‘The Walking Dead’ Finale Lands With a Dud (TV REVIEW)

[rating=4.00] “Last Days On Earth”

At the beginning of the second half of The Walking Dead’s sixth season, I went to a bar to watch the premiere. While I was there I tallied an informal ‘applause-o-meter,’ which had Jessie’s youngest kid, Sam, getting eaten by zombies in a state of shock as the second most cheered-for moment. (Abraham and Sasha saving Glenn later on was the most cheered-for.)

Part of me got it: not only was Sam an insufferable character whose death was inevitable, but it was a long-overdue payoff after the first half of season six started off really strong, before quickly tailspinning itself into tedium. Still, there was something kind of unsettling about watching 75-ish adults resoundly cheer a little kid who’s being ruthlessly devoured by several sets of teeth, especially as he’s having a panic attack thanks to some “advice” Carol gave him weeks earlier.

It’s a kind of lynch-mob mentality, albeit watered down and spent on a fictitious TV program, but I felt a little closer to understanding why someone like Donald Trump was garnering such a high percentage of favorability in the poles. Follow that up with this coincidental observation in The New York Times that Trump had become the GOP’s ‘Zombie Candidate,’ saying whatever brash, hateful, and gleefully “politically incorrect” statement that crossed his little orange mind to resounding cheers.

Such has The Walking Dead ended its sixth season as not only a show about zombies, but a Zombie Show, akin to Trump as a Zombie Candidate. Characters are artlessly pushed around, denied any sort of consistency in character or rationality in order to set up the next crucial, blood-splattered moment to saturate the wide-eyed bloodlust of the largest viewing audience currently on cable TV.

As far as the finale itself, it’s a lot of pointless exposition that basically crams most of the top-billed cast into an RV as they try to make it to the Hilltop to save Maggie. Of course, the endless killing of The Saviors at the hands of the Ricktatorship has come back to haunt them in a big way. As far as tension building, this episode was at its best as they were stopped by roadblock after roadblock full of heavily armed and pissed off Saviors, who for the first time in eight episodes are presented as an actual, legitimate threat.

This was undercut with frequent missteps, starting with introducing a nameless character who’s beaten, tortured, and ultimately killed by the Saviors as an intimidation tactic. It wasn’t a bad plot device, but with an overflowing number of characters between Alexandria and now The Hilltop, dropping a featured extra off a bridge didn’t exactly have the best impact. Add to this more pointless Carl and Enid nonsense — because nothing makes the zombie apocalypse more interesting than the drama of a pre-teen subplot — which ends with Enid being locked in a closet.

In addition, Jesus was nowhere to be found, which seemed like a huge oversight given that his introduction is what drove the storyline to this point. That and leaving Father Gabriel in charge of Alexandria was brooded on and discussed at length as if it were a moment of grand importance.

Finally, remember when Carol single-handedly took down the Terminus countdown at the beginning of season five? Nowadays she’s almost completely overpowered by a single zombie, and then gets snuck up on by a savior. She’s saved by Morgan, who goes ahead and throws his “all life is precious” bullshit out the window and shoots the Savior several times, so it’s a good goddamn thing we spent 90 minutes with him learning to guard a goat with a bo-staff last fall. Although it does lazily allow for the introduction of armored members of The Kingdom, sowing some non-Negan seeds for the upcoming seventh season.

Speaking of…

The Negan scene itself was pretty great, thanks solely to Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who managed to live up to the hype. So good that it managed to overshadow the fact that they threw Daryl into the mix at the last minute, shrugging off the fact that the prior episode ended with a fucking cliffhanger involving him being shot.

(Side note: there was mention on The Talking Dead about a line that Negan needed to shave, which was due to Morgan’s shooting his scene while filming an episode of The Good Wife, wherein his character sports a beard. It is nothing short of infuriating that the show chooses to take the time to prioritize shit like this, while willingly discarding entire characters for weeks on end. Characters can shave, hell we’ve seen this in the show already. It does not require an explanation.)

Although that kind of lazy, half-hearted showrunning doesn’t compare to the absolutely bullshit cliffhanger ending, where Negan beats a character to death, but we don’t find out who, as the camera shifted from the POV of the person being killed. While there’s been absolutely no shortage of outrage over this, it’s this kind of smug arrogance that makes this a Zombie Show (again, not to be confused with a show about zombies, which it also is).

There’s no passion to The Walking Dead’s storytelling anymore. Like a Microsoft AI bot that becomes racist after only a few hours online, it’s a cold, unfeeling calculation that doles out bits of drama with assumed precision in an attempt to ration out fan’s enthusiasm as well as prepensely assuring their returned viewership, but as a market demographic, not as a fan base. Instead, they could be relying on compelling stories and characters that would make viewers want to turn in week after week.

Then again, why would they start now?

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