Last night, The Walking Dead had a chance to bring to life the single most iconic, memorable, horrifying moment from the comics.
Instead, they took that moment, stretched it out, chopped it up, and turned it into an entirely unnecessary cliffhanger that mangled the debut of their new villain, and upset their entire fanbase, who had already come to terms with the fact that someone was going to die that night.
The signs that The Walking Dead would pull something like this sort of seem obvious now in retrospect. In season six, the show has enjoyed toying with its audience to an almost cruel degree. First, there was the whole Glenn-dumpster drama, where that “cliffhanger” was if Glenn would indeed turn out to be alive after a sequence very clearly meant to trick people into thinking he was dead.
After that, it was the less egregious, yet still irritating cliffhanger in the season 6a finale, where comic readers were waiting to see the episode end on Carl’s iconic “Dad?” moment, and yet they stretched out that sequence of events and pushed it off until the season 6b premiere.
But this? This is a new level of stupid.
The problem was that this single decision ruined what was otherwise a pretty good 90 minute episode. I loved the way the show finally made the Saviors look scary at long last. How they toyed with the Rick and the rest of the crew all episode, and made it clear that they were in way over their heads. When they turned one of the final corners on the road and saw a barricade with about fifty guys manning it, it was breathtaking, terrifying.
And so was Negan’s actual appearance, once the gang is captured and put in the weird whistle-circle. We have been waiting all season for Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s debut as Negan, and he did not disappoint (though the phrase “pee pants city” doesn’t really translate well from comic to screen). His speech was great, and the famous “eenie-meenie-miney-moe” sequence where he’s choosing which group member to kill was incredibly tense, with the quick cuts of the camera, as you waited for it to stop on the unlucky soul.
And then everything goes to hell.
We only see the first person view of who was chosen, and Negan effectively beats the camera to death. Now, we are supposed to wait six months until next October to figure out who Negan actually killed, and this is far and away the worst creative decision the show has ever made.
All it would have taken was one shot. A single shot of Negan’s bat finally landing on the unlucky soul in question. And then they could have done the whole “beat the camera to death” shot if they really wanted to (as it may have been too graphic otherwise, I suppose). But at least we would know who was chosen.
Now? We will learn who dies, but probably not from the season seven premiere. Over the next six months, the internet will be flooded with leaks, real and fake, claiming to know who is dead, but ultimately, if enough set shots are leaked (and they always are) we will know who is dead simply by who is no longer filming, or who is turning up on a new show, or something like that. The cat is going to be let out of the bag somehow, and unless you stay off the internet for half a year, you’re probably going to hear who was actually killed that night.
I don’t understand the decision-making process here. The Walking Dead is still a huge hit. An enormous hit. Are they really so desperate not to lose viewers from season to season that they think they have to orchestrate an enormous, entirely unnecessary cliffhanger like this? Do they really think that if Glenn or Daryl or Abraham or Michonne or Rick was beaten to death, that audiences wouldn’t tune in next year to witness the aftermath of that? It’s absolutely insane, and a damn shame that the showrunners and writers decided to destroy such an iconic sequence from the comics for the sake of a cheap cliffhanger.
Is there anything that can be salvaged from this? I suppose we can just keep guessing. Some of my picks from last night have been ruled out, including Carol and Morgan, who had their own separate little storyline where they meet up with (comic spoilers begin) members of The Kingdom, another settlement we’ll see next season.
As I thought, the group of possible victims did expand by the end of the night, far past Glenn, Daryl, Michonne and Rosita, who were captured last week (and weirdly not seen at all this week until the last five minutes of the episode). Joining them are Rick, Carl, Abraham, Sasha, Maggie, Eugene and Aaron. That’s a pretty big selection.
The only person we 100% know for sure isn’t dead is Carl, as Negan say “if anyone moves, cut the boy’s other eye out,” implying the person being beaten to death is not Carl. Past that, it’s anyone’s guess really. There are “logical” answers (more comic spoilers), namely Glenn (who dies in this scene in the comic) and Daryl (who is not in the comics but may indeed die here), but I don’t exactly trust AMC to make the right decision here at this point, so I can pretty easily see how they might go with someone like Aaron, in order to ruffle exactly zero feathers and keep the entire main roster intact. Rick, Michonne and Maggie are off the table entirely, I’m still convinced, due to their importance to the story. I also don’t think Rosita or Sasha would be killed this brutally (Negan loves his women, after all). That leaves, Abraham, Aaron, Glenn, Eugene and Daryl.
Before last night, I would have said Glenn, but now after this cliffhanger? I honestly don’t know. Given that all comic readers already “know” about Glenn’s death, what would be the point of keeping everyone in suspense an extra six months if he was the one to actually die? That makes me think it’s changed.
And again, given that Norman Reedus and AMC are like BFFs at this point (he stars in Walking Dead video games, he has his own motorcycle reality show), it’s pretty clear to me they’re not going to kill Daryl, and certainly not in a way that requires a six month cliffhanger. Honestly at this point I genuinely believe it’s down to Abraham, Eugene and Aaron, and I’m leaning toward Aaron of all people, just because of how stupid AMC has made this process, and how afraid they’ve been to kill major characters for a long time now.
This was a poor, poor creative decision, and one they can never get back. No matter what happens in the season seven premiere, this moment will have lost almost all of its impact. Stories have specific arcs and narrative climaxes for a reason. You do not make your biggest reveal/death of the series into something that’s pure rising action, and then fracture the climax into something incomprehensible for the sake of…what, blackmailing viewers into tuning in next season premiere? They were going to show up anyway!
This is just a frustrating end to a frustrating season, which had many good moments, but its desire to trick and toy with the audience has mangled most of the storylines this year, and ruining Negan’s debut like this for the sake of yet another cliffhanger is simply unforgivable.