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Well, that was utterly disappointing, wasn’t it? After months of hyping of the arrival of Negan, and weeks of the show’s cast claiming “Last Day on Earth” was going to be a groundbreaking moment of change for the show- perhaps the most disturbing episode of The Walking Dead to ever air, we were treated to a 90-minute slog with about five minutes of story that actually advanced the plot in any meaningful way, including the introduction of ultra-villain Negan. And my initial impression of this so-called fearsome villain? Well, he seems to be a slightly more charismatic Governor (thanks to Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance, not that awful monologue), with a better wardrobe and a bat.
And then, after enduring all of that, in perhaps the most tone deaf cliffhanger in recent television history, we weren’t even shown who Negan decided to kill. A cliffhanger like that hinges on the trust of the show’s audience- a belief that Scott Gimple and his team of writers will do right by the show and its characters- to work. Too bad Gimple and company destroyed that trust back in November with the faux death of Glenn. So, on practically every level, “Last Day on Earth” was a complete and utter failure.
There were a number of reasons the episode didn’t work, but I believe there are two major problems that really turned it into a complete tire fire. The first is something Gimple can course correct in season seven if he really wants to try and get the show back on the right track: the series needs to get rid of the lazy and uninspired writing at its core. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, The Walking Dead can be a great series. The writing staff, Gimple in particular, have proven on multiple occasions that they can craft intelligent and measured episodes that advance the plot and characters while not shying away from the gore and violence at the core of the series. But throughout season six, the writers have gone for style over substance, creating a confusing narrative (think back to the mess of timelines at the start of the season for an example). Stories dragged for little reason other than a desire to give every possible character a moment in the sun. Characters changed their entire personalities without any exploration into the reasons why. It was just a complete disappointment from a narrative perspective. And it didn’t have to be that way.
As for the second reason, well, that one will be significantly harder to fix: the writers have lost the trust of their audience. Now, I might have been able to stomach a manipulative cliffhanger if I still trusted the show’s writing staff not to intentionally jerk its audience around. But, as they proved with the atrocious “Is Glenn dead?” arc in the fall, Gimple and company have no qualms about messing with their audience when it suits their needs. There had been a spoiler rumor floating around the internet over the past week and a half suggesting that the finale would end without the reveal of Negan’s victim, and I foolishly dismissed it as rubbish, since the writers wouldn’t be willing to trash all of their remaining good will with their audience by jerking us around one more time. But, it turns out that the writing staff either doesn’t understand how they have abused our trust this season, or they don’t care. If it’s the latter, well, I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised.
I rarely feel that a show owes its audience a particular outcome, as I’m a firm believer in the concept that writers shouldn’t be beholden to the desires of the audience. But The Walking Dead owed its audience the death of a major character. We deserved to see who Negan killed. Not just because the show has already destroyed almost all of the trust it had with its audience over the past several months, but because we deserved an episode that lived up to the hype promised by the show’s cast and creative team. A good cliffhanger doesn’t leave the audience asking who died. A good cliffhanger kills a character and asks where will our heroes go from here? It advances the story to the cliff’s edge and doesn’t jump. This ending walked to the top of the cliff and sat down away from the edge.
You know what would have been a really wonderful and provocative ending? Negan gives his monologue (which probably should have been about five minutes shorter), and bashes in the head of a character (Michonne, Glenn, Daryl- really anyone who would make a major impact). Then, instead of using the completely cheesy blood effect on the camera (which I accurately predicted last week, natch), the camera pans to Rick’s stunned and heartbroken face as he tried to process how things went so horribly wrong (Andrew Lincoln really sold the hell out of Rick’s torment throughout the episode and could have absolutely killed it with a moment like that). That type of ending would have had people talking throughout the summer. There would have been a whole host of interesting questions left open. And fans would have had time to process a difficult death. As things currently stand, the hiatus will be spent with fans discussing how much they hated the finale (and, from a quick looks at Twitter, they really hated it). All narrative momentum the series could have gained from the game changing moment Negan’s entrance presented has now been completely lost.
Over the past 12 hours I’ve seriously contemplated whether or not I want to continue writing about the series next season. Due to its massive popularity, reviewing the show weekly has made a great deal of sense, despite its repeated narrative issues. But after this season and that finale, I’m not sure if I have the energy to continue watching a show that has such blatant disregard for its fans and the general tenets of good storytelling. We’ll see if I’m feeling any different come October, but I am going to take the hiatus to evaluate whether or not I really want to spend 16 more weeks watching Rick and his group fight a villain who appears to be simply a retread of what we’ve seen before, while supporting a writing staff that doesn’t mind jerking around its audience. I encourage you all to do the same.
— What was the deal with Carl locking Enid up in a closet? No one knows she’s in there and it’s clear Carl isn’t coming back anytime soon. That’s a pretty horrific thing to do to someone, especially under the guise of “keeping her safe.”
— I will say I enjoyed parts of what the show tried to do with ratcheting up the suspense with the Saviors out flanking Rick at every turn. It would have worked a lot better had the episode only been a standard hour, with several fewer roadblocks. And how is it that the Saviors, who the Grimes Gang have foiled at EVERY turn so far, are this incredibly organized suddenly?
— The Carol-Morgan B story was interesting on paper. Seeing Morgan kill and cross his own line in the sand to save Carol worked as a nice role reversal for the characters. But, since the writers failed to adequately set up the ground work for Carol’s change of heart (even here, she simply parroted the same line about not being willing to kill for those she loves anymore), it didn’t land as powerfully as it could have. Yet another major missed opportunity.
— I supposed there is some solace to be had that Carol and Morgan are hanging out with some (presumably) good people.