I was afraid this would happen. The optimist in me thought The Walking Dead could conclude its season with a reveal of Negan that would have justified the buildup and set up a credible threat we would be continuing to contend with next season. Sadly, not only did this show lose some of the goodwill it managed to maintain up to this reveal, it took a really long time getting there, complete with an extraneous subplot to further emphasize some poor character arc choices.
Much like the handling of this season, the Negan stuff will have to wait, because we need to talk about Carol. Either it was decided early on that Carol and Morgan would not be killed or the writers really were invested in the whole Carol v Morgan: Dawn of Morality plot, which convinced them to continually pit these characters against each other. Whatever the case may be, it did not amount to a whole lot. I was honestly intrigued by the two of these characters when they actually had differences, but the more it played out, the more it seemed the writers just really didn’t know what to do with Carol.
I was happy to praise Melissa McBride weeks ago, but she’s been losing me in these last few weeks. McBride puts her all into the character, but Carol’s change has meant very little. The evolution of this character just does not seem interesting with the show’s attempts to revert her away from the person she has become. Not helping is the show trying to have me believe any of this will have a lasting impact in the future that I really care about. Sure, it’s great that Morgan is working out some issues as well (sorta), but it’s a little hard to believe the show could make its best characters so dull.
B-plot aside, let’s get back to Rick and the gang. For a 90-minute episode (which would have been the regular length if you got rid of the Carol/Morgan stuff), there’s not a lot of story to tell. Maggie needs medical help and the group cannot get to the Hilltop because the Saviors are blocking all the paths. It all culminates in the group getting captured and our first meeting with Negan and Lucille.
This episode’s concept could have been effective. With better pacing and a better handling on the script, I could have responded more favorably to the constant pushing of Rick’s desperation to get past all these Saviors, despite an inevitable capture. Things also could have worked out better if we didn’t go from Saviors who could be easily killed to a group of stealth ninjas that could get the drop on Rick and the gang in an RV at every turn. That’s the problem with having to pad out a season with buildup, it strains credibility.
With better focus or a better job at setting up a threat, we could have known to really fear the Saviors, rather than see them as a low-level threat with the assumed knowledge that the big-bad would be coming eventually. Instead, we finally got to see the other shoe drop, with the episode hitting us over the head with its title’s meaning. Yes, things got bad for Rick and it was in fact the last day on earth for one of his crew and the basic freedom that Alexandria seemed to have.
So, after all that driving around, shots from inside some kind of container, and tactical advice from everyone including Carl, we get to Negan. Jeffrey Dean Morgan arrives on the scene and he’s…not bad. Step one was getting the look right, which is already a step up from the Governor. Step two was building a character we are supposed to fear, but look forward to seeing more of*. Morgan certainly did his job, though I wonder how many unfamiliar with the character really felt the threat of this man.
If you were won over by Negan’s first lines, which involved people peeing their pants, than you were probably hooked for the next ten minutes of talking that took place. I did like the build up to this moment, which featured a Rick who was out of options, surrounded by a cacophony of sounds to build a very creepy atmosphere, but the Negan stuff basically served a purpose that hopefully does not annoy viewers by the time it has finished.
Yes, after all the talking and threats, we get to the final moments where Negan swings Lucille (his baseball bat wrapped with razor wire) at a person we see from their point of view. We then cut to black and hear the sounds of Negan beating someone to death. Every Walking Dead fan knew someone would be dying this episode, but they have to wait until October to find out whom. It was at this point that I found myself laughing hysterically. Any chance for “Last Day on Earth” to nail down some emotional resonance was lost.
It is almost impressive to see this show go the cliffhanger route, following the nonsense that was Glenn’s dumpster dive in the first half of this season, but now the show is doubling down on it. The sad thing is, there is no great payoff to come. All we will eventually see is how a character we probably like will be dead and a new season can start. It won’t be Rick or Carl (obviously), but whoever it is, they will be missed and audiences won’t even have a summer to get over it.
The Walking Dead surprised me by going for this goofy cliffhanger, but it also disappointed me by not making more out of its extended season finale. Rather than make better use of the time, we watched a story get stretched way too far and throwing good characters into a dull side-plot to make sure we could have our attention spans and emotions played with. Given how many loose threads we are left with, nothing was all that satisfying and all we can really grasp is that some jerk named Negan will be here when we get back.