The Walking Dead Just Shit the Bed

Illustration for article titled iThe Walking Dead/i Just Shit the Bed

When star Lauren Cohen talked to EW about filming the season six Walking Dead finale, she said that “it took a really, really long time for everybody to feel okay again.” After watching the episode, it may be a long time before I feel okay again, too—but I bet it’s for completely different reasons. Spoilers, obviously.

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If last week’s episode was “kinda bullshit,” this week’s episode was total bullshit. All I want to do is scream (write) profanity about the failure of “Last Day on Earth” but let’s recap the episode, because it actually won’t take that much time. As you recall, Maggie is sick, and Hilltop has an obstetrician. So Rick, Carl, Abraham, Rosita, Aaron, and Eugene get in the RV and hit the road to Hilltop, where they discover a barricade of Saviors. This is where we get the scene from last week’s “Next Week On” preview, where Rick tries to make a deal and the Saviors refuse, possibly because Rick’s group recently snuck out of nowhere and murdered an entire compound of them.

The Saviors very genially let Rick and the others drive away, and the group chooses another path… where an even bigger blockade waits for them. So they turn around and choose path #3, where a terrifyingly elaborate chain of zombies—by which I mean a chain has been literally woven through the zombies’ flesh to keep them from getting free—blocks their path. When Rick and the others investigate, they see one zombie has one of Daryl’s crossbows in it, and another has a few of Michonne’s dreads nailed to its head, which is easily one of the more unsettling visuals TWD has ever given us.

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Illustration for article titled iThe Walking Dead/i Just Shit the Bed

Here’s the thing: The Saviors start shooting at them, but only at their feet; Rick manages to kick away enough of the zombies to drive the RV through… until they eventually find an even bigger blockade of even more Saviors, and have to turn around anyways. After blockade #5 (a large pile of logs, which are set ablaze as they approach), when it’s finally dark out, Eugene has the great idea to drive the RV while the others carry Maggie on a stretcher through the woods, where the Saviors won’t be looking for them.

Except the Saviors are looking for them, because Negan is basically the Joker in The Dark Knight: he has an impossible pool of resources and infinite time and he can create the most elaborate scenarios, all to engineer a single result. Through aggressive whistling, his men herd them into a clearing where several, several dozen Saviors wait, with floodlights, and the RV (Eugene was instantly captured). The Saviors even bring Michonne, Daryl, Glenn and Rosita along, so all of Rick’s group can kneel together for Negan’s grand entrance.

Negan is… awesome. The character actually lives up to the hype, and when Jeffrey Dean Morgan strides out of the RV (where he was waiting for everything to come together exactly as he wanted it), he’s one of the most charmingly evil people I’ve ever seen on TV. He made me laugh, and he actually made me like him, even though I knew he would be murdering one of the heroes almost immediately. He says Rick’s group are entering “Pee Pee Pants City.” He tells Rick that “You killed a lot of my people. More than I’m comfortable with.” He’s amazing.

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I really don’t know Negan the comic character; I know he has a sense of humor and a sense of honor, albeit very twisted. But I’m pretty sure TV Negan’s charm is due a great deal to Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Either way, the character brings a life to The Walking Dead we haven’t seen since… god, I don’t know when. (Pun intermediately intended.) He’s exciting and fun and actually restrained and effective. He’s the Anti-Rick, really.

Then the episode turns to bullshit. This is not my opinion as a critic, it’s a completely objective assessment of what happens when the show teases the arrival of one character for the entirety of a 16-episode TV show season, and the show goes out of its way to promote his arrival by unequivocally proclaiming he would kill a major cast member as part of his debut (just as the character did in the comics). This has literally been all we’ve been thinking about since at least the second-half of the season started, and all the show has wanted us to think about it. TWD executive producer David Alpert didn’t mince words when he told IGN, “I cannot wait to see the reaction to when we do the things we’re going to do at the end of this season. I think we will melt people’s minds.”

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And so we forgave the fact that we had to dawdle through 7.9 episodes to get to this moment, but we expected it. Big character, big moment! Sure, there was some dodgy storytelling in season six, but we let it go, knowing that it was all being done in the greater service of introducing Negan and establishing him as the biggest badass in the zombie post-apocalypse. Gotta save his debut for the end, right?

