Who are the sworn enemies of trolls? If Nickelodeon cartoons have taught me anything, it’s gnomes. If we’re going off of Norwegian fairytale logic, it’s billy goats. Or maybe it’s hobbits. Whatever the case, that’s how the producers and writing staff of “The Walking Dead” must view their audience.
I’m kidding, but only a little bit. While Scott Gimple and co. seem like nice, extremely talented people who appreciate all of the fan support, the ending of season six’s finale, “Last Day On Earth” would have you think otherwise, at least on that second point. After almost 90 minutes of trying to get Maggie — who’s most likely miscarrying — medical help, only to be blocked off by The Saviors at every turn, Rick, Carl, Eugene, Aaron, Abraham, and Sasha all fall into the clutches of their rivals. This happens after they set off on foot through the woods, leaving Eugene with the RV. Needless to say, things don’t bode so well for Eugene.
The Saviors then haul out Rosita, Daryl, Michonne and Glenn from captivity and place them on their knees next to the rest of the Alexandria crew. At this point, even those who haven’t read the comic know what’s coming. They’re all being put on a silver platter for the wrath of The Saviors leader, Negan, who has every right to want to make an example of Rick and his team.
Now, before we get into any negativity surrounding the ending, let’s talk about a few of “Last Day On Earth”‘s positive traits. First, Morgan catches up to Carol, and even though I still don’t buy her newfound stance not to kill, his decision to finally do the opposite in order to save his friend is at least interesting. It suddenly gives weight to their back-and-forth in the first half of the season, a healthy middle ground to their once wildly different philosophies on the taking of human life: Killing shouldn’t be taken lightly, but sometimes it’s necessary. Also, they run in to what appears to be two knights from The Kingdom, thus (almost) confirming our theory from last week. Let’s hope we get to Ezekiel (and Shiva!) in the first episode of season seven.
And of course, we’d be remiss to not bring up how perfectly the show depicts Negan — his entrance shot by Greg Nicotero with appropriately little fanfare. After all of the suspense; after the numerous encounters with The Saviors; after the main cast sees them hang one of their opponents from an overpass by a chain, the biggest baddie from the comics simply steps out of the RV. “Pissing our pants?” he asks plainly.
This ease and no-frills swagger is essential to the character. Part of why Negan works is because he’s able to get on the level of those who follow him. He also has well-established and fairly consistent rules. He’s charismatic. Hell, he’s even fair when it comes to dealing with his enemies. As much as we root for Team Rick, his people also started this. They had every chance to walk away unscathed or simply stay out of The Saviors’ affairs. But they didn’t. And, as Jeffrey Dean Morgan astutely pointed out in “The Talking Dead” episode right after the finale, Negan might not be all that different from Rick. Yes, he’s more sadistic. Yes, he has a bigger ego. But Rick’s committed plenty of cruel, questionable acts at his lowest points.
Morgan, Nictoero and the rest of the TWD team understand this, and are able to convey it in Negan’s few brief minutes of screen-time. As a viewer, you’re scared of him as he strolls in front of his potential victims, and yet you also understand his desire for retaliation. More importantly, you like to hear him talk. Those are the marks of so many great leaders both real and fictional.
If only that’s what we were left with in the episode’s final moments. If only the finale hadn’t shown Negan’s attack from his victim’s point of view, thus leaving their identity mysterious (read about some of our theories on the matter here). If only the writers had more respect for their audience.
I say this because, unlike so many horror films and action movies, showing the grisly violence here actually serves a purpose. Nicotero and Morgan do such a fantastic job building up Negan’s terror and likability, and had we seen him bashing in the head of another character we love, those conflicting traits are even more at odds with each other. We like the guy, but we just saw him dash someone’s brains all over the forest floor. Conversely, we’re scared shitless of him, but also want to hear more of what he has to say. And most notable of all, we now understand the true threat posed by The Saviors. We understand that the game has changed.
But all of that gets ruined by the POV shot, which isn’t even executed with any kind of lasting impact. Negan’s bat comes down a couple times, we hear some muffled shouting and canned splatter effects, then see a trickle of digitized blood ooze down the screen. Cut to black and the groans of “Walking Dead” fans around the world.
What’s most frustrating of all is that that “The Walking Dead” is so popular, it can afford to do whatever the hell it wants. I could somewhat understand the ending if the show was hurting for ratings or needed some sort of second wind from a cliffhanger, but the massive size of its audience should warrant simple, clear, and honest storytelling. And if the producers believe that’s what they’re already offering, they should look at the unanimously negative viewer response that’s been swarming the internet only hours after “Last Day On Earth” aired.
So with all that in mind, why has the sixth season undercut its mostly strong story beats with fake-outs, cop-outs, and decidedly weak cliffhangers? Why has it consistently trolled its audience? Damned if I know. But I do know I’ll be coming back next year. Because I’m a fan; a loyal fan; the kind of fan the show has garnered by the millions; the kind of fan that deserves better. So please, please, please, if anyone involved with “The Walking Dead” is reading this, it’s time to stop insulting our collective intelligence.
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