The Walking Dead 6.16 (written by Matt Negrete and showrunner Scott Gimple) was the culmination of a whole season long arc, where all roads (literally) led to the arrival of the infamous Negan. Everything Rick and his people have fought for – everything they were willing to do questionable things to protect – was shattered when the Saviors surrounded them on the way to Hilltop. Ultimately, “Last Day on Earth” brought Rick’s world crashing down on him, and despite the very unsatisfying ending, the episode packed a dramatic punch that effectively set the tone for Season Seven.
The crux of the episode involved Rick and the main group members taking a sick Maggie to Hilltop so she could see the doctor there. It’s clear now why killing off Denise was so crucial to the storyline; it necessitated the trip in the RV. Before the group takes to the road, a very different Father Gabriel briefs Rick on how Alexandria is prepared for an attack. Over the course of the season, Gabriel has redeemed himself to Rick, and he’s also gotten a much needed character make-over. Judging from Rick’s response, he now trusts the priest to be in charge of Alexandria’s defense. Carl on the other hand, discourages Enid from coming with him and the others to Hilltop. Whether or not he’s trying to protect her, or given Enid’s past he doesn’t trust her not to fall apart, Carl locks her in the closet and throws her own “just survive somehow” mantra at her. Then, Rick, Aaron, Abraham, Sasha, Eugene, and Carl put Maggie in the RV and start the trek to Hilltop – only, they will never make it there.
Up to this point, Rick’s self-assuredness has helped his people survive against all odds. His leadership abilities also eventually won over the Alexandrians. They saw in Rick a firecely protective and loyal man who knew how to survive in this landscape. So they became his people, too. That made Rick even more confident. He conveys this atitude to a weary Maggie on the way to Hilltop when he tells her, “As long as it’s all of us, we can do anything.” But that certainty turned to cockiness. Rick developed an attitude that he and the others were untouchable. That’s what prompted him to attack Negan’s compound, setting a chain of events in motion that could not be undone.
As our main group members try to get Maggie to Hilltop, they’re cornered at every turn, no matter what road they take. At first there’s just an altercation with a few Saviors, and Rick still maintains his smug attitude. But as the survivors take alternate routes, they get stopped repeatedly, in increasingly terrifying ways: There’s another small group of Saviors that fire a rifle into the air; a zombie chain gang (wearing some of Daryl’s arrows and Michonne’s hair) – and it’s here Rick and the others get fired upon (though the shots are aimed at their feet to drive them in a particular direction); a huge gang of scary-looking Saviors; and a fire wall of logs (which was a bit over the top, but I appreciate that Gimple and Negrete were making the point things were getting more ominous). It’s very clear that the Saviors are organized, massive, and are in the middle of executing a specific plan. And as night falls, Rick realizes the people he killed at the compound were just the tip of the iceberg.
Before we get to that final, chilling scene, the other storyline that played out in this episode was Morgan’s quest to return Carol to Alexandria. Morgan finds a horse to travel by, (most likely the armored man’s lost one) and discovers Carol injured on the steps of a library. Morgan takes care of Carol’s wounds, but she needs to go back to Alexandria for antibiotics and more treatment. Carol adamantly refuses, saying she would have to kill in order to protect Rick and the others if she went back, and she can no longer bring herself to do it.
Carol’s change of heart is pretty abrupt this season, and therefore hard to swallow. Yes, she’s always had guilt about the things she’s had to do in order to keep herself and her group alive. But the thing is, she’s always done it anyway. Carol has come a long way from the meek, abused wife she was, to the fierce warrior she is now. She’s the one who knows what survival costs, but realizes that life is worth fighting for. Having her run away when her family needs her most seems like a big step backward for the character.
Carol slips away from Morgan, but the Savior Carol injured tracks her down. He knows he doesn’t have much longer to live, but he wants to see Carol suffer and die slowly with his remaining time. He shoots Carol in the arm and the leg, but then decides he will just leave her there. Only, Carol doesn’t just want to stop killing, she doesn’t want to live anymore, so she calls the guy back to finish her off. Again, I don’t buy this storyline, but even if I did, I don’t like it. Carol has been a complex, multi-layered character who went through a compelling transformation over the course of five previous seasons, and now she’s reduced to this? I have a hard time believing she would just give up. After everything she’s been through, I don’t think it’s in her to just lie down and die. But that’s where the writers took her this season.
