The Walking Dead: Last Day on Earth
Did the season finale of The Walking Dead piss you off? If it did, shame on you. I realize that ending the season on a major cliffhanger is an infuriating decision. It’s a big, fat middle finger to the show’s fans. But it’s also typical of the show and especially the show’s sixth season. After I don’t remember how many episodes of The Walking Dead teasing viewers with Glenn’s fate in the first half of the season, you really can’t be surprised when the season finale promises to deliver a major death and then makes viewers wait sixth months to find out who it was. We collectively are Charlie Brown and The Walking Dead is Lucy pulling away the football at the last second. The question is, when Lucy comes back in October and asks us to kick the football, will you fall for it again?
I have to admit, I read a leaked summary of the script two weeks ago. So I was fully prepared for what was to come. I even issued some warnings to readers that the season finale was going to upset viewers. Armed with a bit of comic book knowledge and the announcement of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s casting as Negan, I had been certain for months that the final episode of the season would consist of a lot of padding leading up to Morgan swinging a bat. So this episode didn’t contain any surprises for me.
Last Day on Earth was a 90-minute episode. On any given Sunday, the show struggles to fill it’s regular hour-long slot. Every time they try to stretch a show past that point for extra ad revenue (it damn sure isn’t because they can’t fit the story in the allotted time), the show suffers as a result. The main plotline this episode involves Rick and all of the main characters who are still in Alexandria hopping into an RV and trying to get Maggie to the Hilltop Community to see an obstetrician.
Question: Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to move the apocalypse’s only pregnant woman into the same community as the world’s last living obstetrician proactively? You know, before she has a plot-driven miscarriage or whatever that was supposed to be. Question #2: Does anyone really think leaving Alexandria in Father Gabriel’s hands is a good idea? I don’t care that he has manned up a little in recent episodes, the last time he was in charge of protecting a community he locked them all outside of his church and listened to their dying screams.
The bulk of the episode consists of Rick and the RV gang trying various routes to get to the Hilltop. Invariably, they come across some kind of road block set up by the Saviors. You have to hand it to these guys. They have a real commitment to showmanship. Each obstruction becomes progressively more elaborate. At first, it’s just a dozen or so armed guys standing around with vehicles blocking the road. But then they start lining the street with a chain gang of the undead. They even take the time to make some of the zombies up to resemble members in order to remind viewers that Michonne and Daryl were taken prisoner at the end of last week’s episode.
At one point, the RV is blocked by a giant wall of timber. Eugene even comments about the resources that would be necessary to build such a construct. He’s absolutely right to do so. Any group that can go to these lengths just to extort a small community out of half of their stuff really shouldn’t need to extort a small community out of anything. Clearly, they have massive resources that could be put to better use. If you can put this wall together in a matter of hours, you are capable of great things. Rebuilding society should be a snap. But instead, they’d rather dick around with Rick for an hour.
It’s worth nothing that for much of this season, the Saviors have been shown to be completely incompetent. Every time we have encountered the group up to this point, Rick and company came out on top. Even if the Saviors had the upper hand, they would eventually screw up and get routed by the show’s regulars. So their sudden level of uber-confidence is mystifying. If they were capable of this kind of thing, why didn’t they drop the hammer on Alexandria a long time ago?
There was also a B-plot involving Carol and Morgan. It’s fitting that these two share some time together. Both of these characters have been assassinated by the writers this year. It’s a bit heart-breaking to see Carol, formerly the show’s best character, reduced to this.
In the end all of the other regulars in the cast are lined up in front of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as he gives his big speech. I think it is pretty common knowledge at this point that in the comic book, this scene ended with Negan brutally beating Glenn to death. But the show chose to leave the identity of Negan’s victim unresolved until season seven. Question #3: Do you think the writers have settled on the outcome yet? I have my doubts.
Why end the season in a way that you know will piss off viewers? Scott Gimple seems to think the secret to The Walking Dead‘s success lies in social media. All season, they have been intentionally trolling viewers to get them buzzing on Twitter. This seems to be a strategy to keep the show relevant at the water cooler as ratings have finally begun to slip a little. After the episode was over, AMC conveniently offered a hashtag in case anyone wanted to use it.
Six months is a long time to ask viewers to care about the identity of Negan’s mystery victim. After an entire season in which the only character deaths were Alexandrians, Wolves and Saviors, they really needed to deliver something more than an IOU for next season. When the identity of the deceased character is finally revealed, I don’t see how it can possibly carry much dramatic weight six months after the fact. (And how much do you want to bet the show will make us wait an episode or two before revealing what actually happened?)
In the meantime, we have Fear the Walking Dead to look forward to/dread. The first season of that show made the original program look good by comparison. Let’s see if they can find a way to repeat that feat after this trainwreck.