So the moment we have all been waiting, especially those that follow the comic books...the arrival of Negan was finally upon us. This season did an excellent job of keeping Negan a mystery while at the same time building up his character to monumental proportions of fear and infamy. This is the episode we have all been waiting for, the defining episode that would alter the entire dynamic of the show and set us on course with a ride down the bumpiest road possible. Sadly, once again the hype greatly outweighed the end product.
This isn't to say it was a horrible episode, but it wasn't any where near as amazing as it could have been. The majority of the episode felt like filler that could have easily been saved for the upcoming season, but I guess that's what happens when you extend the normal show time to 90 minutes. I'm all for more footage if we actually get more footage, instead, we were blessed with an overabundance of commercials and pointless content. I'm a huge fan of Carol and Morgan, both are 2 of my absolute favorite characters on the show but I'd be flat out lying if I didn't say I was disappointed with their entire segment. It wasn't that it was bad, but it wasn't something they should have dumped into this episode. I know it was meant to tie up some loose ends and introduce some future characters in the form of the armed horsemen and all, but if they were really going to tie up loose ends they should have focused on what happened to Daryl and the rest of the camp, even if just for a brief moment before reintroducing them at the end of the episode. Carol and Morgan's story could have easily been a good second or 3rd filler episode of the following season.
What the episode did do well was show the mental downward spiral of the group of survivors, especially for Rick thanks in part to the stellar acting of Andrew Lincoln. In the beginning we watch a confident Rick take reigns and lead his team on their journey to the Hilltop. Confidence bordering on cockiness, he lead his time around The Saviors' blockades and kept Maggie calm by reassuring that they always make it out and how things always play out to their favor. It was brilliantly done, watching that confidence fade each time they ran into the Saviors...until they ran into the largest group in which you saw Rick's expression change to shear uncertainty. Some heartfelt moments between Eugene and Abraham only added to the dread of what was lying ahead of their journey. Once rounded up, the shear panic on Rick's face without ever really saying a word was heart breaking. Truly outstanding acting from everyone, especially Andrew Lincoln.
The arrival of Negan was f'ing awesome. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was absolutely the perfect choice and he fully embodied the character, from his overly cocky, sarcastic attitude mixed in with the fear inducing presence one would expect from a character commanding such a large group of soldiers. He was simply perfect and made it very believable that he was about to welcome the Survivors to rock bottom. I was worried for a second, familiar with the original dialogue from the comics and seeing that he was being heavily censored, but they did the best they could at mixing in as much foul language as possible for network television. I heard them say that the DVD/Netflix cuts will be fully uncensored, F-Bombs included, so we have that to look forward to. The scene was perfect, absolutely believable, but then they had to go and ruin it by cutting the ending.
I expected them to cut the ending to try and create a cliffhanger for us, but my hopes kept me blind until it finally happened. I know it's sort of been a thing for The Walking Dead to leave us with a season ending cliffhanger, but for me at least, this was the worst possible decision they could have made. This episode was deserving of a very final finale. Negan was built up so much that his wrath deserved to be seen at that very moment rather than having to wait until next season to witness the outcome. Leaving the audience heartbroken and with a sense of tragedy would have worked far superior. Cutting the ending like that only lessens the blow. Now the audience is fully aware that one of their beloved characters is dead. Though they have no idea who it is, they are now aware and prepared for the outcome. They know what's coming and that's far worse. If they let the show end with him lining everyone up that would have at least created some sort of suspense as to what may happen, but with the sound of his bat beating in someone's skull and the screams in the background we already know what went down.
Now I did watch the Talking Dead and the producers said the reason they did this was because it forces them to give you an incredible season opener, and to me that seems like a lame excuse just to silence fans for putting them on the spot. So you mean to tell me you had to half ass an episode in order create a stellar season opener? I smell BS of the finest kind.
Signs of brilliance mixed in with wasted efforts on a useless subplot (useless to this episode), and a poorly placed cliffhanger of an ending prevented this episode from being one to remember. It had it's moments...just not enough of them and denying Negan an ending to remember was selfish on the producers part just because they wanted to leave us hanging to wait for an amazing 7th season opener.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5 stars