It's fair to say the The Walking Dead Season 6's finale cliffhanger was a fairly controversial one. Yes, we know. Prime time TV is no stranger to finale positioned cliffhangers and by now neither are its audiences. So should we really have been all that surprised by it?
But the grumblings in the fanbase are less to do with the cliffhanger itself, and more concerned with the let down following the massive hype created by the cast and crew in the months running up to the finale episode regarding That Big Character Death.
Because of the stoking of the fanbase flames most of us assumed we were going to see That Big Character Death right before the credits rolled on 'Last Day on Earth', but alas we were denied knowing who exactly had that intense one on one business meeting with Lucille. And so the fan theories begin to spill out, and likely will do so right up until The Walking Dead Season 7 premieres... whenever that may be.
This came on the tail end of some fan skepticism about the most recent season. Whilst The Walking Dead remains an engaging and entertaining piece of television there has been some concern about the writing falling back on gimmicks ever since Glen Rhee's (Steven Yeun) faux-death by zombie disembowelment was dragged out over multiple episodes.
The finale cliffhanger was infuriating in many ways, as it denied viewers the truth of an event which had been built up over the course of many months. And whilst this isn't inherently a bad decision it did cause a certain amount of backlash from fans online (with 70% of Twitter comments regarding the episode falling into the negative category).
But it's not so much the narrative mechanic which has us concerned, but more the logistics of the decision to keep the big death a secret. This issue was raised with showrunner Scott Gimple in a Variety interview the day after the finale aired, when he was asked how they planned to stop the secret leaking when production begins on Season 7.
Gimple: "We are doing our best in all those areas. It is very very difficult nowadays, especially on a show that is in so many different places. That said, we are working very hard to put things in a place where I hope we protect it... We are going to try to protect the secret of [who Negan killed] to protect the audience’s experience. I sure hope it doesn’t leak. The world is what the world is, but we’re going to try hard to make that not happen."
The problem that The Walking Dead producers now face is the same that HBO has experienced in the interim between seasons 5 and 6 with the big Jon Snow question.
Ever since production began on Game of Thrones Season 6 the internet has been awash with supposed set leaks, covertly taken behind the scenes footage, images of various current and former cast members snapped on location, and cast interviews analysed with finely tuned microscopes. In the age of the internet and the smartphone, keeping set secrets like that can be incredibly difficult, even without the prospect of cast or crew leaking details either accidentally or on purpose.
This is the problem that AMC now face with The Walking Dead Season 7, as keeping the details under wraps will become difficult; especially if the now redundant cast member in question takes a major role on another TV series or movie production.
This reality of production has already been tossed around a lot as actor Norman Reedus is set to star in AMC's new motorcycle roadtrip series Ride With Norman Reedus, something which some fans have pointed to in support of him leaving the show with Daryl at the wrong end of the baseball bat.
This is not lost on Gimple of course, who says that they're working hard on putting plans into place to keep the secret intact until the Season 7 premiere.
Gimple: "We have a big ensemble and people do take jobs and have taken jobs throughout our seasons. You can be on a couple different shows nowadays. That said, we’re trying to get around that as well."
He cites the removal of Steven Yeun's name from the credit sequence over the few episodes when he was assumed dead as one of the ways which the producers go about keeping the secrets, which he describes as "that meta stuff, the awareness of all that stuff around the show".
That being said, we do have our doubts that they'll be able to keep the secret until the next season premieres. But then again this is the internet - a place of fan theories and false flags - so hopefully the waters of the fandom will be muddied enough to keep the truth of Lucille's victim intact until Season 7 rolls around.