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It’s difficult to heap praise on The Walking Dead‘s mid-season finale because, frankly, not all that much happened. Sure, there were some strong moments which I will single out later on, but from start to finish, nothing was really accomplished and the Alexandrians are pretty much in the same place they were when the episode began. Walkers are overrunning the town, people are trapped in their homes, and only a few have either taken the initiative to move out among the dead or are being forced to do so. So, not much really happened in the grand scheme of things.
And that really sums up a number of the issues I’ve had with the series this season. There have been moments of strong storytelling (mostly character moments or episodes, which is one of The Walking Dead‘s major strong suits under the leadership of Scott Gimple), but throughout the past eight episodes, nothing much has happened. There have been no major deaths (while losing Deanna did mean losing a full-time cast member, she isn’t really one of the show’s central characters by any means), there was an entire arc meant to jerk the audience around into thinking that a major character died, and only a handful of days have passed since the end of season 5 and the eighth episode of season 6. Characters haven’t really grown or changed- or been forced to make any really tough choices. Things have, for the most part, been stagnant and the same stories are starting to roll around again and again (if one more Alexandrian questions Rick’s skills as a leader, I will scream). And that strikes at the major issue with the show: there is no real end game.
As is clear from the “prequel” to the back half of the season shown shortly after the end of “Start to Finish,” there is another major villain on the way, with his own gang of not particularly nice henchmen. And while Negan’s impending arrival is something comic fans have been awaiting for years, it really just puts the series back into the same cycle it has been through before. There’s a major threat from an outside force who has the ability (and the lack of any real moral compass) to kill those who mean a great deal to Rick (and, of course, to the audience). And there’s no indication that there’s anything in the future that will break the cycle. The gang isn’t going to rid the world of the walkers. It isn’t going to find a cure for the disease. There’s nothing left to do but to survive for as long as possible and then die. And I know that we all knew this before signing up for this ride, but I worry that this lack of a big picture beyond the immediate need for survival is starting to wear on the show itself. Sure, Negan will inject something new into the series (and I’m just as excited to see where the show takes that particular arc as anyone else), but I’m also starting to get a bit tired of watching a character get some great development only to see them die a few weeks later.
And that brings us to the major death of “Start to Finish,” good old Deanna. I have to say I saw this one coming a mile away. As so often happens in war movies, the old general realized she has imparted all her necessary knowledge to her successor and thus can fall in the impending battle. With Rick now getting accepted as a leader in Alexandria, there was no longer a need for Deanna’s brand of leadership (particularly now that we know Negan is coming). But boy, did Matthew Negrete write some glorious speeches for her before she went. I’ll admit that I was getting a bit tired of hearing about the Us vs. Them divide of Alexandria, but hearing Deana lay that one to rest once and for all was wonderful. And, she was completely right: Rick needs to accept that everyone still standing within the walls is one of his people, or the whole group will be in constant danger. Hopefully that puts that issue to rest (although I don’t see Ron giving up his goal of killing Carl any time soon). A tip of the hat to Tovah Feldshuh for taking what could have been an antagonistic character, whose world view grated on us, and turning her into someone we trusted and rooted for. It was nice to see someone beyond Michonne challenge Rick and get things done.
Outside of Deanna’s death, the episode had one other key moment: the throw-down between Morgan and Carol. I was strangely glad to see that a walker attack wasn’t enough to stop Carol from confronting Morgan’s idiotic brand of Wolf life coaching. Considering that Morgan’s belief that he can save people from themselves has gotten yet another person’s life put in danger (although, considering that Merrit Wever is an Emmy winning actress, I can’t see Denise dying off just yet), it certainly looks as if the series has come down on the Carol Peletier side of the moral argument. Yes, Morgan, Eastman’s ways may have worked with you, but that doesn’t mean that they will work with everyone out there in this world. If Morgan had simply killed the many Wolves he let go, it would have saved any number of lives- including Deanna’s. I suppose the argument could be made that this particular Wolf would have stayed safely locked up had Carol not forced the issue, but there wouldn’t have been a walker attack in the first place if those Wolves hadn’t attacked Rick. So, thanks Morgan.
We now have two and half months to go before we get the next batch of The Walking Dead episodes. We know that the Saviors have found Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham. We know that little Sam is starting to freak out amongst the walker hoard. We know that poor Denise is at the mercy of the Wolf and the walkers outside the house, while Morgan and Carol likely have some gnarly head wounds. Things are certainly not looking great for a number of our heroes. While the show may be starting to show its age and lack of a real end point, I’m still eager to see where things go this season and beyond.
— While it ended in a draw (thanks to some Wolf intervention), I was really impressed by the fight between Carol and Morgan. Considering Morgan has actually spent a great deal of time training for hand-to-hand combat, Carol really held her own. Not that I would ever expect anything less. When things settle down, I can’t see Rick letting Morgan stay around in light of this latest infraction on his part.
— I actually cheered for Carl when he pulled the gun on Ron. About damn time.
— The show has really done something amazing with the character of Sam. Excellent work from Major Dodson in portraying Sam’s legitimate fears and PTSD from the Wolf attack. This is a child who has never experienced all the horrors of the world, and he’s trying (and failing) to process it. Why Jessie hasn’t gotten him in to talk things out with Denise (who, lest we forget, is a psychiatrist) is beyond me. If they both make it through the next episode, it might be a good idea.
— And, finally, a bit of housekeeping. The Walking Dead returns on February 14. Have a great holiday season and see you back here in a few months!