The Walking Dead “Last Day on Earth”: Take it Like a Champ

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Review of Season 6 finale of AMC's The Walking Dead

Obviously, with this being the season six finale and all, there will be spoilers coming so consider this your warning...if you haven’t seen “Last Day on Earth” yet and wish your experience to remain unspoiled, stop reading now and come back after you’ve watched the episode.  For everyone else, let’s carry on.

Part of me wants to ask: What the heck was that?!  Another part of me doesn’t care because the episode was such an intense viewing experience.  It’s a sense of deep frustration at getting no real payoff to any storyline versus deep appreciation of the way in which the various cat-and-mouse games played out.  Because of this I’m going to dispense with my traditional rundown of the plot with extra notes and break this down into a pros and cons of the episode with extra notes…as much to help myself as to help you figure out what to think and feel about the finale.

Pros

The best part of this episode was the slow tightening of the proverbial noose on Rick’s group.  Desperate to get Maggie to the Hilltop doctor they are stopped on every road by increasing numbers of Saviors.  And increasingly disturbing, threatening, displays.  What starts as a discussion with a beaten man from a third group between them ends with a wall of fire and the beaten man hung from a bridge over them.  All this before they ever meet Negan, who confronts them in the darkness of the forest at the very moment they think they’ve made it.  There’s something terrifying in the idea that, rather than being hunted or lured, the group is slowly being trapped, corralled, without fully realizing it until it’s too late.

The Saviors are a legitimately disturbing group of people.  While we’ve seen all manner of madness previously — The Governor, Terminus, the Wolves — the Saviors are not that.  That’s what makes them so unnerving.  So far none of the Saviors have been clearly insane.  There’s no bizarre ideology or especially twisted behavior with them.  They’re logical, organized, and determined.  It’s almost refreshing to see Rick’s group go up against another group that is, in so many ways, like them.

This season opened with Rick’s decision to deal with a mega herd of Walkers head-on.  He states, confidently, that “we have to come for them before they come for us” and that’s just what they (his group and the Alexandrians) do…and things go spectacularly wrong.  The Wolves attack, a hefty chunk of the herd rolls through the town, and Carl loses an eye.  It points to the idea that Rick doesn’t always have the right answers, that often times he’s too sure of himself, and that other people end up paying for his decisions.  Before attacking the Saviors Rick again says “we have to come for them before they come for us”…same words and, now, similar results.  It creates and ties up the themes concerning consequences and arrogance (for Rick especially) in this season, which a story should do.

Watching a favorite unravel before your very eyes is crushing and we got a front row seat with Carol.  She went from Queen of the Apocalypse to a woman battered by that apocalypse.  Even after being stabbed so severely it requires stitches she refuses to return to Alexandria with Morgan to the point she’s willing to pull a gun on him.  She may well have been willing to shoot him.  Bleeding and crying she continues to flee only to be found by that lone surviving Savior of her attack on the road.  It’s heart-wrenching to watch her accept, even desire, death as the man shoots her in the arm and then leg.  She’s so worn down and beaten by the things she’s done she wants to die.  And when Morgan saves her she’s almost devastated.

Morgan’s pacifism, his no-kill rule, has always been admirable, but ultimately unrealistic, and this was the perfect moment to end it.  Not just because I didn’t want Carol to die, but because in that moment Morgan didn’t just literally save her, he figuratively did as well.  He knows Carol can’t kill anymore, that it’s tearing her apart, and so he kept Carol from having to.  He took the option of kill or die off the table for her and, just as important, he did it his way.  He still gave the Savior the option to leave, to live, and it was only after the man went to finish Carol off that Morgan pulled the trigger.

In truth, everything Morgan and Carol in this episode was great in my opinion.  I loved the dynamic between these two because, in their respective places right now, they are perfect for each other…not in a romantic way, but simply as two individuals in the apocalypse.  Morgan can understand Carol’s state of mind better than anyone at the moment and he’s best equipped to help her.  Morgan can show her that she can come back from all the things she’s done because he did.  And, with Carol, Morgan can finally find a way to pay Eastman’s kindness and teachings forward and prove that people can change, they can get better.

Eugene stepping up to drive the RV, thus hopefully duping the Saviors long enough to get Maggie to Hilltop, was admirable.  It was heroic and sweet to see and, sweeter still, was his goodbye Abraham (aw, they hugged!).  It was like one of those heart-swelling moments in war movies where one guy offers to go on the suicide mission to save the rest of his squad and everyone salutes him before he leaves.

Cons

Sadly Eugene’s moment of heroism is promptly wasted.  While I’d have been legitimately surprised if he’d gotten away with it, it was pretty disappointing to see him just dropped back into the group for Negan’s arrival.  I love Eugene, but what was the point of that big farewell if he’s neither surprisingly successful nor killed?  Lots of buildup dropped within a moment.

Why on Earth did nearly everyone left from Rick’s group get in the RV to bring Maggie to Hilltop in the first place?  Surely you didn’t need that many people for a trip down the road.  If you’re worried about an attack by the Saviors you want fighters spread out to protect all people/assets and, if you’re not, then you don’t need that much firepower in one location.  That it goes against basic logic and strategy tells me it was just the writers way to get everyone in front of Negan and that’s lazy.

Carl’s kind of terrible in this episode.  He’s usually a pretty cool kid these days and when aggressive he has some sort of good reason for it, but not so much this time.  He locks Enid in a closet to prevent her from going with him in the RV — which is the last we see of her, so who knows if she’s fine or not — and throughout his time in the RV he seems itching to fight Saviors.  Even when it’s so obviously a bad idea Rick’s saying no, he seems to think they can take them.  Carl should’ve stayed back…I blame Rick, he should’ve told his son no.

No one dies.  No one!  (I’m not counting the random guy from the defunct library group or that spare Savior, obviously.)  The entire episode plays the “who’s gonna die?” game with increasing intensity and there’s no payoff whatsoever.  Maggie looks to be at death’s door, but she’s kneeling with the rest at the end of the episode.  Same with Daryl.  Carol’s stabbed and shot, but is about to get medical attention from some new (seemingly) friendly folks that include the guy who was looking for his horse.  Eugene’s beaten up, but is otherwise fine.  In the final moments someone’s head is clearly getting caved in by Negan, but we’re not any closer to knowing who than we were at the beginning of the episode.  It’s annoying, honestly.  For the past few weeks The Walking Dead has been building up, even promoting, at least one major death and nothing happened…now we all have to wait months to find out who actually dies.  In the words of Negan, not cool.

Interesting Asides

Negan was interesting, as was his “awesome” bat, Lucille.  I see a lot of potential for him as a character, but for all the buildup even he was a bit of a letdown in the end.  I think it’s just a matter of needing to see more of him to better understand who he is and how he functions.  I want to know why he’s the leader of the Saviors, I want to know how he runs his crew and how he plans to get Alexandria to work for him after braining one of their people in front of them — it is all bullying, or does he have other methods as well?

The people Morgan met seem pretty intriguing.  They have body armor that looks a lot like reinforced hockey or football gear, which is a really clever idea.  It also implies that the guy looking for his horse and his friend come from another community and I’m always interested to see how different communities function.  Just from the little bit shown they appear genuinely friendly, in trade with Hilltop (given they have Hilltop weapons), and have access to multiple horses.  If I understand the comics correctly these might the folks from The Kingdom; either way I hope we get to see their community next season.

…So, did I like this episode?  Yes and no.  The tone was incredibly compelling — super eery, super creepy, almost a little sickening in its tension — but without any real payoff I probably could’ve skipped it and been able to come into Season 7 without much trouble.

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