A review of tonight's The Walking Dead season finale coming up just as soon as I have a recipe for you, and it ain't gazpacho…
After I watched last week's episode, I resolved that, barring some kind of creative miracle, the finale would be the last time I bothered watching The Walking Dead, as the frequent lows had finally made me unwilling to wait for the occasional highs.
“Last Day on Earth” was just about the opposite of a creative miracle. It was every bad decision the show has made over the last few years, all included in a dumb, lifeless, repetitive 90-minute episode that couldn't even be bothered to give the comic book fans the one moment they'd been waiting for – and that the show had been desperately teasing since the fall, in hopes that news that this sociopath with the anthropomorphised bat would forgive every dumb decision involving the herd, Glenn crawling under the dumpster, Carol's abrupt personality transplant, etc. – by instead going with a cliffhanger ending that will leave the victim's identity a secret up until fall. (Or, at least, until that actor signs on to do another show.) At times, there seems to be a schism between fans who have read the comics(*) and those who haven't: the finale impressively found a way to alienate everyone equally, whether they knew what was coming (and were curious to see how or if the show might deviate from it) or didn't.
(*) I should warn you right now: I will be spoiling what happens with the bat later in this review. It's impossible to talk about this fiasco without discussing it. If you don't want to know and keep reading, I'll be okay with it, though there will be an additional warning before we get there.
There was a nonsensical subplot about Morgan on horseback chasing after Carol, who was also being chased by a Savior who had chosen to bleed to death following her, rather than simply hopping into the car Rick and Morgan abandoned last week and driving home in search of medical attention. It ended with Morgan running into a couple of guys in body armor who appear to be from another settlement entirely, but that was all just filler to justify the running time and delay Negan's arrival even further. So were all of the Saviors' many roadblocks, which were meant to illustrate how far out of his depth Rick was, but didn't work because they were so repetitive, and because the show has been so wildly inconsistent in depicting the Saviors' competence level – and their degree of absolute evil(**) – from one episode to the next.
(**) Remember: the Saviors had never so much as heard of Alexandria before Rick and his people went and murdered a bunch of Saviors in their sleep. Rick has no moral high ground here, no matter how many curse words Negan drops, nor how smug he seems while trying to convince us that his feminized bat is awesome.
No, the whole thing – the horse, the roadblocks, the reminders of characters (remember Aaron?) and character arcs (Carl is overly protective!) the show hadn't bothered to service in forever, the periodic glimpses of a series of lights that resembled the UFO from Fargo but were instead just the POV of Daryl and the other prisoners from last week (which was itself more or less lifted from shots of the group locked into one of the Terminus train cars) – was, like this entire half-season, just a stall to get us to Negan. That is placing a lot on a sneering sociopath villain who seems like a slightly more charming version of the Governor (with nearly all of that charm owing to Jeffrey Dean Morgan rather than anything he was given to say or do), on some of the audience's knowledge of what Negan would be doing with Lucille, and on all the hype AMC has been giving Negan for the sake of the non-comics readers. But there is putting all your eggs in one basket, and then there is pulling the basket away before anyone has a chance to actually see what's inside it.
Ending on a cliffhanger like that is a move you can get away with if you have so thoroughly dazzled and thrilled your audience to that point that they will be angry only that they have to wait a while to get more of your terrifically entertaining show. For all that I complain about the lack of exploration of the hatch at the end of Lost season 1, the episode leading up to that was an all-timer, and gave the show enough goodwill to survive that decision. Though Bear McCreary's score occasionally hit the gorgeous levels of Michael Giacchino's Lost music (particularly in the sequence where Rick and Eugene think they're saying goodbye for the last time), this felt more like the hatch cliffhanger had been tacked onto the end of the episode where we found out how Jack got his tattoos. (Or, if you want to stick with another AMC show, this was like that time we didn't find out who killed Rosie Larsen, even though all of the marketing had strongly implied that we would, at the end of a season of TV that by that point had run out of other things to offer its audience.)
(Here's where the comic book spoilers are coming, folks.)
And, for the comic fans who had defended Operation Miracle Dumpster as justifiable audience manipulation because they knew Glenn would soon be beaten to death by Lucille… well, so much for that. Even if the victim had been someone else – whether an important character like Daryl, or someone the show doesn't care about like Rosita – it would still have underlined what an embarrassing miscalculation that was. But to not reveal the victim's identity at all – perhaps as a contract negotiating ploy, or an opportunity to focus-group the whole thing during the hiatus – makes it all vastly, vastly worse. There were ways the show could have pulled off the Glenn shenanigans (say, by cutting away as Glenn and Nicholas are falling off the dumpster, rather than showing what seems to be a screaming Glenn's innards being torn out of his body) without making the audience feel like they were being messed with for the sake of being messed with. Instead, the show went the phoniest and most obnoxious route possible… then chose to build the entire season to another moment designed only to jerk our chains. That's not fixing the previous mistake, but doubling down on it.
The good news is that I saw it coming, not just in my resolution from last week to quit the show following the finale, but as I watched the episode drag and drag and drag until it became obvious that a cliffhanger was the only way it was going to end. As a result, I wasn't even mad at the way they closed it (though I was bored for much of the episode leading up to it), and could only laugh at what a huge miscalculation that was, and at how happy I was that this would be the last time I would watch the show.
So I'm done, and I feel good about it. For the rest of you, whether you intend to be back in the fall or not, what did you think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org