For someone it was destined to be their ‘Last Day on Earth’ but is The Walking Dead’s season finale a Negan-sized bouquet of barbed wire as promised?
Key members of the Alexandrian community are being held by the Saviors, battered, bruised,,, and worse. Rick knows that to save Alexandria he will have to find a balance between pragmatism, strategy and sheer hope. But with their numbers depleted, does the community stand any chance if there’s an attack. Even more importantly, the recent ‘pr-active’ activities of Rick and his fellow survivors have attracted the attention of the Saviors’ leader… and he is not a man to be trifled with.
With Rick desperately trying to get Maggie to the Hilltop for medical help, all roads (literally) seem to be blocked by opposing forces. A confrontation is inevitable and both sides are destined to come out swinging.
So, there’s an elephant or two in the room to be immediately discussed and the main one is the big, big bad guy who made a certain impression in tonight’s episode of the cult zombie hit. Much had been touted for the last episode – and feature-length edition – of The Walking Dead‘s current run, as it catches up with pivotal events from the original comic adaptation and introduced the character of Negan, a foul-mouthed psychopath with a perchant for killing people he dislikes by clubbing them to death with a baseball bat covered in barb-wire… a weapon he calls Lucille. How could even a cable network like AMC fully deliver on a character so despicable and violent and just HOW close would his initial victims skew towards their printed-page fate?
There’s no doubt that Jeffrey Dean Morgan has a lot of on-screen charisma and he milks every moment of his his long-anticipated appearance in the last ten minutes of the episode. (Morgan’s appearances in the likes of Grey’s Anatomy, Supernatural – as Daddy Winchester – and The Good Wife have won him an army of new fans, but film roles in the likes of Watchmen, The Losers and a brief cameo in Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice also give him comic-adaptation kudos. The latter saw him appear as Bruce Wayne’s doomed father Thomas in a flashback… and who was his wife, Martha… none other than Lauren Cohan, The Walking Dead‘s Maggie. After his debut tonight… awkward!) Negan is evil – but charismatic, ruthless, psychotic and cocky evil and Morgan’s pitch-perfect persona owns the entire sequence, his character holding the literal power of life and death. It’s a sequence that will give you the sweaty palms, the tension rises by the second. It’s perfectly executed – no pun intended.
To a point. Because, as the credits roll, all the requisite introductions have been made… BUT… we STILL don’t know who met their grisly fate at the hands of Lucille. And THAT is rightly going to piss off a lot of people – with very good reason. For the entire season we’ve been building up on the question of the victim and to have ninety minutes of tension and NOT get an answer (the act seen from the victim’s point of view with very few clues as to their identity) seems like a cruel tactic and publicity stunt – an extra yank of the chain which won’t so much have people on their edge of their seats as tearing them to pieces in frustration . It’s fine to have a great cliffhanger, which this absolutely is, but the inconclusive coda feels…well, opportunistic after such a build-up of knowing WHAT the drama would be. It also seems highly optimistic that the dead character’s name won’t leak out before the show’s return in October thus negating (again, no pun intended) the gameplay. In short: we were sold on a revelation and we got a mystery.
Equally, it’s also an episode that however good it IS at its climax, it probably didn’t need to be a full ninety minutes to get there. It would have been possible to emphasise the clever way the Saviors had carefully blocked the roads without seeing the same dilemma four or five times – thus saving a good fifteen minutes. We do get to see Carol and Morgan – both definite candidates for the long or short goodbye but proving well clear of the central drama and surviving their own encounter with the help of some new friends who will prove pivotal in the next run of episodes to be broadcast at the end of the the year. (I have to admit I thought Carol was a goner…)
It’s been a season of making us dislike some of our heroes, but we still ended up scared for them. Shock and awe, cruel and unusual but not quite perfectly effective, The Walking Dead still produced the most tense outing in a long time and – of course – we’ll all be back for more.
But as for timing… damn, they picked a fine time to leave us, Lucille…