World Building and Wheel Spinning: Checking in with The Walking Dead Season 6

So, how’s the back half of season six going? Not bad, actually. This season is definitely one of the strongest in the show’s history. Most episodes have had at least one redeeming quality, and even the worst haven’t plumbed the depths of the second season. I just wish we weren’t stuck in an endless cycle of place setting.

TWD really hits its stride when it forgets it has a sprawling cast and focuses just on a handful without jumping back and forth. “The Next World” is a prime example. The episode is fine enough, but would’ve been a lot more fun if the writers had stuck with Rick and Daryl’s roadtrip rather than constantly chasing after Jesus and popping back to check in on the Alexandrians. While not a perfect episode, “The Same Boat” largely works because it gave Carol and Maggie space to feel the consequences of their actions. No watching Rick make another stupid plan, no wandering home to see what Carl is up to, and no watching Abraham awkwardly hit on Sasha. Just 42 minutes of vicious girl time.

We’re also finally getting some much needed worldbuilding. I can’t believe it’s taken this long for them to encounter another settled and relatively peaceful community that isn’t being led by a sinister dictator (not that Gregory isn’t a dick) or an incompetent leader, but The Hilltop is a welcome reprieve. On one hand I’d like to spend a little more time watching the relationship grow and strain between Alexandria and The Hilltop, but on the other hand the last thing we need is a rehash of Rick’s group integrating with Alexandria. More importantly, setting up The Hilltop’s conflict with Negan gives the Alexandrians a chance to go on the offense rather than waiting for evil to come to them.

TWD S6 E9-13_3

Letting Negan loom ominously in the background does help to create some nominal dramatic suspense, but it also means we’re going to have to sit through several peacetime episodes where everything is nice and everyone hooks up. Stretching out the threat of Negan feels a little too close to the Terminus arc. They teased the hell outta that plot for half a season and when we finally got to it spent, what, an episode there? In, out, and on with the afterlife. I know that the Negan plot won’t be wrapped up that quickly—he’s not even going to turn up until the season finale, which means he’ll likely take up the first half of the seventh season—but it means we’re stuck with a half season of wheel spinning.

It also reminds me of that half season of the Governor’s denouement which featured two unnecessary flashbacks all because the show had more episodes than they had plot to fill them. This time around instead of flashbacks we’re mired in interminable conversations that contribute little to worldbuilding or character development and add little to the main arc. Carol literally has a conversation about her beet and acorn cookies as a prelude to hooking up with some rando. I get the reason for the scene—Michonne isn’t the only former BAMF letting go of her violent tendencies so she can get some with a man who is utterly beneath her—but that doesn’t mean we need several minutes of a pointless montage to make that kiss anymore meaningful.

Which leads me to a larger concern. Episodically, things are trucking along as usual. Some eps are boring, some thrilling, some suspenseful, some infuriatingly stupid, and most some combination of all four traits. The season as a whole, however, is less structurally sound. TWD bad guys tend to be mustache-twirling villains rather than actual people with real problems. Negan and his saviors are no different, despite the writers’ half-assed efforts. Any attempts at making fully fleshed out characters is diminished by that Polaroid collage of brained walkers, the smarmy motorcycle gang, and the Saviors’ eagerness to kill for vengeance. So far the Saviors we’ve encountered have been theatrically inept baddies quickly dispatched by Rick’s group. If we’re supposed to fear Negan as this great evil, his goons should make the case for him. Yet if what we’re seeing are his second string teams then that needs to be made clear. I suspect the show wants to lull Rick into a sense of superiority so Negan can knock him down, but it makes for uninteresting and repetitive viewing.

TWD S6 E9-13_2

After nearly 100 episodes, it stands to reason that the characters we started out with would be drastically different now. Carol is no longer a timid little bird, no matter how good she is at pretending to be cowed and fragile. She went from abused to badass, but living in Alexandria has allowed her too much downtime to ruminate on her actions. Guilt eats at her and she may be backsliding. Rick went from desperate sheriff to crazy man to the King of Terrible Plans. Michonne and Daryl have softened over time, their edges willingly dulled in order to find a place in society. Maggie and Glenn haven’t changed all that much, which is character growth in and of itself; if two people can survive hell and come out of it as still fundamentally nice people, they have a moral fortitude we should all aspire to.

As fans we’ve also grown. We’ve learned the tricks the writers play and what the limitations are of the actors. We know that they’ll never kill off the core group (or at least not frequently enough to make it a major concern) and we know that every antagonist will be framed as wicked so as to make our heroes look like the good guys even when they’re killing people while they sleep and burning people alive. The names of the Big Bad change, but the central conflict remains the same as Rick comes out won top with the help of some bloody warfare and cannon fodder extras. So yeah, we can all guess how this season will wind up. But at least the journey is mostly fun.

Final Thoughts

  • “Your world’s about to get a whole lot bigger.”
  • “When you were pouring the Bisquick, were you trying to make pancakes?” Dude. Abraham. Dude.
  • “We kill them all.”
  • I know Andrew Lincoln is the star, but Melissa McBride is hands down the best actor on the whole damn show.
  • Not entirely sold on Carol’s newfound unwillingness to kill. Having a crisis of conscious is one thing, but this is so much of an about face that it feels out of character.
  • I’m also really not down with Michonne and Rick hooking up. It’s been building for a long time, but while I expected it, it’s not a ship I care for. Michonne is too smart for him. She can do better. Way better.
  • Sweet zombie Jesus, but Jesus’ facial hair is the fakest thing I’ve seen in ages. Was Greg Nicotero on vacation that day? Yikes.
  • Apparently there are 54 people living in Alexandria?
  • Abraham’s breakup with Rosita was hella cold. And kinda gross. Like who makes a poop joke while dumping someone?

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.

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