Wrong. You save it—well, at least half of it—for the season 7 premiere.

Because Negan shows up, all right, but he fails to kill anybody—or at least he fails to kill anyone we see. Instead the show goes to a first-person view of whoever the poor victim is. And we see blood dripping down the camera lens, and the camera/person raises their head a couple of times, and Negan is impressed, and the show clearly thinks it’s so goddamned clever for all this that it’s infuriating.

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Illustration for article titled iThe Walking Dead/i Just Shit the Bed

Negan may have swung the bat, but we won’t really see it connect until season 7. This renders all the time we spent watching the 7.9 episodes before it less valuable. In fact, the scene is such bullshit that it makes this entire half-season aggravating, which is a damn shame. While there were the aforementioned slow bits and weird bits, there were also some really good moments and individual scenes tucked in the second half of season six. But thanks to this tremendously bullshit cliffhanger, the whole damn thing ended up being less than the sum of its parts.

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The Walking Dead has no one to blame but itself for this, and I can’t help but think that its tremendous, eternal ratings success has gone to the show’s producers’ heads. Because I don’t think this cliffhanger was done because they had to, I think they just thought that Negan’s arrival alone was enough to anchor eight goddamn episodes, and the person he kills would make for a great season premiere. WRONG. I hate to use the term blue balls, but this is literally the moment that every single Walking Dead fan who ever went online to do a minute of research on her/his favorite show has been waiting for. Postponing it and teasing it so damn much is genuinely insulting.

There’s a parallel here to be drawn with Rick, who spent the latter half of the season also thinking he could do any-goddamn-thing he wanted and it would work out, most notably starting a fight with the Saviors. He says this over and over in “Last Day on Earth,” whether he was talking about how secure Alexandria was from attack, or that Maggie would get to the doctor, or that “Hey, if we do things together, everything always works out!” Bullshit which surely would have seemed insane to anyone else listening who didn’t have a 104-degree temperature.

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Both Rick and the show not only are 100% confident they know what they’re doing, but 100% certain they can do no wrong. Rick thought he could take on the Saviors without a single consequence. The show thought it could stretch the one goddamn moment we’ve been waiting for all this damn time to a season finale and a premiere. Both were dead wrong.

Maybe… maybe now that Negan is on the scene, the show will kick back into high gear. Maybe they were worried about the show catching up to the comic, and needed to slow things down. I’m an anime fan, and that happens all the time there. No matter what, there are plenty of ways—and plenty of time—for the show to pick back up in season 7.

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However, I won’t be spending the next six months wondering which character Negan might have killed. I’ll be thinking about this finale and being irritated as shit. I’m guessing I won’t be alone.

Illustration for article titled iThe Walking Dead/i Just Shit the Bed
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Assorted Musings:

• So, of the people present for Negan to kill, it’s: Rick, Carl, Michonne, Daryl, Abraham, Sasha, Rosita, Eugene, Glenn, and Maggie. The episode takes a shocking amount of time telegraphing that Eugene is going to die, with a lot of tearful farewells as he drives the RV solo. He even gives the recipe to make bullets to Rick, making him essentially unnecessary. I would love to think that TWD wouldn’t embrace such a cliché if it wasn’t going to tweak it, but who knows? That said, if this is who Negan kills, this cliffhanger will be even more infuriating.

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• The rest of the episode is Morgan chasing after Carol; he finds her, she runs away; that surviving Savior finds her and shoots her in the arm; Morgan finds her again and kills the Savior to save Carol’s life. I have no idea how this fits into Morgan’s morality—he was pretty much “There’s always a way” just a few episodes ago—but when Carol’s life is 100% on the line, he protects Carol. I hope this doesn’t mean Morgan is returning to the dark side of “murder everyone who vaguely worries you,” because Rick still has that worldview covered.

• Morgan and the wounded Carol are found by two guys in body armor carrying spears. One is riding a horse, and the other seems to have been riding a horse that Morgan found earlier. I thought they might be Hilltop for a minute, but they don’t ask any questions about Alexandria or the Saviors, and they seem very willing to bring Carol in to be healed. Normally in TWD, anyone who seems nice and helpful would be devious nihilist cannibals or something, but there’s something so goofy/innocent about their horses/armor/spears combo that I think they may be okay. Check it:

Illustration for article titled iThe Walking Dead/i Just Shit the Bed
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• Also, there’s a dude at the very beginning of the episode that the Saviors catch who says he’s from a place called “The Library” but everyone there is dead. A bit of color, or an easter egg for a future location?

