TV Review: “The Walking Dead” S6B – Thrilling, if Unfulfilling

Written by Jesse Gelinas April 08, 2016

Lucille debuts on The Walking DeadTen years ago if you had told me that the best show on television would be a post-apocalyptic zombie drama, I’d have laughed in your face. And while the title may be a bit debatable, the fact remains that The Walking Dead is damn good television. This blend of horror and melodrama has taken the world by storm, and while it has suffered from a couple lackluster seasons, it does seem to have hit its stride these past two years. Following the source material more closely has led to some great characters, memorable moments, and impressive action. That is why I was so distraught to see it all come crashing down so suddenly

**Full season spoilers below**

After the cliffhanger ending of season 6A, Rick and co have a horde of walkers to drive out of Alexandria. After rallying the residents into action, the community is soon safe once more, with a few unfortunate casualties. Elsewhere, Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha have their first encounter with the Saviors, a rogue group of seemingly homicidal thieves. After a time jump, Alexandria has expanded, and our heroes soon find themselves interacting with another community. But there is a common problem: the Saviors, led by the enigmatic Negan (Jeffery Dean Morgan).

“Your property now belongs to Negan.”

The back half of Season 6 has been a terrific addition to The Walking Dead’s saga. Almost every episode was masterfully put together. We had some great character development of some of the smaller characters. Denise, for one, (even if she didn’t make it out of her own episode), who is a character I was still not sold on by the midseason finale. Alexandria itself as developed into The Alexandria Safe Zone, expanding its walls and taking in new residents. The world Rick and his group have been trying to rebuild seems to be on the way finally. And encounters with some new characters show that promise coming to fruition.

The Hilltop, a new community on The Walking Dead

The introduction of Jesus (Tom Payne) and the Hilltop is great, and faithful to the comics. The notion of this post-apocalyptic world “getting a whole lot bigger” is intriguing, and a welcome change from the usual backwoods scavenging and occasional run in with rogue thieves. Bigger and more impressive set pieces are almost always a good thing. of course, the promise of a bigger and better world is immediately demolished when Negan’s saviors’ influence once again rears its ugly head. With just two short scenes in two separate episodes, Negan immediately becomes the bogeyman whose presence is felt looming over the rest of the season.

“We are all Negan.”

The writers did a tremendous job building the tension every week, giving us just glimpses into the threat that the Saviors posed. And in the mean time, we got a lot of great action to tide us over. An episode in the middle of the season includes a full out assault on a Savior outpost, including the first (human) kills for multiple characters, Glenn included. These moments of raw, unbridled violence quickly bring us and the characters back into the harsh reality of the world they live in, and make the notion of building a better world bittersweet at best. Each subsequent episode builds on this wonderfully, exploring the lengths the group is willing to go to maintain the lasting peace they feel they’ve earned, and those who refuse to cross those lines (Morgan, and later Carol). This clashing of philosophies, for once, doesn’t come off as forced or contrived as in previous seasons of The Walking Dead.

First appearance of The Saviors on The Walking Dead

As we approach the finale, the tension is palpable. Carol is on the run from her demons, Daryl is out for blood, and Maggie is sick. So, in the most contrived part of the season, every main character has left Alexandria, and half of them have been captured. Moving quickly past this, the episode itself proceeds to be effortlessly thrilling and entertaining. The Saviors are out in full force and seemingly everywhere, one step ahead at every turn. Rick and company are desperate, frantic, outmatched and outgunned for the first time in a long time. And it all builds so beautifully to the anticipated arrival of Negan… and then AMC, Scott Gimple, Robert Kirkman, and the rest of The Walking Dead team collectively shit the bed.

“Today was career day. We invested a lot so you would know who I am, and what I can do.”

Starting with the positive, the casting of Jeffery Dean Morgan as Negan is brilliant. It’s a perfect casting, and Negan seemingly walks right off the page and into screen. His performance exudes power, menace, and humour in just the right doses. He is a wonderfully written villain and they’ve brought him to life exactly as they should have. is entire scene (the finale’s final scene) is almost word for word his introduction from the comics, and while it may feel a bit longwinded to some, I found it a great match for the season’s slow burn of tension and terror. When he explains the new world order, casually swinging his beloved Lucille (a barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat), you almost feel like he may take a swing at you at any moment.

The scene is one of the most iconic in the comics, and is thought by many fans to be the most pivotal scene in the series. And AMC took tat scene, in all its raw and bloody drama and impact, and cut it in half for a cheap cliffhanger. Let me clarify, after being defeated, captured, and completely humiliated by Negan and his Saviors, Rick’s group is subjected to a wicked game of “eenie meenie.” Negan selects a victim at random (a major character), beats them to death in a graphically brutal scene, and then walks away, having properly introduced himself. AMC chose to end with Negan’s victim selection, and cut to black before the victim was shown. It’s a dirty, rating-baiting scheme and I find it pretty horrid. To take a powerful scene that has the chance to truly shake up the fanbase, and cheap out for a cliffhanger (complete with Twitter hashtag #Whoisit), it’s clear that good storytelling has taken a backseat to the numbers game.

Walking Dead Negan

In the end, the fan backlash and social media outcry will mean little to AMC or The Walking Dead team. The season got insane viewership numbers, and next season will too regardless of what we thought of the finale. It was a truly great season of television, and a remarkably tense finale that introduced what is sure to be a grade-A villain. The sad thing is that it had to be butchered at the last second, draining all the drama and impact from the writing for the sake of a cheap guessing game. This isn’t an experience. An Experience would be experiencing the death with the characters, not scrambling to analyze every shot for clues after the fact.

The Walking Dead is still good TV. I just hope they can make this lackluster ending worth it in the long run.

Season Rating: 8.5/10

Finale Rating: 6/10

The Walking Dead season 6 poster

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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