Spoiler alert: The following discusses key plot points from the Season 6 finale of The Walking Dead.
The season finale introduction of uber-villain Negan arrived as promised. With Father Gabriel volunteering to hold the fort at Alexandria, Rick and his closest crew tried to drive a miscarrying Maggie to Hilltop for doctor's care. However, they quickly found themselves surrounded, and toyed with, by the Saviors. Meanwhile, Morgan looked for Carol to try and bring her back to the fold.
Editors Aaron Sagers and Tara Bennett react to The Walking Dead Season 6 finale, "The Last Day on Earth."
Aaron: There was a great tension that incrementally built during the episode. Even with the best warriors we’ve so far seen in this world, there was a creeping awareness that our heroes are now outmatched and out-gamed. At times, I felt like I was watching a (overlong) Spaghetti Western where the lawmen had to face down a larger gang of outlaws.
Tara: I actually felt like this episode was oddly paced, devolving into unfocused and meandering as each act progressed, save for two moments: Carol getting systematically shot by the vengeful Savior and the last few minutes with Negan. I truly believed Carol's vulnerable standoff might have been her moment to go, but I'm thrilled it wasn't. Plus, I guessed right on the Kingdom storyline from the comics being introduced as the place where Morgan and Carol might end up figuring out how to reinvent themselves. Could Morgan become Ezekiel? I'm totally down with that storyline getting remixed with Carol and Morgan in play for the future.
Aaron: The defiant non-death Carol scene was pitch perfect. McBride’s character was, I believe, ready to accept her fate but still doing it on her own terms -- even if the story was out of place for this episode.
I also alternately enjoyed, and become tired with, the looming presence of Negan, I thoroughly enjoyed his introduction and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance. His Negan is chilling and charismatic with a likable swagger. Granted, he is a super villain in a show that has become “comic booky,” but I was still enthralled by him.
Tara: I am a huge fan of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and he embodies Negan as I imagined him, but that was a long-winded intro for the character. It's length really took away some of the immediacy and shock of the intended moment.
My other favorite moment was Eugene fully putting on his big-boy, hero pants and asserting that he is up to the challenge of whatever is needed now. Abraham giving him his moment of appreciation and Josh's choice to have Eugene bloom into a smile as he got behind the wheel was a well-earned moment.
Aaron: Josh McDermitt as Eugene had a great arc in the episode. He evolved Eugene into a confident, still cocky, selfless strategist. I especially loved that RV moment too. It was also great seeing Chandler Riggs treated as one of the team and get some meaty moments in the episode. Carl actually appeared pretty badass, and held his own, even in the face of Negan.
Aaron: Seriously? They won’t give audiences the pay-off of letting them know who died? This tease, even if I still think it’s Glenn, is a heaping helping of weak sauce. Especially after the Glenn death fake out from the first half of Season 6, this cliffhanger irritates more than intrigues. It drags out the mystery murder until next October after six months of waiting for it. I feel like we're in the midst of yet another stunt. Even though Negan’s intro hit big, the final moments was a big miss – which neuters the overall impact of this episode.
Tara: I totally agree but more because the writing team of The Walking Dead was coming off its best season (Season 5, in my estimation), with the three opening Season 6 episodes continuing on that trend and then Glenn-gate happened. As I said earlier this season, the show always paid off its deaths in real time. We had a season ending cliffhanger with the Terminus storyline but that was about how do they get out of it? This season they've stomped on their own storytelling rule book with these "clever" deaths that ended up not being not so clever. Glenn's disappearance felt like a stunt and now more than ever, this cliffhanger of #who dies feels like the show has become more worried about its advancing age and shocking people, than what's organic to their playbook. It's too good to resort to these tactics.
Aaron: Speaking of Terminus, the Daryl POV inside the Savior vehicle was a wee bit too similar to the train car -- but with less impact. Also, I must state again this was an overlong 90-minute episode. The escalation of roadblocks created tension, but wore out its novelty and felt herky jerky. I think it could have remained a standard episode length by trimming fat. The Carol and Morgan moments felt out of place, and could have been saved for a B-plot in a premiere episode.
Tara: It's ad-based TV. AMC is going to milk the ad-buys to the max but then it's just up to the writers to ramp up their storytelling to compensate for the interruptions. We got the point about Rick and the RV being the mouse to Negan's cat by the second act so it became very tedious to watch it finally dawn on the group by the last act. If the Carol and Morgan B-story wasn't there, I think the episode would have suffered even more. I wasn't a big fan of the talky Scooby-Doo Savior. He hoofed it to find Carol despite almost bleeding out. He would have wacked her without the monologuing so that felt more like a delay tactic than revenge.
“Oh S—t!” Moment
Aaron: Since most of us knew Negan was coming, and a death with it, I can’t say it shocked me too much. However, I did like that roadblock of chained walkers bearing items from Michonne and Daryl. It made me feel some concern for beloved characters. Plus, when Rick tells Abraham to “go back,” and Abe responds with, “where?” it highlights the bleakness of the situation. It likewise highlights how Rick’s hubris (on display even at the beginning of the episode when he says he has a “deal” for the Saviors) has been brought to bear.
Rick is officially broken here, and it smarts – but is also kind of earned.
Tara: Andrew Lincoln's face screamed "Oh S-t!" from every pore and it was harrowing. We've been waiting for Rick's dose of reality but seeing it play out was the definition of sobering.
But for me, my moment was Morgan pulling a trigger for Carol and then the poor man's Renaissance riders coming to save them. As I mentioned before, the Kingdom storyline only broadens the TV world in a really interesting way because there's the rest of Alexandria (and tough stuff Father Gabriel) waiting, along with Hilltop in the mix now. The new world order is expanding and it's not all according to Negan's rules so that's got me excited for Season 7.
Aaron: There was a lot to like in this season finale. Morgan on a horse – eventually off to the Kingdom with Carol? – reminding us of a simpler time when Rick rode through Atlanta on his own steed; Father Gabriel left as a newly minted warrior and watcher on the wall; the entire Team Rick brought to their knees (literally). Still, that ending left me groaning and irritated. So much hit the perfect note, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is chewing scenery as one of the most interesting new characters we’ve seen on this show in a long time (even though he’s so camp).
But, damn. The series did not stick the landing with the final moments. By teasing us for so long and not delivering on a payoff, the show throws a huge cheat that negatively taints the entire episode for me.
Tara: Melissa McBride and Lennie James made this episode for me. McBride's face when she told Morgan about the price to pay for loving people in this world, her begging him to leave her, and then when she admits she hasn't paid enough for her sins as she got shot, was incredible work. Carol is still a force and this show needs her. The same goes for Morgan. Being compelled to kill changes him, yet again, and I want to see what that looks like.
Overall, the end was far too much build up for little return. Negan had his moment but it could have been more potent, especially by giving us who he chose. Telling us that and then coming back in Season 7 with the repercussions of who died doesn't undercut what happened in the finale. In fact, it allows us to ruminate on that death's deeper impact on the characters all summer, instead of the shallow guessing game of who lives.
What did you think of "The Last Day on Earth"? Did Season 6 go out with a bang or a whimper? And who do you think was on the wrong end of Lucille?