The Walking Dead has done some dirt-stupid things over the years.
There was that two-parter from the Governor's point of view in season four, and the way the show seemed to think viewers just loved Merle, Daryl's racist older brother, in season three. Season five's murder hospital was pretty dumb, and, of course, Herschel's farm was a disaster that nearly tanked the entire second season of the show.
But you know what? The show has never produced an installment as bad as its season six finale, "Last Day on Earth." The extra-long episode spent its first hour dramatizing all the excitement of your GPS insisting that you take a road you already know is closed, and the last half-hour sank some nicely spooky moments with a too-long monologue and a completely botched cliffhanger.
And I haven't even touched on the episode's B-story, an ultra-bizarre journey into the wild with Morgan and Carol for the sole purpose of resolving a storyline that never made sense to begin with.
Here's the good, the weird, and the (mostly) bad of "Last Day on Earth."
Good: Jeffrey Dean Morgan is solid as Negan
Let's start on a positive note: The preternaturally charming Jeffrey Dean Morgan turns up for the first time as the monstrous Negan in this episode, and he's quite good.
He can't overcome the fact that the monologue the writers hand him just keeps going and going and going and going, but he finds the nasty humor in the speech. And he cuts a truly menacing figure as he strides around with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire and named Lucille.
The Walking Dead's entire sixth season has been building to the Negan reveal (more on that in a moment), and the actor isn't quite good enough to live up to that. But if the rest of this episode had been better — and if it weren't for that cliffhanger — I might be tempted to have muted hope for season seven, entirely because of Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Heck, I almost didn't mind that one of his lines in "Last Day on Earth" involved the word "pee pee pants."
But Negan wasn't the cherry on top of a sundae. He was a tiny little bright spot in an otherwise muck-brown mess. Here's where everything else went wrong.
Bad: The endless. Repetition. Of the same. Story point.
Rick and company, driving in an RV to take Maggie to Hilltop for medical attention, keep encountering roadblocks the Saviors have put up for them. They occasionally attempt to talk with the Saviors, but those attempts are rebuffed. They throw the vehicle into reverse and try to find another way to Hilltop, only to meet more Saviors. (This episode contains a lot of shots of the RV going in reverse. You could almost make it a drinking game.)
This happens again. And again. And again. And again. The Saviors are determined; sometimes they stop Rick's group with zombies, other times with logs. But the overall effect is the same: Rick and the gang are slowly being herded to some point of the Saviors' choosing. And I do mean "slowly." There's nothing to differentiate their encounters, beyond the slow-building size of the number of Saviors stopping the RV. It's literally just the same thing, over and over.
I think this is supposed to build tension, to make viewers feel like that frog trapped in the pot of water that's slowly reaching its boiling point. But it's just bland, pointless, and boring — like too much of what's going on with the Saviors.
Bad: The show's handling of the Saviors has been hilariously incompetent
Forget for a second that the Saviors' levels of competence, intelligence, and forethought seem to vary wildly from episode to episode. You can write off some of that as individual Saviors being smarter than others, if you really want to. (And The Walking Dead itself has tried to do so here and there, as when Paula suggested that the band of Saviors Daryl blew up with a rocket launcher was running a rogue operation.)
Also forget what you may or may not know about the Saviors from the comics — or from what people who've read the comics have told you. In the comics, they are indeed a terrifying presence that haunts the shadows.
But on this show, the Saviors have every right to be as angry as they do — and the show seems to mostly not care. Remember: Before the Saviors had ever even heard of Alexandria, Rick and a bunch of his people killed several Saviors in their sleep. And they based that decision on dark rumors and one man's erratic behavior. (Since then, the Saviors have killed Denise, and ... that's about it, so far as the Alexandrians know.)
We're meant to think the Saviors are bad because they oppose Rick. But Rick's handling of the situation has been a world-class example of making bad decision after bad decision. He's underestimated the Saviors at every turn, provoked them for no good reason, and ended up in way over his head. And yet The Walking Dead continues to treat him as (mostly) a hero. Why? Because he's showed some remorse here and there?
