The Walking Dead may be a lot of different things to a lot of different people—family drama, zombie horror, warnings of a dystopian future, cash machine—but at the end of the day, it’s a show about the lengths a person will go to survive in a world determined to destroy them. While that’s a thrilling storytelling device, in the long haul it makes for a weak theme. There are only so many ways in which a character can develop within those narrow borders that you end up telling variations on the same story ad nauseum. To spice things up, a writer might turn a bunch of extras into cannon fodder or kill off a beloved character, but once the dust settles the same old, same old is still ambling along. The best and worst thing to be said about TWD this far into the game is that at least it’s consistent.
The Alexandria plot never worked as well as it needed to, mostly because the Alexandrians totally sucked as characters and plot devices. The ones who weren’t boring and forgettable were such wildly incompetent assholes it was hard to not root for their sudden yet inevitable demise. TWD often forgets it’s supposed to give personalities to background characters before turning them into zombie chum, meaning that whenever any of them died a particularly gruesome death, it was hard to feel much more than shrugging annoyance. No matter how vehement one of the Alexandrians would get about Rick, he would always be proven right (as the hero he can never be fatally wrong), and the lucky idiots were so preposterously stupid that getting eaten was a blessing in disguise for all involved.
Even if by some miracle Rick is able to salvage Alexandria, with Negan hovering in the background he’s not likely to keep the town for long. (By the by, who the hell sets up a show’s new arc with a teaser during an entirely different show? For Hera’s sake, TWD. Get it together.) And I have to say I’m not all that excited about the prospects of what comes next. We’ve done this dance before. Sometimes the beats are swapped around, but the end is always the same: Rick defeats the Big Bad, and the core group wander off to start the whole thing up again in a new locale. I know Negan has a big role in the comics, and I’m sure there are a bunch of fans eagerly awaiting the arrival of Negan and his modified baseball bat named Lucille, but having made it this far with TWD, he’ll just end up as the Governor 2.0.
Now that we’re halfway through the sixth season, we understand these characters well enough to know how they’ll react to new characters and situations and how new events will or won’t shape them as the seasons progress. Post-Governor Rick has slowly been moving toward a more forceful personality, and his time in Alexandria solidified that. Yet because the writers seem determined to never let him stop being a hero (or let him become an antihero), any shifts in behavior always reset in a redemption arc. At this point, the only real antihero on the show is Carol, and I love her all the more for it. Rick has never been a particularly engaging protagonist. He does a fine job as the lead, but he concocts awful plans and seems to be in charge mostly because no one else wants the job or the hassle of taking it from him (it’s easier to run a kingdom when you aren’t the king). The simmering conflict between Carol’s brutal pragmatism and Morgan’s determined optimism was fantastically portrayed in how they each dealt with the attacking Wolves in 6×02 “JSS,” and this finale, of course.
I’m also not entirely sold on the chronology this season. Most of the events of season 6 have taken place within a few short days, save a handful of flashbacks. Suicides, ill patients, and romances work well when built over the course of several weeks in the internal timeline, but when Jessie and Rick make out a few days after he killed her husband in cold blood it feels a bit… creepy. The problem is that the writers decided to expand the zombie death march from a reasonable few episodes to an overdrawn half-season arc. Moving the herd (Christ, what a stupid fucking plan) should theoretically only take a few days, a week at most, and cramming the events in Alexandria into a truncated timeline shortchanges the emotional weight of character developments. Splitting the half-season into the migration plot and Wolves plot with some midway crossover would’ve probably been a better use of both storylines. Instead, both feel rushed and undercooked.
Glenn’s “death” spawned a million thinkpieces, so I won’t bog this review down anymore by arguing about it except to say there was no way the show could come out the other end of his death unscathed. They could either kill off a popular character or bring him back in a massive cheat that undercuts the show’s entire premise. In the end they chose the latter, to spectacularly bad PR. I don’t know who decided it was a good idea to wait three episodes for the Big Reveal that he somehow magically survived, but shoving “Here’s Not Here” between his death and reemergence required an eloquent piece of storytelling and KO’d it with a bad episode order.
Taking something good and wasting or undermining it through poor characterizations, bad plotting, or ill-considered episodic structure, then pretending all is well with a cliffhanger, runs in The Walking Dead’s DNA, as “Start to Finish” so amply displays. Did anyone tell Sammy to keep his mouth shut before venturing out into the zombie horde? Probably not. And anyway, he’s an Alexandrian, so smarts ain’t his strong suit. Just like Ron thought the perfect time to work out his issues with Carl was in the middle of a zombie attack. This is Mika and Lizzie all over again but a helluva lot less interesting.
But I don’t want to end this midseason review on a down note. The production side once again puts in the best effort on the show. The sound effects, zombie makeup, production design, and scoring were aces, as usual. Greg Nicotero must’ve gotten a bump in his budget for the finale, because the walkers invading Alexandria were some of the best ones we’ve ever seen. I love seeing them get more and more decrepit and decayed as the years progress.
Either the writers don’t know how to fix the systemic problems or don’t care to, but regardless, the show is what it is. As long as it continues to function more than it fails within its self-set limitations, we’ll just have to judge it for what it produces rather than what it’s capable of. And though the first half of season 6 didn’t so much fall flat on its face as stumble repeatedly and often, it also had a goodly number of tense, well-executed episodes. So far the season has been pretty solid overall. It’s not the best, nor the worst. Fine enough will have to do.
- “Look, I get it, my dad killed your dad. But you gotta know something: Your dad was an asshole.” And the award for best line of the half-season goes to Carl for his Ron smackdown.
- Did Carol bringing a knife to a stick fight with Morgan in the middle of a zombie attack seem OOC to anyone else? No matter how much of a threat she thinks a lone Wolf poses, they’re in the middle of a zombie attack. Carol may be ruthlessly pragmatic, but she also has a strong sense of priorities. The whole scene was absurd.
- Speaking of absurd, what back door to the garage locks from inside the garage? And why is there apparently only one key?
- If we’re going to kill off characters, I vote for the Anderson boys and Father Gabriel. Granted, Eugene is the most useless character on the show, but at least he has personality.
- I should be concerned for poor, PTSD-suffering Sam as he cries out for his mother in the finale, but instead I was yelling at him to shut the hell up. What that tells me is the writers haven’t done their job, and also I’m a terrible person.
- As much as I love Glenn, I kinda wish he’d just stayed dead. Bringing him back breaks the inner mechanics of the show and ruins what little credibility the writers had. The second the audience stops fearing for the lives of the leads, the whole thing’s over. By keeping him alive—and doing so in the dumbest, most logic-bending way possible—it’s clear that the core group is basically unkillable now. We all know Rick isn’t going anywhere, but now we know no one else is, either. So much for dramatic tension.
- And now to completely invalidate everything I just said about Glenn, Ron, and Sam: Please don’t kill off Merritt Wever, TWD. Please please please!
- That quick peek into Enid’s non-Alexandria life was heartbreaking and beautiful. What I wouldn’t give for more vignettes like that for the other characters.
- I’d love to see Rick take a backseat to a showdown between Carol and Morgan. Adding Negan to the mix could rejigger alliances in enticing ways. (It’s not a good sign when you’re more excited to see how a new character interacts with supporting characters than with the star of the show…)
- Season 6 returns on Valentine’s Day 2016. Be here or be square.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.