After the sixth season finale of The Walking Dead, fans will have to endure a painful and pointless cliffhanger until the next season airs later this year.
Given that the show follows Robert Kirkman’s comic book series storyline (for the most part), The Walking Dead comic book readers were eager to see how the show would present the notorious Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) character. The show’s viewers first hear of this evil character during the sixth mid-season premiere, when one of Negan’s henchmen threatens Daryl (Norman Reedus), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green): “Your property now belongs to Negan.” The henchmen looked dangerous and ruthless but were quickly obliterated by an RPG shell, courtesy of Daryl’s quick wit.
However, Negan’s first depraved act of violence was fizzled by the showrunners. Both viewers and comic book readers were eager to witness Negan’s vile actions and how they would translate to television. AMC even teased viewers by showing a clip of the season finale; the short video shows Negan with his back to the camera and a baseball bat with a barbed-wire wrapped around the tip, alongside close-ups of Lucille. Yet, viewers only got a point of view shot of Negan swinging the bat down upon whichever character the camera was supposed to represent before the screen faded to black.
The buildup to the Negan appearance was a thing of beauty. The Saviors clearly knew that Team Grimes was heading to The Hilltop, so they blocked all the roads leading towards it. The first roadblock started small; it featured Negan’s second man in command, a bloody Savior victim, and a few fully-armed Saviors in the back. Then came two non-human roadblocks. One was a massive fire and the other was a chained group of walkers dressed up like Team Grimes’ captives; the Saviors clearly know how to get under one’s skin. Once Rick (Andrew Lincoln) pulls off one of Michonne’s (Danai Gurira) dreadlocks from a walker skull, the crew is chased away by assault rifle fire aimed at their feet. Then comes the last roadblock, which is easily the most menacing. The camera, placed inside the Team Grimes’ RV, reveals at least 20 Saviors armed to the teeth and ready for war. The look on Rick Grimes’ face is that of desperation as he commands Abraham, the RV driver, to turn around.
Rick’s facial expressions throughout this episode are masterfully crafted by Andrew Lincoln. On last night’s Talking Dead, which is a talk show that airs after each episode of the show, Robert Kirkman claimed that this episode was about Rick’s confidence and that Negan’s murder is irrelevant. But this is blatantly obvious as Lincoln plays the character to perfection, specifically in the end when Rick is forced to kneel. Lincoln manages to come up with a facial expression that shows Rick to be dumbfounded, scared, and angry, all at the same time. The showrunners should have simply closed the Negan circle. Sorry, Kirkman, but Rick’s confidence and the mystery behind the identity of the murder victim are totally unrelated.
The scenes that take place after Eugene’s (Josh McDermitt) failed martyrdom are astounding. While trying to escape through the woods, the Grimes company quickly realizes that they have walked right into the Saviors’ trap. The whistling motif, which has become prominent because of Dwight’s (Austin Amelio) Savior crew, is simple yet effective. Then the lights come on and blast into Team Grimes’ retinas; it is a rude awakening to the “new world order.”
In his introductory monologue, Negan coins the term “new world order” and succinctly describes it thusly: “give me your shit or I will kill you.” Then, Negan explains that one of them must pay for the lives of the lost Saviors and begins a twisted rendition of “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe” to choose a victim for Lucille. The shot sequence that accompanies this malicious game is amongst the show’s best ones: it features a series of quick cuts and close ups shot from Negan and Lucille’s points of view. Some Team Grimes members are quivering while other hold their ground. The acting is stellar all around. As Negan finishes reciting the nursery rhyme, including two extra verses, the victim becomes clear to him, but only to him. We see Lucille come down and hear a crack – this is where things go wrong, plot wise and visually.
Firstly, we see blood dripping down the top-left side of the screen, which doesn’t make any sense. If this scene is being shot from the perspective of a character, how can they see blood dripping down from above their line of sight? It sucks all the tension out of the scene and breaks Negan’s trance. Plot wise, once again, it must be said that not revealing Negan and Lucille’s victim was a huge mistake. All of that amazing build up to Negan’s beating instantly diminished when the screen faded to black. It almost seems like a cheap business ploy to hook viewers for next season. The Walking Dead fans need a sense of closure, whether good or bad.
This last scene also speaks to the real danger in the apocalyptic world: humanity. Negan’s entire judgement and execution take place in the great outdoors. For a show that often features surprise undead attacks in lush forests, not seeing a single walker during the climax scene speaks to the brutality of humans. The lights and the whistling are both incredibly loud but the only blood being shed in the forest is human blood. Perhaps this foreshadows The Walking Dead’s future narrative. Maybe there are even more Negans and Lucilles out there.
As for next season, Morgan (Lennie James) and Carol’s (Melissa McBride) debate on apocalypse ethics must come under the spotlight. Morgan and Carol appear to be on the same side temporarily as Morgan finally takes a human life when Carol is on the verge of death. Both of them are then rescued by post-apocalyptic knights who are representative of yet another community in the undead world. Will this community help Morgan, Carol against The Saviors? Or will Priest Gabriel rally the remaining troops at Alexandria to go fight? Whatever the showrunners do, lets hope they don’t drag viewers into another stale cliffhanging.