In defense of ‘The Walking Dead’ season six finale

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In defense of ‘The Walking Dead’ season six finale





By Jack Trainor / Culture Editor

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Across the Internet, fans of the comic and show alike are howling in distress over the season finale of “The Walking Dead” Sunday night, when the show brutally killed off a character — then hid their identity.

Some critics have even vowed to stop reviewing the show. While “The Walking Dead” has become somewhat notorious for its misguided season finale cliffhangers, the “Last Day On Earth” episode really wasn’t that bad.

In fact, nearly everyone agrees that up until the last 30 seconds, the finale of the sixth season was the best “Walking Dead” episode in years, and certainly this season’s highlight.

For starters, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is unquestionably a good fit for Negan, the maniacal, baseball-bat-wrapped-in-barbed-wire-wielding villain, even if some of his dialogue still needs some tweaking — not all of Negan’s childish insults landed with the same gravity as his comic book counterpart’s.

His troupe, The Saviors, also earn a more formal, nightmarish introduction as they toy with Rick and his group throughout the episode, popping up at every turn to redirect their camper van headed for the Mountaintop. The Saviors finally corner them, reuniting Rick and company with Daryl, Michonne and Glenn, who Dwight had captured earlier. With the main group reunited, the showrunners set the stage for controversy. Everyone knew a major character’s death was imminent, but the question of who broadens with the group’s reunion.

Those who’ve read the comic were anticipating a glorious, small-screen adaptation of one of the series’ most pivotal and shocking deaths, which the show has alluded to several times already in earlier episodes and seasons.

Those who haven’t read the books still had good reason to believe a death was on the horizon.

If viewers didn’t already know Negan’s comic book victim via ubiquitous media speculation and online discussion boards, characters like Abraham piled on some heavy, optimistic dialogue — by now a death sentence — leading up to the final minutes.

Both groups got their death, as Negan beats someone to a splashy pulp with his bat, “Lucille.” But the scene is shot from the receiving point of view before cutting to black, keeping the character nameless. 

The result is the show’s lowest-rated IMDB episode in years — and I get why people are upset.

In speaking to the press about the ending, showrunner Scott M. Gimple said the original scene in the comic is “an incredible work of gore by Charlie Adlard in the book. How we show that on TV? I’m certain we’ll be pushing some boundaries with it.” But by effectively dragging it across two seasons, giving time for leaks and set photo spoilers, it’s easy for the scene to feel cheapened.

And, yes, it’s not like the show was hurting for viewership. According to TV Insider, it was the fourth most-watched program from 2014-2015, behind the Super Bowl, “NCIS” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

But the show has always found a way to exist apart from the comic while staying true to the story and its characters — Denise’s arrow through the eye, for instance, plays out exactly like the books, only to a different character.

Fans of the comic are the show’s harshest critics, as they want a direct translation from page to screen. But there’s no suspense in following the same trail of blood the comics leave behind. By not giving fans the familiar, whether they’ve read the books or not, it remains its own creation, not allowing the comics to dictate the show’s every move.

“Last Day On Earth’s” cliffhanger, while unpopular, upholds the show’s right to originality. In this season’s first half, when Glenn Rhee seemingly died after falling off of a dumpster into a herd of walkers — a sharp contrast to the character’s fate in the comic book— actor Steven Yeun responded to fans’ criticism via Vanity Fair last October.

“I don’t particularly want to subscribe to the idea that this show can kill off anybody it wants,” he said. “Stop watching it to see if your favorite character is still alive … you notice a lot of fans saying, ‘We want you to live,’ or, ‘We want this person to die,’ and it’s like, that’s not what the show’s about.”

The Internet makes it so hard to keep a secret these days, but nobody knew what exactly was going to happen Sunday night — which is why it’s not implausible for the show to return with the same anonymity it left Sunday night.

“Last Day On Earth” was the show’s most important episode to date. It did its job, which was introducing Negan and killing off a major character — no matter who that is. If you’ve watched the show up until now, this ending shouldn’t come as a surprise.

These two things are all that matter going forward, assuming that Rick, Carl and Michonne, who all play pivotal roles in upcoming adventures, are still alive. The rest are expendable, and, while their fates will be fun — or gut-wrenching — to speculate on, they ultimately don’t matter.

In the end, there’s a good chance Negan slaughtered the same character on television as he does in the comic book, but not knowing for sure isn’t a slight at “Walking Dead” fans.

When a show mimics its source material without question or even threat of difference, in this case, that’s when we should complain. As for “Last Day On Earth,” let Negan kill whomever his bat chooses — in the end, the fact that Lucille is bloody matters more than the body on the ground.

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