Just as the Savior goes back to complete Carol’s request, Morgan shows up, gun drawn and warning the man to drop his weapon. The Savior won’t, so Morgan shoots him six times in defense of Carol’s life. Carol previously warned him that this would happen. And Morgan must have known that at some point if he stayed in Alexandria, it would come to this. The irony is, it happened while Morgan was saving Carol’s life, the very woman he was fighting not so long ago when he refused to take the life of a murdering psychopath. I’m wondering how Morgan will feel in the aftermath of his action, and if this might be the start of a whole new metamorphosis for him next season.
Two men in armor (one on horseback, and the one that Rick was shooting at) arrive on the scene and Morgan explains that his friend needs help. Then, in a departure from how most people react to our survivors, the man shakes Morgan’s hand and offers his assistance. The scene was an actual relief to see in this dark episode, and I’m hoping these guys are genuine and turn out to be allies for our group members (and without revealing any spoilers let’s say chances are good they are).
Back on the road, Rick and the others are carrying Maggie through the woods, when they begin to hear whistling all around them. That bone-chilling whistling was the perfect way to set the terrifying tone of the scene that would follow. Rick and the others are forced to their knees, and as Rick sees Michonne and the rest of his people herded out of a truck, the realization that he cannot get out of this overcomes him. In that moment everything changes – Rick Grimes knows he has lost.
The introduction of Negan has been so hyped all year long, that the actual scene could have been a let-down. But Jeffrey Dean Morgan is an accomplished character actor, and he filled Negan with all the calculating, arrogant menace that viewers (and comic book readers) would expect. His long monologue was gripping. The rest of the main cast also did an incredible job – in fact, watching them so broken and vulnerable was difficult. Andrew Lincoln portrayed Rick’s despair and shock to full effect. After all, his decisions (unknowingly) brought him and his people to this moment.
The final scene was nail-bitingly tense and hard to watch, as Negan laid out his terms. The Alexandrians will work for him, and he will get half of everything. There’s a “new world order” and Rick doesn’t have a say in it. But Negan doesn’t stop there. He will choose someone to beat to death to serve as punishment for all the saviors that Rick and his people killed. This is nothing new for Negan. He and his marauders always make an example out of someone so other communities will know they mean business.
Negan can’t decide who to kill, so he plays the infamous “eeny meeny miny moe” game from the comics, but what’s notable here are the shots we get of all the characters in their anguish. Nobody speaks, but tears run down their faces. At one point, Glenn freaks out when Negan goes near Maggie, and Rick pleads for Negan to stop when Carl is approached. Daryl, Abraham, and Michonne are defiant, looking Negan right in the eye. Ultimately, Negan chooses his victim, and brings his barb-wire covered bat (Lucille) down on someone’s head – but it’s here we get the perspective shot of the one chosen. It was very disturbing, and the hint of muffled screams with the sound of every strike hitting skull was horrific, but then, the screen fades to black. In the end, we didn’t find out which of our survivors was murdered.
Unlike many fans. I wasn’t angry or full of rage about the cliffhanger. Yes, they’ve baited us (between Glenn’s fake death and the hype of Negan) all season, but that’s nothing new in TV, especially with this show. It’s kind of what they do. As to a prediction of who was killed, all the speculation in the world would only be just that. I know online there are re-watches and theories about camera angles, character perspectives, and setting backgrounds, but I think Scott Gimple and company made sure we couldn’t figure it out. Of course, there will be some who guess correctly, because there are only so many choices. If I had to venture a guess, I would say it’s Glenn or Daryl. (I don’t think it will be a woman and the other men just aren’t beloved enough on the show for their deaths to make that much of an impact).
This finale accomplished the goal of completely breaking Rick Grimes and setting up a major foe for next season. It was filled with tension and a sense of foreboding that set the stage for that final chilling scene. I don’t like what’s happening with Carol, but we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out next season. As for Rick and the Alexandrians, everything has changed. They’re no longer in control of their own destiny. I just hope Negan is a multi-dimensional villain and not just another governor or termite. The “humans are bad” scenario has been revisited so many times in this show, we don’t need more of the same. Negan seems a bit more complex, however, so I think watching him in action next season could be pretty compelling.
Robert Kirkman has said many times The Walking Dead isn’t about zombies; instead, it’s about how people react in life and death circumstances. This season, we’ve seen Rick and his people adapt to Alexandria and come up against many challenges – from the walker infestation, the Wolves’ rampage, to the near famine that would cause them to make some very questionable choices. Through it all, we watched how these characters reacted each time, and the result was (for the most part) very gripping. I hope we see more of that in Season Seven. Because this show really is about the human experience, and no matter how cool the zombies are or how hyped the villain is, that human experience still needs to be front and center for us to want to keep watching. So, here’s to next season. May it immediately answer our most pressing question, pose some new ones too, and showcase our group doing what they do – surviving together.