[obviously, this article will contain spoilers for The Walking Dead‘s season six finale, “Last Day on Earth.” It may will also contain cursing.]
When I wrote an entire article theorizing who was going to meet their end at the hands of new uber-villain Negan and his trusty weapon Lucille during The Walking Dead‘s sixth season finale, I should have seen what was right in front of me the whole time. Throughout this season of the show, the writers of The Walking Dead have been flaunting their hubris on screen, crafting arbitrary cliffhangers at the end of episodes designed to prove that no matter what lengths the show goes through to frustrate their audience, The Walking Dead will always have an audience. So of course, in the lead-up to the reveal of this season’s much-talked about big bad and what his arrival would mean for our heroes, I should have known that The Walking Dead would end their season on another goddamn cliffhanger.
Just as we see that our heroes are definitely in way over their heads in regards to The Saviors (or as Abraham eloquently puts it, “we’re up shit’s creek without a paddle and our mouths wide open.”), Negan finally makes his on-screen debut and announces to the group that someone is going to have the “holy hell” beaten out of them. After a game of “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” lifted directly from the source material, Negan chooses his victim and delivers multiple killing blows with his barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat, Lucille. Only, we as the viewers witness the killing from the perspective of the recipient and there is no indication who is being killed. And then the episode ends, without closure.
What’s most frustrating about the conclusion to “Last Day on Earth” is that hinges on a contrived mystery designed entirely for the audience. This isn’t a “Who Shot JR?” (or “Who Shot Mr. Burns” for our younger readers) scenario where other characters are now going to have to investigate and we as the audience will find out the answer to our burning question when someone else on the show does. Literally everyone involved in that final scene (there were a staggering 11 of our heroes as potential victims) knows who died, so there’s no mystery to it, not one that would warrant such an outlandish cliffhanger. The Walking Dead‘s writers are deliberately keeping this a secret from the audience and the audience alone. What’s worse is that when the show comes back for the seventh season opener, chances are we are going to have to relive the scene again from a third-person perspective. LIKE IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE FIRST TIME.
But I get it. The Walking Dead wanted to create a buzz worthy moment to lead people into a six-month hiatus where social media will be flooded with theories, speculation, and above all else, anticipation for next season’s opener. Yet the reaction from the online community has not been one of baited breath but one that’s had the wool pulled over their eyes one time too many. Rather than headlines to the tune of, “Who Do You Think Died During the Finale?!”, what’s being written about the finale is that it’s “hilariously stupid,” “total bullshit,” and also “the worst episode the show has ever done.” To that last point I would argue this was actually one of the best episodes of the season thus far, which makes it all the more disappointing to see it fall so flat when it has such a compelling villain in Negan (as expertly played by Jeffery Dean Morgan by the way) commanding the audience’s collective attention until the final moment.
As I said, I should have seen this coming. Throughout the episode, our heroes are showing their hubris in regards to The Saviors that only catches up to them when it’s too late. In this season of The Walking Dead, the show’s writers have been operating under that same false confidence, cutting memorable sequences from the comics arbitrarily in order to create a cliffhanger (they did it in the midseason finale too!), or purposely leading the audience into believing a main cast member has perished only to reveal that things aren’t what they seem. Remember the dumpster fiasco involving Glenn this season? How about Daryl being shot at the end of this season’s penultimate episode–which isn’t even addressed in the finale?
While the negative reaction to this finale certainly doesn’t signal the end of days for the hysteria that is The Walking Dead, the chatter surrounding the show is becoming increasingly negative. If AMC or The Walking Dead writers don’t want their show to be eaten alive by their own rabid fan base, maybe everyone involved should take a step back and learn from this massive mistake rather than believe themselves to be untouchable.