Why ‘The Walking Dead’ Finale Worked, And Why It Didn’t

We’ll have a complete rundown of tonight’s sixth-season finale of The Walking Dead, “Last Day on Earth,” first thing tomorrow morning, but here’s a few brief thoughts on finale.

After months of waiting for the arrival of the most notorious villain in The Walking Dead history, and after speculation for almost as long about who will become his first victim, we finally got to witness the introduction of Negan. It did not disappoint.

Why the finale worked

It worked because after all that speculation, and after all the hype surrounding the arrival of Negan, he actually managed to live up to expectations. Jeffrey Dean Morgan could not have been better suited for the role, and the character could not have been better written. We’ve been waiting since November, when Morgan was cast, and still, even waiting another until 75 minutes into the finale was worth it. Negan was everything we had been promised: Profane, cruel, brutal and charming. With some exceptions (namely Eugene), most of the characters on this show are quiet and brooding, but Negan is verbose, delivering more dialogue in his 10-minute soliloquy than perhaps Daryl Dixon has in the last three seasons combined. He’s a talker, and every word that came out of his mouth was electric. He brought a heavy dose of much-needed excitement to the series.

Unlike The Governor, Dawn Lerner, or even Garath, Negan also feels like a villain for whom we can root, sort of. There’s a certain Walter White quality to him: He’s evil, but the kind of evil we want to watch. Yes, he is also absolutely nuts, he he also seems to have it figured out. That’s dangerous. He’s also funny and charismatic, and while killing off a major character may make us sad for the character, it doesn’t make us feel any less excited about Negan’s arrival.

In short, Negan is the perfect badass, and I can’t wait to see more of him in season seven. I also love that the series itself seems to be expanding beyond Alexandria, to the Hilltop, to the Kingdom, and even into the Saviors’ home turf.

Why The Walking Dead Finale Didn’t Work

On the one hand, what happened in the final moments is not nearly as bad as the last season of Game of Thrones or even the front half of this season, where we were led to believe a character had been killed off only to find out he survived. This wasn’t that. Negan did kill a character, and there won’t be any last-second heroics to spare him. That character is dead. Unfortunately, we don’t know who that character is yet.

The thing is, The Walking Dead didn’t need to do that to ensure that we came back next season. Negan’s introduction into the series is all that we needed. Negan could’ve killed off two or three characters, and we’d still come back next season to see him. He is, without a doubt, the series’ biggest draw at the moment.

Yes, the cliffhanger does mean that we’ll still be talking about the show for the next six months, endlessly speculating on who got Lucille’d, but that’s not always great for a series, either. The Jon Snow question dominated the pop-culture news cycle for months after the last Game of Thrones finale, so much so it’s had the effect of creating viewer fatigue. By October, viewers may also be exhausted with the speculation on The Walking Dead, not to mention the fact that — like in Game of Thrones — we’re likely to find out who was killed before we actually see it because spies around the set will likely reveal who is — and more importantly — who is not around anymore. When we finally find out who died, it may end up feeling anti-climactic.

It simply doesn’t seem necessary to drag the question of who dies out for another six months. It’s going to frustrate viewers more than it’s going to please them. The Walking Dead has been surprisingly resilient for a show that’s run as long as it has. This may actually provoke a backlash, and for no real reason.

As frustrating as it may be for viewers, The Walking Dead writers were in a tough spot. How do you handle the most iconic, most well-known scene from the source material? Do you adapt it, as is, and please the comic readers but surprise no one? Or do you go off-book and generate a surprise and potentially upset comic readers?

It was a lose-lose situation, and the cliffhanger only exacerbates the problem.