There aren’t many shows that can generate top tier TV buzz around a sixth season. With Game of Thrones right around the corner, maybe The Walking Dead isn’t so special in that regard. Unlike Game of Thrones, however, I actually get to play the role of the snobby book reader and can at least somewhat anticipate what happens next. For that reason, I knew the first full season in Alexandria would be something to look forward to. We are finally entering the meat of Walking Dead lore, witnessing Rick and company’s fight against the Saviors. I went into this season thinking, “Wow, even if I don’t like this season, that Lucille scene will be awesome.” Yet here I am thinking, “Wow, this season was awesome, except for that Lucille scene.”
That’s obviously a little bit of a stretch, one we’ll have time for later. Overall, I honestly thought this was the best season in Walking Dead history. Apologies for the misleading title; it was too punny to pass up. Right off the bat, there I go again, we’re given the largest herd of walkers of the entire series. That’s about as good an example of a leadoff home run as you’ll see on TV. The sheer scope of the mob was unlike the more claustrophobic and predictable encounters that we’ve become so used to on this show. On top of this, the premise given to the walker parade was actually genius in its simplicity. With a few forgettable exceptions, most conflicts and plot elements between The Governor and Season 6 were just “we’re walking, we’re walking, oh look someone introduced after Season 1 is dead”. This season opener changed the pace by giving the survivors a sense of purpose. They weren’t just wandering. They had established themselves in Alexandria, and found this giant herd nearby. Rick realizes that sooner or later, they’ll storm the gates and end everything. So he takes some initiative and leads a coordinated effort to take them away. These are the everyday problems we want our Walking Dead to deal with, not some weirdly introspective, silence-filled staring contests culminating in a bizarre sneak attack from the undead.
I of course won’t recap the entire season, but it was hugely important to start well for a show that lost a lot of fans to cumulative boredom. The ratings are just fine, of course, but the spotty reputation exists nonetheless. Previous seasons had their fair share of filler. Season 6 is not without this kind of peripheral material. But when you load up your season with action and meaningful events, you earn the right to go off on the occasional tangent. The Morgan flashback episode, for example, would’ve been garbage if it dropped during the second half of Season 4. But because Season 6 barely gave me time to breathe, the episode was actually a nice change of pace and gave us some great character development.
Television shows should be consistent, but they’re ultimately defined by moments. My favorite Game of Thrones season was the fourth, and it was great from start to finish. But I’ll immediately think of Joffrey’s wedding, The Viper vs. The Mountain, Brienne vs. The Hound, and the most legendary trip to the bathroom in TV history. This Walking Dead season finally learned the art of sprinkling big moments across solid storytelling. Carl’s eye, that entire fight against the dead that gave us the best walker-killing spree I’ve ever seen, and of course our introduction to Negan. They even did a better job finding natural humor in small moments. Previous attempts at a decent laugh were either forced and cheesy (pun intended) or non-existent. It shouldn’t be a hilarious show, but small moments like Rick singing in the car with Daryl or Rick being amused by Abraham’s ridiculous and awesome macho-banter make the whole production more enjoyable. I believed these are real people instead of walking plot devices with one-note personalities.
Crazy Rick is the best Rick; remember that. Season 3 may have tried my patience for the sheriff’s insanity by looping in so many Lori hallucinations, but the brand of crazy that lets him slaughter countless strangers makes for great TV. I wonder if he’d even bother asking, “How many people have you killed?” anymore, and if he can even keep track of his own résumé. As for Richonne, that’s a leap I’ve been waiting for them to take for a long time now so I am very ok with that. I needed it. When two characters you love finally get together on other shows, they almost immediately and inexplicably think it’s a mistake or have to analyze whether or not they should really be together. What do Rick and Michonne do? They go back to killing things and people, completely free of drama. Alexandria’s on-and-off relationship with Rick as a leader is pretty annoying in the books, but they’ve managed to instill doubt in the settlement without letting it completely dismantle what the show is really about. Maybe that changes post-Negan, which is when the books began to irritate me on that front. But the action is only bigger and better from here. They even gave us a Kingdom tease! Which means we have another awesome settlement on the way, and possibly The Walking Dead’s first ever CGI character? It’ll be very interesting to see how they handle that. The All Out War arc was set up beautifully, introducing each group to some extent. One of the toughest things to manage for a major franchise is the balance between telling a complete story with closure while also setting up future stories. The Walking Dead’s sixth installment nearly did just that. Unfortunately, they fell about an inch short.
