Do the writers of The Walking Dead ever beta read their scripts before sending them off to production? Or do they, like Zack Snyder and David Goyer with comic book superheroes, actually hate the characters they were hired to write? The last season alternated between making no sense whatsoever and being so trope-heavy the whole plot threatened to collapse, while the finale was so mired in grotesque manipulation that the cliffhanger ceased to have any meaning.
Spoilers for “Last Day on Earth.”
Credit where credit is due. The Walking Dead isn’t a bad show. Yeah, it has some illogical episodes and some asinine character moments. Occasionally the editing fails the scene, and organic character development often takes a backstage to melodrama and bloody action. The direction is mostly aces, and no one better fire Bear McCreary because his soundtrack often packs the emotional wallop that the script can’t manage. The cat-and-mouse game the Saviors pulled with Rick in the finale was a genuinely thrilling set piece, if not totally predictable. Even Morgan and Carol’s back-and-forth was well-executed in concept despite the lack of a strong foundation. When it stops trying to be better than it is and doesn’t get lazy with manipulative tricks and gratuitous violence, TWD is actually good, but this season those good moments have been few and far between.
Besides Aaron, Denise is the only Alexandrian left that the audience had more than a passing familiarity with, so her death should’ve meant something. Obviously it was meant to mean something, but it was telegraphed so much that it was kind of a relief when it finally happened. If somehow you’ve managed not to catch on after six long years, whenever TWD has a non-core character expound on their backstory, it almost always means they’re about to kick it. Which is a shame. I really liked Denise. She and Tara were beige as all get-out, but it was nice to have something twee amongst all the angst and frowning. (Plus Merritt Wever was, as always, awesome.)
Just like every other non-core character death, Denise’s fails to deliver the emotional punch the writers are aiming at and instead becomes a glaringly obvious plot device. Her death means nothing at all in the long run except to heighten the drama. Her death isn’t even about her, really. It’s about Maggie. If Denise lived, they’d have no reason to be on the road in the finale.
As for the Saviors, their incompetence has now become such a major focal point that their sudden over-competence was jarring. They bumbled every attempt at taking on Rick and company thus far, which apparently was only so Rick could underestimate their numbers and over-inflate his own sense of superiority. The only way to make Negan as imposing as possible is to reduce Rick’s savvy. Make the hero think he’s winning, only to realize he lost before he began. It’s an old trope; effective yet boring.
Speaking of incompetent, Rick no longer holds the title of King of the Worst Plans. Everyone is in equal competition for it. Yet again all of Alexandria’s best warriors wander off with some harebrained scheme and leave the town more or less defenseless. How many times have they done this during this half-season alone? I’ve already lost count. And, of course, all of them managed to get themselves captured and, in Daryl and Carol’s cases, shot. As tense as driving around the backwoods of Virginia was, they were idiots to not realize Negan was boxing them in from the beginning.
Carol’s storyline has been a mess the whole back half of season 6. It feels like several key scenes were cut from the script that explain her thought process. At first it looked like her and Morgan’s fundamentally different perspectives on survival in the apocalypse would lead to some fascinating conflict. Instead Morgan turned out to be a naïve idiot, and Carol’s personality made an implausible 180. The woman who murdered a child and a couple of folks with the flu suddenly can’t even kill a zombie without flailing?
Look, there’s a good story to tell here about developing a conscience and guilt overpowering survival instincts, but beet cookies and rosary beads ain’t it. Carol’s survived fine on her own before—remember when Rick kicked her out of the prison?—but her current arc is at best undercooked, and at worst an insult to one of the greatest characters on the show. Characters should change and grow over time. They can even become the polar opposite of how they started out. Carol was meek to the point of submissive in season 1 and by season 5 was a total badass. There was once a time when I dreamed of a Daryl/Carol/Li’l Asskicker spinoff but now I’m not sure I want the time we already have with any of these people.
But the real reason you’re all here is to talk about that cliffhanger, so let’s do it. If you don’t want to be spoiled for the comics, skip down now.
The more I think about that cliffhanger, the more I hate it. You shouldn’t have to taunt your audience to get them to watch your show. The manipulation has always been there, but this season is pervasive and destructive. At this point I’m not sure I even care who was on the receiving end of Lucille. It probably won’t be Rick, Carl, Michonne, Maggie, or Glenn, so what does it even matter?
As much as I love Glenn, the writers already did a fake-out with his death this season. Readers of the comics have spent all season waiting for Glenn to meet his end with Negan and Lucille. Hell, that’s the main reason fans were excited for Negan in the first place. Non-comic book fans got in on the action, too, as the show hyped up Negan’s villainy by implying one of the core wouldn’t make it out alive. And then to tease and tease and tease, only to cliffhanger arguably the biggest moment in the show’s history? It was bad enough that much of the last half-season was wheel-spinning until Negan turned up, but then they doubled down on it and every other terrible habit the show’s picked up over the last six years. Ugh, The Walking Dead. So much ugh.
If you turn off your brain, TWD is a wild, tense 42 minutes of terrible people who think they’re good doing awful things under the pretense of survival. But as a critic, I don’t have the leisure of not thinking about the episodes. This is a show that should be more than a way to pass the time. Instead, all I’m left with after that nonsense is a headache, a desperate need for a palate cleanser, and a looming dread about what other crap I’m going to have to sit through in season 7.
- I hereby declare a moratorium on TWD doing anymore 90-minute episodes. They are always bloated with pointless filler and seem to exist only for novelty’s sake. The extra airtime is always wasted, and the emotional investment on the part of the audience isn’t worth the extra budget.
- Negan sure put in a tremendous amount of effort in capturing Rick. What’s that old joke about burning your house down just to kill a spider?
- Also, how long was Negan sitting in the dark in that trailer waiting for Rick to turn up? Like, at least turn on the light and read a book or something.
- And if the Neganites were so powerful to begin with, why not take out Rick’s group as soon as they discovered them? Other than because the show wouldn’t have been able to hold Negan’s reveal until the finale, that is.
- Carol, Daryl, and Morgan used to be hands down the best characters on the show, but this season nearly undid all the goodwill they cultivated. A Carol/Morgan subplot should never be as boring and insipid as it was in the finale.
- Between now and the premiere, here’s hoping they do something about Eugene and Carl’s hair. Never have two men more badly needed a haircut.
- Join me here next week for the premiere of Fear The Walking Dead where we’re going to get a whole season of…water zombies? Really? JFC.
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.