I always ask myself one simple question when assessing a villain: If you flip the story to the villain's point of view, do the villain's actions make more sense than the hero's actions? In this case, I fear the Saviors' actions make far too much sense, while the Alexandrians' actions make almost none.
Bad: What was that Morgan and Carol plot, anyway?
On the surface, it's an excuse to show us Morgan killing a man to protect someone — in this case Carol, who was about to die at the hands of her stalker Savior. It's a resolution to an arc that The Walking Dead thought was more interesting than it was, but hey, at least it's a resolution.
Of course, the construction of it is downright weird. Morgan catches up with Carol, so they can talk a little bit and reassert their philosophical positions. Then she escapes again. Then Morgan kills her pursuer. Then they meet a couple of dudes clad in what looks like a combination of body armor and football pads. (I think I know who these characters are based on the comics, but in the show, this particular cliffhanger is barely even there.)
The story is just there to give "Last Day on Earth" something to cut to in between all those shots of an RV backing up. It feels, for all the world, like padding, even though it features my two favorite characters. Sigh.
Bad: The low levels of misogyny throughout
The Walking Dead has featured misogynistic characters before. There have been moments when women are mere objects for the plot to push around. And there have been more than enough moments when women are only present to be protected and/or killed.
But the show has always had a sort of respect for what the women in its universe are capable of. Carol, Michonne, Maggie — they are all among the show's best characters, ready at a moment's notice to drop everything to help their friends and save the day.
That's not the case in "Last Day on Earth."
Enid is locked in a closet. Carol is stalked and nearly killed by a man who calls her "bitch." Michonne has some of her dreadlocks cut off and pinned to a zombie. Pregnant Maggie is laid low, and the Saviors appear to have no women in their ranks, even though we just met a bunch of Savior women led by Paula a few weeks ago.
None of these circumstances in and of itself is unforgivable. Indeed, you can make sense of most of them in context. But the combination of them feels like an accumulation of awful, until it's all too much.
Weird: All of the resolutions to plots that never took off to begin with
Abraham and Eugene have a heartwarming moment. Carl insists on protecting Enid (because he thinks that's what a real man would do). Gabriel makes sure Alexandria is protected from any Savior incursions. And so on and so forth.
All of these short moments are meant to resolve plots from earlier in the season. But these plots were so limited that they amount to less than even, say, Carol's relationship with Tobin. It's hard to get worked up about any of them because, hey, the show didn't seem to care all that much either.
The weirdest thing in this regard? Carl is really intent on avenging the death of Denise (the one thing the Saviors have actually done to anger our heroes). You can maybe make sense of this, but it still feels like a motivation from out of nowhere, meant to give Carl something to do that will end with him kneeling before Negan.
The truly awful and inexplicable: the cliffhanger
We watch from the point of view of Negan's target as he swings Lucille at their head and connects. The screen almost goes black as red blood trickles down it. (And for the record, it's really cheesy-looking red blood.) Then it does go black with another blow from the bat. End of season.
It's a hilariously bad cliffhanger for a bunch of reasons — not least of which is that it gives us absolutely no indication of what's happening and delays what should be the resolution of an emotionally powerful moment for several months; by the time season seven begins in the fall, that moment will have little to no power left. If this is how we're supposed to realize that Negan is just the worst, it's only giving us half the answer.
But what's even worse is that the answer to the cliffhanger will almost certainly be spoiled by on-set photos — which will immediately reveal which actor is no longer with the rest of the cast.
It's not going to be very hard to unravel this mystery, and as much as The Walking Dead seems to have wanted to replicate the Game of Thrones Jon Snow mystery, it should have learned a thing or two from the way Game of Thrones was eventually forced to put the character on its season six poster. It's impossible to keep that kind of secret in this day and age.
But not all zombie hope is lost. At least the first two episodes of Fear the Walking Dead's second season are stronger stuff. If that show continues its general upward trend, I might be done with this one. There are only so many zombie shows one can watch.
Agree? Disagree? Tell me below in comments — and ask me your questions. I'll be by at noon Eastern to chat about all pop culture.
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