Even if you don’t watch The Walking Dead, the outrage over this season’s finale was impossible to avoid. Flouncing threats of rage-quitting the show, complaints that the show is merely stringing fans along in order to infuriate and insult them, and angry cries that yet another cliffhanger was going to have to tide people over until Season 7 were par for the course throughout social media and pop culture punditry.
But this is Popshifter, and we don’t play those games.
Did I have quibbles with this season? Yes. I found Carol’s shift into pacifism odd and abrupt, especially after her frequent “I’m just a weak woman” fake-out performances. I also think that Enid is one of the more annoying characters the show has ever produced, but I also said that about Father Gabriel, and he ended up coming through. So I’m willing to be proven wrong.
Throughout the second half of this season, we’ve gotten teases of the terrifying power of Negan. For a show with so much gore and violence, it was a neat trick for The Walking Dead to utilize that old horror trope of the unseen being far more frightening than anything else. Yet, Rick and his people do the unthinkable in the unseen face of that underestimated foe. They are desperate after the decimation of Alexandria by Wolves and walker hordes and an even more basic quandary: a lack of food and supplies. Thus the pre-emptive strike of slaughtering Negan’s Saviors took place in order to barter with the smarmy Gregory for these needed items.
However the struggles of the group weren’t over. As of last week’s episode, Carol took off to avoid having to kill for those she loved and Morgan pursued her, telling Rick to go back to Alexandria. With Daryl also leaving to avenge Denise’s death, and Glenn, Rosita, and Michonne trying to stop him, this means that most of the leaders of Alexandria are not actually at Alexandria. With Glenn, Daryl, Rosita, and Michonne gone (and subsequently being captured by Saviors), it’s up to Rick to make the big decisions.
So what happens to Carol? Morgan finds a horse and then, while patrolling a nearby town, he also finds Carol, wounded by a deep gash on her left side. She’s huddled by the entranceway to a library and covered in blood, surrounded by dead bodies. There’s a lot of back and forth between these two: Morgan patches her up, giving her his best “life is precious” and “people love you” speeches, but Carol doesn’t want to hear it and sneaks out anyway. That Savior whom she didn’t kill is also on her trail and shoots her in the legs and arms, vowing to watch her suffer and die as payback for what she did to his friends.
Before he can finish his task, Morgan arrives just in time to shoot him down. Then, that guy in ersatz battle gear from last week’s episode shows up with a friend on horseback. Morgan explains that Carol needs help.
Back at Alexandria, Maggie starts having severe abdominal cramps and Rick endeavors to get her to the doctor at Hilltop. They aren’t alone on their quest, because Sasha, Abraham, Eugene, Aaron, and Carl (who has locked Enid in a closet so she won’t risk her life to come along) all insist on accompanying him in the RV. Yet, like a group of slasher flick killers banded together, the Saviors manage to block every road to Hilltop, and their efficiency at doing this, not to mention the unexpectedly large numbers of them, genuinely scares Rick and the others, as Maggie’s fever spikes and she approaches delirium. In the midst of all this, Abraham indicates to Sasha that he might like to raise a child with her.
Eugene takes the RV so that Rick and the rest of the people can sneak Maggie through the woods to Hilltop. It’s a pretty emotional scene when Abraham finally acknowledges Eugene’s evolution as a survivor. Rick is moved when Eugene hands him a sheaf of paper with instructions on making bullets.
Needless to say, because this is The Walking Dead, things do not go as planned for Rick and his people and they are quickly surrounded by Saviors. As it turns out the Saviors have not only captured Eugene, they also toss Daryl, Michonne, Glenn, and Rosita out of a nearby vehicle. That’s when we meet Negan.
The big build-up was not in vain. Jeffrey Dead Morgan plays one hell of a creep (and if you haven’t seen him in the recent Western The Salvation, you need to change that). Unlike The Governor, with his smooth-talking exterior and violent, rage-filled secret side, Negan is nasty through and through. He doesn’t have to glower or scream. He orders everyone, even poor Maggie, onto their knees, infantilizing them by betting that someone will pee their pants before the night is through and then laughing about it.
It’s not just that he’s wielding Lucille, the barbed wire-encrusted baseball bat. Negan is in charge and he knows it. Rick knows it, too; I haven’t seen him this rattled since Lori died. It’s not difficult to imagine what’s going through everyone’s heads: did we do the right thing when we killed Negan’s people?
A review of this episode called “In Defense of the Season 6 Finale of ‘The Walking Dead’” (because we live in a world where pop culture criticism is at such a nadir that these kinds of articles even have to be written), compares the show’s environment to The Wild West.
It’s an interesting take on the show, but even during those times, there was at least the existence of modern technology, however fledgling. The Walking Dead is, if nothing else, post-apocalyptic. There are no governing bodies anywhere near these people. If anything, it’s like the cast of the show got into a time machine and traveled to prehistoric times, having to fight dinosaurs or cavemen. They have harnessed the power of fire, they can communicate with language, and they have weapons, but they cannot interact with the world as a whole. They cannot necessarily see the bigger picture if it is any larger than their immediate circle.
So much of The Walking Dead has been about examining what it is to be human and what it is to be a monster and if the two are really so far apart as the civilized world would have you believe. This season has been no different. Yes, Rick and his people have killed others to survive, but there is a distinction between Rick and Negan. Rick wouldn’t torture a man, wrap a chain around his neck, and then throw him off of a bridge. Rick wouldn’t beat someone to death with a baseball bat and glory in the bloodshed.
That’s what Negan does, however. After taunting everyone with who is going to get the business end of Lucille, Negan makes a choice. We hear the sickening thud of the bat but we don’t know who dies. This was one of the things that most upset viewers of the show.
That’s what cliffhangers do, however. To give the identity of the person would allow the viewers to mourn, but not see how that death impacted the rest of the characters on the show until the Season 7 premiere in the Fall. So we will find out when they find out, in October, so we can cry along with them.