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The Walking Dead: Season 6 Finale (Review)


Disclaimer: This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS regarding the season 6 finale of The Walking Dead. If you are thinking about watching it, please refrain from reading this article.

Batting on a Cliffhanger

Season 6 of The Walking Dead has been a bit mixed: a combination of solid and uneven. Reasons for this are the first half of the season covering a single day, resulting in some thrown-in deaths which don’t have much impact, followed by kicking off the second half with the continuous teasing of the emergence of Negan and his forces. Latest episodes of this season have felt incredibly strong with increasing suggestions that Rick and the Alexandrians could be biting off more than they can chew with who they're facing. Season 6’s finale episode feels like the climax of this suggestion coming into fruition and the show returning to part of its earlier premise: any of its characters, who you actually care about, could die. The finale episode succeeds in this, until the last couple of minutes.


[SPOILER WARNING OF SPOILER THINGS AHEAD].

Characters & Cast Performances

Firstly, cast performances deserve praise for once again matching the stakes and finality that a season finale should be. Andrew Lincoln brings his role as Rick Grimes as a more comforting version of his usual authoritative presence. With The Group venturing out to retrieve Michonne, Glenn and Daryl whilst also trying to receive medical help for Maggie, Lincoln once again stands tall in his convincing performance as a Leader, telling his companions “everything is going to be okay, no matter what it takes”. The paradigm shift towards the end of this episode is also contributive to Lincoln’s praise due to the adaptation he inevitably has to develop for the character.

Others in the RV Rescue Team of the group also deserves praise. Chandler Riggs finishes the season strong as a more seasoned and hardened Carl Grimes. The same applies to Michael Cudlitz as Abraham Ford, Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams and Josh McDermitt as Eugene Porter. Each of these characters in the finale have had arcs come to a satisfying form of closure, positively contributing to the tension that the potential of the finale climax has.

Structure & Storytelling

In terms of structure, the story arc of the episode is definitely entertaining, especially with constant mentions of what’s to come. It becomes a game of a mouse in a maze between Rick’s group and The Saviors. Each time our heroes try to reach the Hilltop Colony to get Maggie to a doctor, they find their route blocked by Saviors. More than the last. The growing frustration of Rick and the group shows each time they meet failure. As a viewer, tension continues to grow as you feel the trap on them is closing in more and more.

Comparing to the bulk of the episode building up to the Negan climax, Carol and Morgan’s story of this finale appears to be a bit unsatisfactory. It definitely can’t be said that Melissa McBride’s (Carol) and Lennie James (Morgan Jones) didn’t give good performances. Their seasoned take on these characters are as engaging as ever. Even Morgan’s resolution with the journey of his morals comes to a slightly pleasing and comprising end for the season. The issue is the rollercoaster journey of Carol’s character in this episode that has followed from those previous. Constant takings of human life throughout the series appears to have taken its toll to the point where Carol is troubled with the conflicts of continuing her own. She has gotten to the point where taking human lives is painful, more and more each time. Carol appears to have regressed from badass to a husk of her former self who is tired of life. Whilst this stage in a character’s journey could be understandable, this particular journey is painful in Carol’s case. During previous seasons and episodes of season 6, Carol’s character progress has been an example of what the world in The Walking Dead deems as necessary in order to survive: to kill or be killed, to take lives to save those of the people you care about and that this world will eat you alive if you don’t face it head on. Although; the fact that the rollercoaster ride of a character’s development (or relapse) is so painful to watch certainly does show the power of emotional attachment from loyal audience members but does go into a sharp, downward spiral that seems so unnatural, even in this unpredictable world.

I still miss our sweet, lovely murder-chick.

