AMC‘s The Walking Dead returned on October 11, 2015 with a sixth installment of tension-filled drama and a side of gore. After critics and fans alike hailed the fifth season, expectations were high this time around. Viewers eagerly awaited the moral aftermath of Pete’s execution and readers of the comics looked forward to some big moments, not the least of which was the debut of Negan, the sociopath leader of The Saviors. More on that later.
*WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS – YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!*
We re-join Rick (played once again by the chillingly somber Andrew Lincoln) and company as they defend the safe-zone city of Alexandria against herds of Walkers, roving gangs, and the ever dire threat of inter-communal relationships.
In the first few episodes, this season seemed to have a lot going for it. A massive herd of Walkers is gathering outside the city and it’s only a matter of time before they converge. For one reason or another, every character and their mother finds an excuse to leave the safety of Alexandria and venture out, which of course leads to other characters going out and looking for them. At the same time a group of scavengers called The Wolves is a constant harassment. Amidst all this chaos is an agrarian community called The Hilltop that begins to trade food for weapons, much to the chagrin of The Saviors, ANOTHER gang of mean people doing mean things.
The first half of the season is one big crisis. Every other scene features different characters dealing with different events, and while it does leave you wondering what happens next, it mostly felt like a gimmick to keep us hooked. This proverbial shark-jump culminates in the groan inducing Glenn “fake-out” death. I would say spoiler alert, but at this point we know that any death not clearly depicted on camera didn’t happen. Need further proof? The same thing happens to Daryl.
Needless fan deception is a good way to sum up Season 6. Carol has a defining moment where she confronts an entire truck full of Saviors only to have the episode end before we learn her fate. Of course there’s always next episode, but by then a lot of the emotional investment has dissipated.
The Saviors themselves are a mixed bag. In the comics, they were a fearsome horde of bikers that made Hell’s Angels look like toddlers on Big Wheels. In the show, they’re kind of bothersome. It was actually Rick who drew first blood, killing a crowd of Saviors in their sleep simply based on some frightening rumors (um, this guy’s the hero, right?). Granted, they get their act together toward the end of the season and become a truly terrifying force.
One plus is that Rick’s animosity towards this gang unveils a darker side that’s been hinted at in the past. Some of his and others’ decisions become more based on pride and a general “I’m tired of crap going wrong” attitude rather than reason and logic. This leads to some great acting from the cast, Lincoln in particular. There’s a great segment where Rick and the gang are trying to get a pregnant Maggie to a doctor and every road they take is obscured by increasingly disturbing roadblocks, courtesy of The Saviors. With each new obstacle Rick’s mood and expressions crawl from confident to desperate until he realizes he’s in over his head.
But who cares? You want to know what I thought of the finale.
The final episode can be judged on two different levels: the episode itself and the last scene. As a whole, the episode was decent. Much of it is taken up by The Saviors blocking all roads north, discussed above, and the escalating panic of the main characters. Intermittently, we get scenes of Morgan following Carol as she hunts a stray Savior. He tries to persuade her to return to Alexandria, she insists she’s a lost cause and he should leave. These scenes would be interesting if they weren’t competing with chains of Walkers linked together by their guts, Rick and the gang getting shot at from every angle, and the anticipation of finally seeing Negan. Carol and Morgan are two of the show’s better characters but their roles in this episode are forgettable at best.
All of the genius moves made by the main characters see them captured and on their knees in the woods, surrounded by The Saviors. The door to their own RV opens and out strolls the guy that this entire season has been building up to: Negan, a sadistic, monster of a man sporting a barbed wire baseball bat named Lucille. The casting of Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen, Supernatural), was a brilliant choice. In what could have been a laughably, over-the-top villain, Morgan delivers downright disturbing performance that’s anything but humorous. Negan’s calm, suave demeanor barely masks the maniac fighting to get out just under the surface. Morgan has a few weak moments, but with the lengthy monologue he had, that’s to be expected.
However, even his incredible acting couldn’t save the ending. I hate bandwagons, but the decision not to reveal who Negan beats to death may have been the worst of the series. 15 episodes built up to this character and every fan was speculating on who he would off, as he so infamously does to Glenn in the comics. After a nail-biting rendition of Eenie Meanie Miny Moe to choose his victim, the camera switches to the POV of the condemned, with Negan swinging at the audience and blood running down the screen.
Here’s why this doesn’t work: by the time Season 7 rolls around, the intense emotional bond we would have had with whoever died will have lessened considerably. Instead of all our emotions spilling out at once, the investment will have been watered-down, fans will have seen early photos from the set which will give away who died anyway, and the reaction will be “They killed who? Damn, that sucks.”
Most likely the writers were unsure of who they wanted to kill and are waiting for fan speculation to determine. I think what they were going for was a Game of Thrones “did Jon Snow really die” effect, but unlike GoT, Walking Dead doesn’t have magic, so there’s no chance of this character coming back. All debate is rendered pointless once we discover who it is.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, Season 6 had its strong moments of suspense, action, and superb acting, but in the end I felt toyed with more than anything. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s short screen time is worth every second of the wait, but the payoff after that was nothing short of disappointing. If the writers aren’t willing to dispose of popular characters then all elements of danger and suspense are effectively eliminated. A poor state for a zombie apocalypse show to find itself. – 5.5/10
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine