The Walking Dead just wrapped up it’s mid-season finale for Season 6 and, of course, there are some tense developments to mull over until the show returns next February, mostly in the form of two big cliffhangers. During last week’s hum-drum set-up episode we were left with the very ominous image of the watchtower falling down and taking a big section of the wall with it, giving that huge herd of walkers space to invade Alexandria and really bring chaos to the once protected community. You’d think that shit would hit the fan, right? It does, just not in the way any reasonable viewer would expect.
Instead of bucket loads of gore and action, The Walking Dead stuck with character drama amidst all this mayhem, using the ridiculous amount of walkers to force groups of characters into more intimate settings so we could begin wrapping up this safe-zone story line, which has, on average, been a strong arc for the series.
Somewhere in the feverish opening ruckus we see characters get into their own predicaments, and instead of throwing a red shirt or two in there to bloody up, we focus on the characters we actually care about. Maggie has a very close call and manages to scramble up onto a platform by the wall; Rick runs into Jessie’s house with an injured Deanna, Michonne, Carl, Ron, and Father Gabriel (who wasn’t completely useless this week); Rosita, Tara, and Eugene camp out in a garage; and Morgan is shacked up with a concussed Carol, while poor Denise is down in the basement with The Wolf. Meanwhile, Glenn and Enid are on the outside of it all, with Glenn trying to figure out the best route and rightfully telling Enid to go get fucked if she doesn’t want to help. All of these quick adjustments are fine in themselves, but they also lead into a big task for Director Michael Satrazemis, that is, navigating this chaotic scene as best as he can – something the show has never been too good at.
With the end of the safe-zone arc we must say goodbye to the person who embodied the community spirit, Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) who has proven to be one of Alexandria’s only likable residents. Her death was necessary so she could reminisce about leadership with Rick, with the biggest – and most effective – character beat of the episode resulting from a meaningful conversation between them. Deanna made Rick promise he’ll look out for Spencer (wherever the hell he is) – a promise he may not keep – like he was a member of Rick’s group, hitting that inner-conflict that Officer Friendly has been dealing with all season and appealing to his more tender side.
The way Deanna was killed off was also one of the only moments in this episode that worked well, although having a vague fall and then finding out that someone was bitten without anyone noticing always feels like a cop-out (a la Fear of the Walking Dead finale). The leader went out like a champ, choosing not to take her own life but use bullets to take down as many walkers as possible while the others escaped. I’m not quite sure her death was big enough to be the ‘only’ death in the mid-season finale, but it was certainly symbolic, with the explicit baton-passing (“they’re all your people Rick”) and some nice – although slightly melodramatic – development for Michonne, who really does want this whole thing to ‘work’.
As if Sam wasn’t creepy enough already, we found out that he listens to Tiny Tim (no functional person, let alone child, listens to Tiny Tim, ever) on repeat throughout the majority of the episode while an insatiable herd of hungry ants eat his leftover cookie crumbs (oh hey there symbolism). No wonder why Jessie is such a stressed character; both of her kids are terrible. And it is both of her kids whom ultimately lead to ruin here; first Ron, whose idiotic attempt to kill Carl attracts the herd to the house (and seemingly makes them even more aggressive) and second, Sam at the end, who inexplicably cries out for his mother even though you’d think Jessie and Rick would have explained to Sam the importance of shutting the fuck up when you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with walkers.
Here is where a few things don’t make sense. There’s no concern over whether or not Judith could remain quiet while the group cover themselves in walker blood and shuffle through the crowd, which is careless enough, but prepping Sam properly seems like something Rick, Carl, and Michonne would never overlook. And for that matter, allowing Sam to keep playing his spooky Tiny Tim record over and over again is another oversight.
While the episode is forced to jump between group, unfortunately muffling some of the tension, we also get to watch the difference between Morgan and Carol bubble up to a dramatic showdown. It’s important that the writers stick with Morgan’s philosophy and use that to explore another perspective on the show’s ultra-violent aesthetic, but having him be so absolutely stubborn in the face of necessary bloodshed is an injustice to both Lennie James and how much Morgan’s return has been built up. Hopefully this is leading somewhere and soon, because treading over this “Morgan verses Carol” arc could become stale, fast. It worked well in “JSS”, but hasn’t done much beyond that.
Carol dupes Morgan and rushes down to find The Wolf, who she’s willing to kill without question, even if it means killing Morgan to get to him. It’s a frustrating decision for both characters, firstly because Carol is so intent on doing this right now when there are more pressing issues at hand, and secondly because Morgan is actually willing to hurt Carol to protect The Wolf. They both end up knocked out on the floor with The Wolf managing to escape and taking Denise – whose “you’re so full of shit” was better than most other bits of dialogue in “Start to Finish” – hostage. It’s a strange predicament, with the blame largely falling on Morgan, and one that ends just as abruptly as the other major cliffhanger.
All throughout the episode we don’t check in with the semi-red shirts like Tobin and Spencer, sticking with the major players. Having more characters to juggle would have toppled this episode entirely, but not at least showing where they are – especially when Rosita and Tara were the ones who helped Tobin up at the beginning – seemed off. Similarly, we only checked in with Maggie twice, the same amount of times we saw Glenn, who apparently takes his sweet time to climb a tree despite being one of the show’s most capable characters.
As expected, we did get a juicy post-credit scene as well (watch below if you missed it) showing Sasha, Abraham, and Daryl have a run-in with a bikie gang. This was a big nod to comic-book readers as we finally got mention of Negan Jeffrey Dean Morgan who will be a big presence in season 7, and who is the source material’s most memorable, dangerous (and sadistic) villain. This scene spells trouble for at least one fan favourite (who that fan favourite is, no one can say, since the show often switches comic-book deaths) and it adds a third cliffhanger for us to milk while we enter the very long mid-season break that AMC is so fond of.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
- Return of the ‘Walker Guts’ idea – which could have been handy so many times in previous situations.
- Father Gabriel not being completely useless – not overly useful though.
- First mention of Negan
- Carl giving it to Ron straight
- Deanna going out like a boss; her conversations with Rick and Michonne
- Ron’s petulance
- Numerous oversights
- Glenn takes that long to climb a tree
- No explanation of other Alexandrians (mostly Tobin, Spencer)
- Carol and Morgan both look like fools right now
- The Wolf escaped, he took Denise hostage…but he didn’t kill Morgan or Carol straight away, which would be very much in-line with what we know of this sadistic group. Could Morgan’s story have gotten through even just a tiny bit? It’d be an interesting comment on the nature of people if The Wolf would show shades of humanity after everything his people have done. Those teeth though.
Episode MVP: Rick (and whatever walker ends up eating Ron/Sam)
The Walking Dead returns to FX in Australia in February 2016