• Rick trusts Gabriel to be in charge of Alexandria. Man, apparently a lot of major relationship changes in the two months between the two halves of season 6.

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• I don’t know how long the season finale was sans commercials, but maybe 60 full minutes? It was longer than a full episode, but not by much; the rest was a ton of commercials. Which shouldn’t be too shocking when you’re airing the season finale of the highest rated showing on basic cable.

• “Ride with Norman Reedus, premiering in June.” It’s only six episodes long, so there’s no need to panic. Probably.

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• Apparently there are a lot of Hunger Games fans in the Saviors. Not a lot of people who can carry a tune, though.

• That Savior who leads the show in the clearing before Negan makes his entrance is rocking a Sean Connery Zardoz mustache, and I couldn’t take my eye off it.

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• “Do not make me kill the future serial killer!” Negan has Carl pegged.

• “Bitch nuts.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, Abraham.

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Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

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DISCUSSION

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Whatever you thought about that ending (more on that in a minute), one thing is for certain: The Walking Dead knows how to deliver an intense episode without anyone dying or fighting. Hell, I was anxious watching Abraham drive that Winnebago because he wouldn’t keep his damn eyes on the road. One of the things that made this episode so good was the sound. The very beginning had me remembering The Dark Knight and that slow, two or three note build up every time Joker was about to come on screen. And then the whistling. Holy shit the whistling. We didn’t have to see anyone die, and yet right up until the end (more in a minute, I promise) it felt like the whole world was going to crash down on these people at any moment.

Really, just look at Rick. Back at Alexandria, Rick was big man on campus. Except for the fact that everyone wanted to go to Hilltop despite him trying to tell each person to stay back. At one point, Rick looked around like “does anyone here actually listen to me?” It was hilarious.

But I digress. Back at Alexandria, Rick was exuding confidence. So was Carl. This was a quick trip to the Hilltop (well, about as quick a trip one can take when society has fallen to the dead) and every savior they had seen that far died at the mere sight of their group. Seriously, it was like cutting butter with a hot knife. Carol wasn’t even sure she could kill anyone, and those Saviors burned to a crisp with no problem. It was like they locked the door themselves.

But then, Trevor Phillips showed up, and Rick was fucked. What the bitch, indeed, Abraham.

I don’t know how the Saviors knew Rick’s group would be coming that direction at that time, but one thing was sure: They knew where Rick’s group was going. Remember: At the beginning, Rick was all confidence. After that first encounter, cracks began to form. Rick warned Trevor’s group: “So I don’t have to kill any of you. Any more of you,” and “Do you want this to be your last day on Earth?” And what happened? Just like back at Alexandria where no one would listen, Trevor threw Rick off. “Be kind to one another.” Hot damn that was creepy.

There were only a few routes to the Hilltop from Alexandria, and the Saviors knew them all. The second road block was a little bigger than the first, and Sasha and Rick and the gang had an epiphany: There were a lot more Saviors than they thought. HILLTOP, YOU HAVE SOME ‘SPLAININ’ TO DO. Gregory sold the Saviors as a pesky band of thugs that hassled them for their shit. Rick’s plan was going south so fast.

The next roadblock was even bigger than the second, and Rick and his gang didn’t even bother to get out of the van. Just back it up. Then they found the Walkers chained up, with Michonne’s hair and Daryl’s arrows on/in two of the walkers. The message was clear, and Rick was shook even further. His plan was falling apart, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do. The Saviors shot at their feet, and got them to go through the walker-wall. They were being herded, like cattle to the slaughter.

The last roadblock (I believe, I may have the order mixed) was a giant stack of logs blocking the road, with Trevor on the other side. “I hope you have been kind to one another.” Holy shit. I was at the edge of my seat. Oh, and they dropped that dude from the overpass; and the group recognized him as the guy getting beat up in the first group. Message delivered. They truly were neck deep up shit creek with their mouths wide open.

