Whose Episode Is It?
Finales usually involve most of the cast, and this one is no exception. But the star of this episode is the Saviors’ leader, Negan, who finally makes his presence known in the most ridiculous fashion possible.
Man Is The True Monster
Confession time: wWhile I never read a “Walking Dead” comic, I do know about some major events that have happened in them. Which means yes, I know when Negan first shows up in the comic, he kills a major character with a barbwire baseball bat. (I’ll refrain from saying who in case you don’t want to be spoiled.) It’s a huge moment for the comics, and the show has been treating it as such, considering how it’s given most of the cast an intense case of the stupids in order to draw out the conflict between the Alexandrians and the Saviors to the finale.
So here we are at the finale at last, and if it wasn’t obvious from last week’s “next time on,” the episode itself makes it quite clear that someone is going to die. From Rick assuring Maggie that the Ricketeers can do anything as long as they’re all together, to a Savior literally asking Rick if today might be the last day on Earth for someone he loves, the episode lays it on nice and thick. It’s also determined to draw the non-tension out for as long as possible, so we get a 90-minute slog where Rick and the others drive around in an RV, trying to get Maggie to the Hilltop doctor, only to find all the roads barred by increasingly unlikely Savior blockades. (Here’s some zombies chained together! Here’s an entire wall of logs!) To say this gets tedious very quickly is an understatement. At least this show of manpower makes Rick and the others finally realize, hey, there might be a lot more Saviors than they thought!
If this seems like a gratuitous show of power on the part of the Saviors, that at least seems to be the point, since they’re determined to break the Ricketeers’ spirit. Of course, one wonders why it took four previous armed conflicts between the Saviors and the Alexandrians to get to this point, considering the Saviors seems to have unlimited numbers and can somehow magically keep tabs on a single RV driving around the country side, but the obvious answer seems to be that Negan couldn’t show up until the finale, so everyone had to vamp. But after what feels like forever, the Saviors finally herd the Ricketeers into a clearing, surrounded by headlights and creepy whistling, and Negan at last appears.
After all the build-up, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan appears to be a charismatic dictator who keeps his subjects in line with the occasional bit of ultra-violence. In this case, he’s going to kill one of the Ricketeers with the aforementioned barbwire baseball bat, whose name is Lucille. This isn’t a complicated concept, but the writers manage to stretch Negan’s speech to an almost comical length. Every time you think he’s going to start swinging, he drags it out further. Morgan’s performance is fine: some actors would be tempted to ham it up with such a showy monologue, but he keeps it within bounds. Still, I wanted him to start killing people just so he’d finally stop talking.
And kill someone he does — except remarkably, we don’t find out who. The entire episode, and arguably the entire back half of this season, was building to this moment, but we shift to first person as Negan delivers the killing blows, so the victim’s identity is a mystery. The show doesn’t even grant us the catharsis of knowing which character has been killed. It’s a cheap tactic to sustain interest between seasons, not to mention a morbid one. “Who died?” isn’t a cliffhanger, it’s a death pool. It’s a gimmick, and if that’s what “The Walking Dead” is going to rely on in its storytelling going forward, it doesn’t make me hopeful for the future.
A Shred of Humanity
Meanwhile, Morgan tracks down Carol. Much like the main plot, there’s a lot of padding in this one (Morgan finds Carol, then loses her again, then finds her one last time), but it’s all just a set-up to get Morgan to kill a guy. Yup, after Carol finally comes around to Morgan’s no-killing philosophy, he’s put into one of those classic “Walking Dead” no-win scenarios (remember when Tyreese had to save baby Judith?), and he kills a man to save Carol. This should be a huge moment for the series, considering all the time we’ve spent with Morgan and Carol debating murder and morality, but then a couple of guys in body armor show up and offer to help and that’s all we see. Morgan killing again is treated with a shrug. If it’s supposed to be a cliffhanger, it’s a lousy one. It’s “The Walking Dead.” Of course violence always wins.