional tether.
This has been mostly notable with Glenn, who has “died” twice thus far, once in a moment filmed entirely to trick the audience into getting upset, only to reveal he was SOMEHOW alive, which we learn was entirely dependent upon the way the camera was facing. That was Strike One.
Strike Two? Last episode, as Rick’s Number One, Daryl, and his band were ambushed. Daryl, held at gunpoint, is shot almost instantly. We hear the gun shot! We see a spurt of blood! For the micro-est of seconds, we think, “Wow, they actually killed Daryl.”
But no. It immediately fades to black, and a voice says, “He’ll be all right.”
Seriously? I half expected the next line to be, “Inform Lord Vader we have a prisoner.”
This is cheap! Any suspense of that moment was completely ruined by relying on a fade to black cut and the fact that we have to wait a week to know, what, he’s all right?
And look, I get it. Cliffhangers are a huge part of television. They have a long tradition of serving as a way to build up the tension. But they have to be earned for us to care!
So, after a full season of fake outs, we get to the season finale. For The Walking Dead, we have also been trained to expect HUGE SEASON FINALES NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME, yada yada. Here comes Strike Three.
All season, we have been getting jerked around with this stuff; this was supposed to be the catharsis to all of that. There’s been a sense that the narrative in Season 6 has been pushing our heroes towards acts of undeniable and damn near super powered status, so that when they finally met this Negan human, we would realize just how fully unprepared and arrogant they have been, and any fall out from that would be extra shocking because we wouldn’t be able to believe that one of our core characters was actually just killed. That’s fine; I can buy that angle. It’s part of why of every issue of the comic comes loaded with a stench of fear; no one is safe.
For a while, the show got away from that. Now, only anyone not named Rick, Glenn, Maggie, Daryl, Michonne, or Carl was in danger. Negan was supposed to fix that! He was supposed to remind us, that yes, our “heroes” fucked up, and now, everything you thought you knew about them and this world has changed.
Which again, I can buy that angle and that premise! I need to buy it!
But the episode ended with the biggest sin a television show can commit.
Negan, having finally defanged and cornered The Mighty Rick and his group, played a tense game of “Who Will I Kill?” with this baseball bat which he has named Lucille. It’s a tense scene; Jeffery Dean Morgan brings a charisma and gravitas to Negan that readers of the comic will recognize and delight in. For a moment, you genuinely wonder who is going to bite the barb wire burger. If you’ve read the comics, you probably have a good idea. If not, it’s still just as tense. Personally, I love when this show deviates from its source material; they are different mediums and they should take advantage of their respective strengths. Besides, I like being surprised.
Regardless, the moment approaches, and Negan brutally murders his, “honored victim”, as he puts it, by bludgeoning them to death in the head with the aforementioned bat.
Perhaps realizing this would be too violent, the angle is entirely from the view of the victim, the camera taking on a POV shot. This makes sense, at first. I think the sound of it alone, coupled with the mere suggestion of the violence, and the look on Negan’s face makes it all the more terrifying.
Then it ends.
Just like that. It ends.
The camera doesn’t pull back, we don’t get to see who was killed, we don’t get to see who was left standing; we don’t get to see a damn thing. The suspense of the moment depends entirely on a artificial mystery created by TIME’S UP, KIDS!
You know what we get to do? Wait for 6 months while AMC marketing builds up in every interview, commercial, poster, and smartphone app it can find, the mystery of
Who Shot Mr. Burns Who Did Negan Kill?
It is disgustingly manipulative and insulting to its audience on every conceivable level. I really hate comparing the show and the comic book, but when this moment arrives in the comic, it is brutal and unexpected, and it lets you sit in between issues with the weight of the consequences of what you just witnessed. It establishes Negan as a threat unlike anything Rick and his friends had seen up until this point, and you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen next.
This? I don’t even care. I don’t care who it was anymore and the reveal isn’t going to mean a damn thing at this point. For me, my trust in this show has been broken. I don’t like being manipulated by a television show like this. It’s annoying. It’s lazy. And the worst part is, I know this show can do better.
As for the episode itself, it was fine, I guess. Andrew Lincoln’s performance as Rick when The Shit Misses The Fan was great, as he really sold his horrific comprehension of said moment, but beyond that it was just typical stuff.
Morgan runs around looking for Carol, Carol almost dies,or maybe she does die, who knows.
The rest of the gang gets corralled on the open road by the Saviors for an hour until Negan finally shows up. Darly and the B Team spent the episode in a box. We don’t see them until the end.
The finale was also padded an extra 15 minutes or so, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what those minutes went towards. Perhaps selling more commercial time, but it didn’t add anything to overall episode for me.
So, I’m pretty much checked out. I don’t trust this show anymore, and it clearly doesn’t trust me to keep watching it without building some kind of Hype Machine, so I think it’s best we part ways.
Get back to me in 6 months and let me know if the baby shot someone. At least that would make sense.
Poey Gordon is a journalist, poet, and fiction writer living in the Bay Area.
Follow him on Twitter at ThePoey for more about comics, Gilligan’s Island 2K1 fan-fiction, or decades old Simpson’s quotes.