Then Eugene had the brilliant plan to split up: The Saviors were expecting the Winnebago, not the group. I think Eugene lasted all of five minutes before the Saviors got him.

When Trevor finally introduced us to Negan, the whole gang was assembled: Rick, Carl, Abraham, Sasha, Rosita, Eugene, Maggie, Glenn, Daryl, Michonne, and Aaron. Negan gave one of the best monologue speeches I have heard in recent memory, and went to work ordering at the table. And then, it happened: They showed us Negan bashing someone’s head in from the receiving end’s perspective, and the season ended. BITCH NUTS THAT WAS SOME BULLSHIT.

Seriously, the entire season has built for that one moment (Who would meet Lucille), and they make us wait until October 15 to find out. (I’m guessing on that date, but usually they come back the second or third weekend of October every year, so expect it then). I watched Talking Dead, and Gimple explained that the story was the loss of confidence of Rick (absolutely fucking done perfectly, mind you. Each stop drained more and more from Rick), and the act of Negan smashing someone’s brains in was the conclusion of that story. Gimple explained that the story of who died and what effect that has is the story of next season.

Bull. Shit. This is the age of instant gratification. Don’t make us wait seven goddamn months to see who died, show us who died, and then make us wait seven months to find out how the group deals with it. I understand what Gimple was saying, and I wholeheartedly disagree. As I said. Instant. Gratification. The show is notorious for trying tricks to hide who dies, and may well keep everyone on set when the next season starts filming to throw scoopers off the trail. It’s not a new thing: Rumor has it Civil War filmed three death scenes to keep the real one under wraps until the movie comes out. So if Maggie died, for instance, they’s pay her to hand out and get dressed up in costume to make it appear that she was filming new stuff, when she was really offed in the first episode.

Thing is, we will find out the truth about who is dead long before the show wants us to. Instant. Gratification. The impact of the death will be long gone. This show is about moments and the impact those moments have on the surviving characters, and this move lost the impact. Just show us the garbled face (holy shit what is wrong with us) of Lucille’s latest victim and send us off to summer on our merry way. Don’t blue ball us like that. It’s rude.

1. Trevor Phillips was such a good Savior, I’m almost sad they didn’t save him for the next bad guy of the show. That mustache alone could move mountains. Lets be real here: At least some of Rick’s group is going to fight and win Negan, because that’s how shows work (Unless The Walking Dead is taking that “new show every eight episodes” mantra to heart and is starting over fresh with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and in that case I’m intrigued). Trevor could have been the leader of a competing community, and would have owned the role. Ah well, that’s just how bad Negan is, if his second in command is that terrifying, Negan is going to be something else.

2. Rick kept telling Maggie that they would make it because they always made it and everything always worked out because they were together and that’s all that mattered. Yeah, about that. When Negan began picking who to hit, it was clear that all of the remaining original cast (from the first few seasons) was present and accounted for. One of them would be a goner, and it wasn’t going to work out and be okay like Rick said. This was one of the few times where shit actually was about to hit the fan.

But who could it be? Negan told the Saviors that if anyone moved, to dig out Carl’s good eye and feed it to Rick. I know the comics had him kill Glenn and no one got up because of shock, but I’m not so sure about here: Glenn practically ripped his restraints off when he saw Maggie not feeling well. Abraham had just told Sasha that he was ready to do something big with her like Glenn and Maggie. The entire reason Rick is still alive is because of his kids. If Sasha, Maggie, or Carl were on the receiving end of Lucille, then Abraham, Glenn, or Rick would have reacted, so I think they are safe. The only people there without some deep connection to another person lined up (besides Rick and Michonne, but that’s just starting, really), are Michonne, Daryl, Eugene, Rosita, and Aaron. Eugene gave Rick the recipe to make bullets. Rosita was basically on her own after Abraham so brutally dumped her. Michonne is shaping up to be the Andrea of the Comics. I was wrong before to think it would be Tara or Heath (where the hell are they), but I think it’s either Glenn (and Kirkman lied to us), Daryl (and they all lied to us on Talking Dead), Rosita, Eugene, or Abraham. In the comics, Abraham got a bolt through the head, and in the show that fate was given to Denise. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Assholes.

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