The Walking Dead, You Had One Job
Huge spoilers for the Walking Dead season finale ahead!
Tonight's season finale of The Walking Dead was like most episodes of The Walking Dead: meandering, somewhat boring, and bordering on pointless, until one crazy, exciting, disturbing sequence at the end. And that made perfect sense, because however unexciting the first 80 minutes of this episode were (or more like 50 minutes plus commercials, since the "90-minute episode" was actually only 64 minutes), all would have been forgiven if Negan's entrance had been done correctly. They had only one job: to give us the emotional, brutal character death they've been building towards for half a season. They lined up several beloved characters, gave themselves a bunch of great options, and they chose the worst possible solution—more manipulative than last week's fake-out, even stupider than Glenngate—they left us on a cliffhanger, and insulted us by thinking that we would care enough to speculate who it was for the next seven months.
This is all the more infuriating because other than this huge blunder, Negan's introduction was kind of awesome. Yes, it went on too long, and was clearly manipulating the audience, but it was the good kind of manipulation, the kind of suspense that makes you hang on to Negan's every word as you get increasingly sick to your stomach. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was perfectly cast; his Negan is brimming with terrifying charisma and the kind of light, mischievous touch that makes him a fascinating villain with only ten minutes of screentime. I almost want to watch next season just for his performance, but I probably won't, because this finale was the living worst.
I would have been satisfied if they had killed almost any of the characters on the chopping block. Yes, Glenn would have been slightly anticlimactic after the events earlier this season. Eugene, Aaron, Sasha, or Rosita would have been a letdown, because we don't know them very well (or in Eugene's case, don't like him very much), but it still would have been harrowing if they had shown the character's initial reaction after the first hit, and/or the reactions of the other characters. Daryl or Michonne would have made me very, very sad. Maggie would have been a little bit in poor taste, but tragic, Rick or Carl would have been great surprises, and Abraham would have been sad enough, at least.
But instead, they did this. A completely unnecessary cliffhanger that they probably think is daring and suspenseful, and will keep audiences guessing until they keep watching next season, but is really just a tease. The Walking Dead is hardly suffering in the ratings, and a powerful ending would have kept everyone excited for the expansion of Negan's character next season. This way, they've alienated some viewers, myself definitely included. And more importantly, this tactic was self-defeating, because this isn't going to be a mystery until next season. People will be talking about it for exactly two weeks, until the cast starts filming and the missing cast member leaks online. Then everyone will know, and this will all have been for nothing.
Here's what Scott Gimple had to say about the twist on Talking Dead tonight:
"The end of the story is what people saw. And when we reveal who was on the receiving end there, that's going to be the start of another story. The kick-back effects from that, how people react, how the world changes, that's going to be the beginning of the story."
Since Negan didn't get to swear much, I'll do it for him: BULLSHIT.
There was a time that The Walking Dead had huge, gruesome deaths that actually impacted the audience without the need for manipulation. Remember the deaths of Shane, Dale, and Hershel? There was a time TWD could even make Andrea and Lori's deaths feel tragic, and they were both terrible, mostly hated characters. But ever since the writers beefed up Beth's character for the sole purpose of killing her off last season, they've been sliding downhill into outright manipulation territory. I had hoped that the Glenn debacle was a fluke, and that they would have learned from it, but it's official: The Walking Dead has become a dumb show. I spent a lot of time defending it, but it's become everything detractors have said it was from the beginning: an action-oriented zombie show with little regard for character and lots of regard for shock value.
I hate to reward this manipulativeness by speculating which character died, but I'll do a quick sweep to finish off what might be my last review of this show. We pretty much know that it isn't Rick or Carl, both out of common sense and because Negan said before he killed the person that the Saviors should "take out the kid's other eyeball and feed it to his father" if anyone moved, which wouldn't make sense if either of them were about to get the bat. I think we can safely say that it wasn't Aaron, Sasha, or Rosita, which leaves us with Eugene, Abraham, Daryl, Michonne, Glenn, or Maggie. I doubt it was Michonne, since Negan barely said two words to her, and I doubt they would have let Negan kill Maggie without telling him that she was pregnant, especially after he showed a soft spot for Carl. It could be Eugene, but Abraham and Daryl seem more likely, since Abraham's comic death went to Denise and Norman Reedus was on Talking Dead with Jeffrey Dean Morgan. (Although Morgan did make a reference to Reedus texting him after shooting the finale to welcome him to the family, which seems strange if they won't be working together next year.) But ultimately, my money is on Glenn, because Steven Yeun probably won't finish his film project in time to finish the seventh season, and this is probably the writers' twisted, twisted way of subverting expectations from the comics.