Of course the season wasn’t perfect. There were one or two too many fake deaths for my liking. That’s become beyond tacky in a modern TV scene that just can’t let go of characters. Everyone, other than my constant Game of Thrones references that is, can’t take the leap and end someone important. And even they may be bringing someone back from the dead. That’s how you know 2016 has a weak trigger finger. We all knew Glenn was fine despite the nifty camerawork because if you’re going to kill off Glenn, you do it in a very specific way. And we knew Daryl was fine because if you’re going to kill a major character, you’re going to do it on-screen. Not some cutesy cutaway nonsense. These moments were annoying, but I could easily stomach them in an otherwise mistake-free season. Carol’s arc almost bothered me. It was a shame watching the baddest woman on TV slowly devolve into the fragile being we met in Season 1. At first I thought she was faking it, as I imagine we were supposed to. But Carol is legitimately broken. It still bugs me, but I see a value in that decision. For some time, blood lusted Carol was exactly like Rick. The two were always on the same page after she saved the group from Terminus. But it’s actually been interesting to see how that harsh mindset had to very different effects on two very different people. Rick’s situational cruelty makes him stronger, while Carol’s slowly ate away at her more compassionate nature. This made for an interesting contrast. But I’ll still miss my Carol if she’s gone for good.
Going into the finale, I figured there was only one way they could leave me saying anything but “This season was near-perfect”. Sure enough, they do that one thing. I’m not that much of a purist. This show has deviated from the books many times and I think most of them were great decisions. I didn’t need Negan to pick the person he picked in the books. Of course, that’s my ideal scenario, but if he randomly turned around and shocked me I’d probably warm up to the idea eventually. All I kept saying, out loud, was “He just has to pick someone…anyone.” Even a less major character death like Abraham would be impactful if done well. His comics death is incredibly lame, why not honor him with the bat? So I was into that possibility as well. What if they just cut Maggie’s long story ahead of her short and take her out? That’d be a great switcheroo.
So what do they do? The most copouty copout in the history of copouts. There is a fine line between a cliffhanger and a copout, and this is well over that line. A cliffhanger is fine when the impact of said cliffhanger hits harder than what the actual reveal would be. Pretty Little Liars has made a living off of that, because they have nothing good to reveal and just string viewers along for years at a time. That show is a treadmill. They walk forever to go nowhere. But this is very different. I can guarantee that no matter what they do to kick off Season 7, and no matter how they do it, it will not be as impactful as putting a massive exclamation point on a great Season 6. First of all, we’ll all find out who it is when someone only shows up to the set for one day and it’s all over the Internet. Secondly, the momentum so artfully built up by this show has been completely halted. And they completely wasted a perfect entrance from Jeffrey Dean Morgan. That man is going to make an amazing Negan. And I’m still very excited about Season 7, but not for the opening reveal. I’m looking forward to All Out War, which you can bet will someday be an episode title. In terms of the reveal, however, it’s more or less ruined. Viewers would’ve been saying, “OH MY GOD HE KILLED GLENN”. Now, they’ll say, “Yea, he ended up killing Glenn”. I’ll tune in the way you go to work and check ESPN to find out who won that overtime game on the west coast last night. Oh, that’s who won? Cool.
All things considered, I have some high praise for this Walking Dead Season 6. It was a joy to watch and for the first time in years, I couldn’t wait for Sunday nights on AMC. I couldn’t even wait for the DVR viewing half the time; it had to be live. Sadly, the Negan scene ended up being a swing and a miss. Great little performance, but ending a season like that is like ending a review with no attempt at a closing statement.