Every week for the sixth season of AMC’s post-apocalyptic drama The Walking Dead, Lenika Cruz and David Sims will discuss the latest threat—human, zombie, or otherwise—to the show’s increasingly hardened band of survivors.
David Sims: Let me be as straightforward as I can leading off here. The Walking Dead midseason finale was a dud in every sense of the term—it barely moved the story forward, it offered no surprising twists, it hinged on plot developments that made no sense, and, well, you call that a cliffhanger? I don’t demand a high body count from this show, but killing off Deanna does not count as a major development, and Alexandria getting overrun by zombies was a flat conclusion to a mostly exciting run of episodes. I loved the format of this half-season—in total, encompassing two or three days of action—but I figured there’d be more of an eye on the future in this episode. I was wrong.
To briefly recap: The church tower collapsed on Alexandria’s wall, allowing zombies to pour into the town, and this somehow led to a lot of scenes where characters had philosophical debates while glancing furtively out of a window. Rick’s do-or-die leadership was further validated as Deanna died from a zombie bite and anointed him as her successor. Carl wrestled with the infuriating Ron, still dealing with PTSD from his father’s death. Carol and Morgan came to blows over the fate of their Wolf prisoner, with Morgan refusing to kill him and Carol’s dark side tipping towards unreasonable violence. Glenn convinced Enid to return to the town with him, but they just watched the carnage from a hill and contributed nothing.
The closing moments were a weird throwback to the show’s first season, with Rick and company donning zombie guts to sneak by the invading foes, a trick that they should honestly pull all the time, since it’s so incredibly effective. But aside from the loss of Deanna and the collapse of the town walls, there wasn’t much weight to the events of “Start to Finish.” We know that Abraham, Darryl, and Sasha are en route with an RPG, that Glenn and Enid are lurking on the outskirts—there are tons of dangling plot elements that will surely help Rick and company retake the town if that’s what they want.
What to say of Deanna? Tovah Feldshuh is a wonderful actress, and she did a lot with the role, but the character seemed marked for death after she tried to kill a zombie by stabbing it in the chest a few weeks back. There’s just not much room for Deanna in a show this action-packed, and which is already dragging around dead weight like Eugene. Since she didn’t represent a philosophical threat to Rick—in fact, she wouldn’t shut up about how much she agreed with everything he was doing—she served no logical purpose to the show. I don’t know that Alexandria is done as a location for The Walking Dead, but the version that Deanna built definitely is. “Start to Finish” served as a tip of the cap to her vision.
I have nothing positive to say about the rest, but I’ll use most of my vitriol on Morgan vs. Carol, an entirely unearned showdown. In one corner, there was Morgan, arguing for the importance of life and his choice not to murder, which has been backed up on this show for weeks and got its own 90-minute flashback episode that was the highlight of the season. In the other corner, there was Carol, whose basic argument is sound (these guys are crazy and they need to die) but whose execution is a little lacking. Sure, take out Morgan, the guy who incapacitated this scary wolf fella, and basically threaten to kill him. That’s definitely a sound approach for the future. The show simply didn’t spend any time laying the groundwork for Carol’s distrust, and the buildup of her suppressed rage. It’s annoying to watch two smart characters behave so stupidly, simply to leave another lame cliffhanger. Will the Wolf escape? Probably. Will he kill anyone? Doubtful. Will there be more hand-wringing and arguing about it? Absolutely.
Last year’s mid-season finale, “Coda,” also felt like a dud—and it had way more action than “Start to Finish,” resolving the Slabtown plotline and offing a major character (Beth). Compared to that, this just felt like another entry in a 16-episode run, not a farewell to the audience until February. If AMC wants to structure the show this way, there should be more punch to the mid-season finale episodes. As it is, I don’t even know what to look forward to next year. Any ideas, Lenika?
Cruz: When the end credits began to roll, right after Sam’s plaintive repetition of “Mom? Mom?” I checked my watch in confusion. Wait, was that it? It couldn’t have been. But it was—the show indeed ended on a slow-motion scene of the Alexandrians covered in zombie guts, clasping hands and walking through a sea of zombies, because they too are the monsters. GET IT?
But first, let’s start with the good. The cold open was very eerie, very Blue Velvet, with the “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” playing and the ants swarming Sam’s uneaten cookie. (A little heavy-handed? Maybe, but I liked it.) Carl handled Ron’s murderous nonsense like an adult. Eugene did the only useful thing he has done all season by picking a lock. Deanna dryly commented, “Well, shit,” after Michonne discovered her walker bite.
And now, unfortunately, for the bad, which I’ll agree was the majority of this episode. The Walking Dead is built for the audience to yell at the screen during their weekly viewings—occasionally out of excitement, but more often out of frustration. “Start to Finish” inspired even more of the latter than usual. As you noted, David, for an episode populated by thousands of terrifying zombies, the show found far too much time for sentimental bedside/window-side chats. I groaned (not even inwardly) when I realized that the tower’s collapse was simply a ruse designed to drive all these characters indoors to work out their issues with one another.
There was the Morgan/Carol conflict, which you deflated pretty thoroughly, David. Jessie’s kids continued to be unsympathetic little whiners. Michonne and Deanna; Glenn and Enid; Tara and Rosita; Rick and Jessie—they all had their uneventful chats that led to nothing of real consequence. A dying Deanna thought it’d be a great idea to crawl to baby Judith’s crib, just in case the probability of the child getting bitten was too low. Poor Maggie was marooned on a platform for basically all of the episode, with the exception of one vaguely dramatic scene. I say vaguely dramatic because not a single viewer could have seriously considered the possibility that she and her baby would be eaten by walkers—especially not after the show couldn’t stomach keeping Glenn dead.
In all, this episode played like a false ending. It’s with great disappointment that I must conclude: I don’t like this season much so far. It had some fantastic moments, but “some fantastic moments” aren’t enough to keep me wanting to watch a show. The Walking Dead has a scale problem: Either it zooms out too big—muddying conversation after conversation with earnest declarations about The Way Things Are Now, or about How We Keep On Living. Or it goes extra myopic, busying itself with the most banal moments of its characters’ lives without bothering to imbue those with a new or greater purpose.
And yet I’m glad this Alexandria storyline is ostensibly over, in the same way I was relieved when the prison arc wrapped for good, after weeks of being stretched out. If the short prologue from the midseason premiere is any indication, Darryl, Abraham, and Sasha won’t make it to Alexandria any time soon, at least not in time to help anyone with those RPGs. Maybe more importantly, a new ominous character will be making his long-awaited debut. However haphazardly The Walking Dead set up its next act, I’m still convinced it’ll be more interesting than its most recent one. I mean, it has to be. Right?