Anticipation to the episodes’ highpoint: the final reveal of The Saviors' leader, Negan was definitely a ride that kept us on the edge of our seats. Steven Ogg, playing the Saviors' second-in command of the episode was a great, daunting presence. Rick was being spoken to by the Saviors as if they were talking to us in the viewing audience. Ogg’s character telling us that we should be appreciating all of the characters in the rescue RV whilst we can, as this might be the last day on Earth for one of them, was an approach which will bring any first-time viewer of the episode even further to the edge of their seats. We’re basically being told through the eyes of Rick that our time of enjoyment seeing him as the ultimate leader is now over and we will be seeing his punishment ourselves in a matter of minutes.

However, the pile-on towards the peak of this finale eventually topples once we get to the end of this final scene. Watching the scene which finally showcases Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan is nothing short of a brilliant performance. He captures the transition of this character from comic to paper with perfect timing to correlate the taking of Champion Leader crown from Rick. The final scene is about 10 minutes in length but watching Jeffrey Morgan bring this character to life in such a charismatic yet menacing display makes time fly. He is truly the best part of the episode, if not the season itself. Nevertheless; the delivery on what the episode was building up to, the punishment for Rick through the death of one of the group members, is presented as a cliffhanger. The cliffhanger itself, in the form of a point-of-view shot of the unnamed victim beaten by Negan’s bat, Lucille, feels like a cheat move that deprives the full experience of what this episode was supposed to be. Yes, a job of this show is to bring in viewers back for future episodes but there are appropriate and inappropriate times for cliffhangers. Saving the identity of a murdered character for a new season, whilst the build-up to it was presented in a certain way, is an incredibly inappropriate time. As mentioned earlier, this finale and its message was being shown as if we were looking through the eyes of Rick and the group. We, the viewers, would be saying goodbye to one of our beloved main characters by the end of the episode. We, the viewers, would no longer be seeing Rick and the Alexandrians at the big kids table, minus one. We; the viewers, in the words of Negan “are all gonna be peeing in our pants in the next few minutes” and are going to wish Rick and the rest of our heroes hadn’t crossed him. This message, whilst waiting for its delivery, seemed like it was going to be end with a final emotional impact in the form of a dead, beloved character left in front of Rick and the remaining. Even the suspenseful “eenie, meenie, miney, mo” being carried out in the last minute would have been brilliant if it had ended with an identifiable dead character at its end, but followed with a bargain priced climax instead.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan could be watched for an hour straight.

It can be argued that this episode was not meant to be about the final fate of a certain dead character, that it was not meant to be a re-emergence of the fact that anyone (that you actually care about) could die with a beloved main character being a new example. It can be said that the episode was meant to be about breaking Rick down, that he isn’t the king of the world like the show has made him out to be. The episode clearly did display beautifully, the cold and hard metaphorical punch to Rick’s face, that there is always someone stronger and more terrifying than him. Though, saying that this alone was meant to be the episode’s message alone is a cop-out answer. The final phase of bringing Rick down; before beginning The Walking Dead’s next chapter, would be the bloody and gruesome presentation of a dead companion, who we've grown attached to, gone right before our eyes, as if we are part of the Group itself and the end of the journey that this episode and season was taking us on. Choosing not to reveal the dead character’s identity; which has not even been filmed yet, is a sacrifice of good story telling for the sake of not scaring off potential viewers for the next season, who don’t want to see their favourite character dead.

Verdict

The Walking Dead Season Finale was definitely a fun ride. Minor story arcs come full circle, memorable performances are made and tensions made viewers’ hearts beat like jack hammers on caffeine. Should we still come back for Season 7? Definitely, but not for the cliffhanger. What Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan is going to bring to the show for its next story arc is something I cannot wait to explore. In fact, the character itself in this finale lays the foundation for what could be the best season yet. Nonetheless, the cliffhanger left a giant whole out of the complete, experience that the intense bulk the episode was. It was like ordering wine to go with your steak, said wine not being brought over for another 6 months and its eventual delivery by the timid waiter results in a lackluster taste of cheap story telling.

Rating: 6/10

Check out more reviews from Ben on his blog Pineapple Carpet!

 
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