The sixth season finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead has come and gone and by now everyone has an opinion about it and is making it known. But the heels of the season 7 premiere is this weekend so we wanted to revist the season 6 finale.
SPOILER ALERT: Both the events of that episode and issue #100 of The Walking Dead comic book upon which events of that episode are based are about to be discussed in detail. By this point in time, even TWD fans who have never even seen a panel from the comic on which it is based know that Negan is its most formidable villain, and he cements this status by killing one of the series’ most beloved characters. They also know it’s one of the most horrible, cruel, graphic sequences ever to appear in the iconic zombie apocalypse saga. For months now, fans of the show looked forward to seeing a recreation of these events with both anticipation and dread.
But then director Greg Nicotero and the rest of The Walking Dead crew threw us a wild curve by showing Negan’s rampage in the most agonizing way possible… By not showing it at all. This anti-reveal has sent some fans scrambling to crack the mystery of who Negan really killed but many more fans have practically turned into mini-Negans, waving barbed wire bats of their own. Not everyone cared for the slow-burn nature of the episode that led to a tense confrontation with Negan, and even fewer cared for the identity of the person he killed being hidden from the viewer. Season Six’s final episode, “Last Day On Earth,” has been met with accusations against the show’s creators and angry promises never to watch again. Just like practically every other episode. And just like every other time those angry words have been uttered, it doesn’t matter. Here are three reasons why.
1) YOU’VE BEEN AT THIS LONG ENOUGH THAT YOU KNEW A CLIFFHANGER WAS COMING.
A huge part of The Walking Dead’s formidable success is that it is serialized television at its finest. Pretty much every single episode ends with a cliffhanger. When the very first episode of season 1 ended with Rick trapped in a tank and being mocked by a kid on the radio we knew what we were in for and it hasn’t let up since. There aren’t many episodes that end with the fans getting a breather or a full sense of closure. There was never a reason to believe that the season finale that showcased the franchise’s biggest villain ever would be one of the rare exceptions. Like the show’s ravenous Walkers themselves, we are driven forward by that hunger, unable to stop ourselves and the showrunners are going to exploit that at every opportunity. It’s what makes scripted television like The Walking Dead so great and makes it pack such a punch in an age where attention spans grow ever shorter. Which opens up the next point…
2) NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENED OR WHO DIED, YOU WERE ALWAYS GOING TO WATCH THE NEXT EPISODE ANYWAY.
The director of “Last Day On Earth,” Greg Nicotero, has defended the decision to keep Negan’s victim a secret. He cites the anticipation that viewers of his generation had growing up with the original Star Wars movies, knowing they would have to wait years to learn what Vader being Luke’s father would mean. Just because shows like The Walking Dead thrive in an age of instant gratification doesn’t mean they don’t have to constantly battle its effects. People want more now. They want answers now. They get so frustrated discovering that they have to wait for what they had already planned on waiting for next season’s premier before learning they would have to! Part of what we want from a huge villain like Negan is what he will mean for the future of that show. You were already committed to that future by wanting to see him. It’s just a bit shocking because he takes us into that future in a way we weren’t expecting, which leads to…
3) THEY FILMED THE DEATH OF NEGAN’S VICTIM THE ONLY WAY THEY REALLY COULD.
As stated above, pretty much everyone knows by now who Negan slays in the comics. It’s Glenn Rhee. And as mentioned, it’s pretty brutal, iconic, and unforgiving. But it’s also been seen. By everyone. A lot. In order to create an interesting finale, the producers of the show had to up the ante. They had to keep the scene fresh for all the people who thought they were going in knowing what to expect. What better way to do this than to faithfully recreate that scene from a perspective as discrete as its comic counterpart is graphic? As the screams begin and the person who dies fades away the horror is maintained with the added bonus that we are not sure whether it was Glenn meeting that fate, or someone else entirely. It was a bold, daring move, and one that they knew would draw its share of controversy. But for the reasons stated above, it was a move that will secure the future of The Walking Dead for at least one more season, even at the cost of short-term outrage.
Love it or hate it, “Last Day On Earth” has succeeded for the The Walking Dead in a way no season finale has before. It ended things on an ugly note, but that note is the first in Negan’s song, not the last. And you probably won’t be able to help yourself from hearing how it plays out. Just wait and see.