The Walking Dead’s 6.8 (written by Mat Negrete) gave us moments of real tension and some interesting character beats, but was a surprisingly “talky” mid-season finale. Most of the episode was spent showcasing groups of survivors as they took refuge from the walkers swarming The Safe Zone. But instead of focusing on their plans of action, we heard them talk – and then talk some more. So, despite one or two nail biting moments, “Start to Finish” ultimately felt pretty anticlimactic.
The episode opens with Sam upstairs in his room, finishing his lunch and drawing – commonplace actions for a kid. Only this isn’t a commonplace situation – it’s the zombie apocalypse, and Sam’s picture shows a small child tied to a tree surrounded by monsters about to eat him. The scene was macabre, especially with Tiny Tim’s “Tip Toe Through the Tulips” playing on an old record player and a mass of ants crawling the walls and devouring a cookie — in a blatant yet effective metaphor for what was about to go down in Alexandria.
As the walkers shamble past the destroyed perimeter wall, Rick gives the directive for everyone to get to their houses. Our fearless leader tries to hold the zombies off long enough to give people a few seconds head start. Enter Deanna, who up until recently has been overwhelmed by recent events and unable to act: Only this time, she rises to the occasion and starts shooting alongside Rick. When they make their escape, she falls and injures herself, and unbeknownst to her, gets bit by a walker. Rick helps Deanna to Jessie’s house, followed by Ron (who’s plan to hurt Carl is temporarily foiled), Father Gabriel, and Michonne. While Maggie – who was just a few inches away from Rick when the wall fell – inexplicably gets separated from the others and is forced to climb a ladder leading to one of the lookout points. Maggie’s predicament did provide a moment of real tension because those walkers got dangerously close to her, and now that Glen is alive, killing Maggie is just the sort of thing this show might do. But she does make it to the top, where lying on her back from exhaustion (and now trapped), she watches Glenn’s balloons float upward in the sky.
Carol and Morgan end up fleeing together, with Morgan helping Carol up after she falls. This set up was a way to get an inevitable showdown between the two, who all season long have had opposite philosophies on what it takes to survive in this violent world. The pair end up in the house with the jail cell, where things will take a bad turn. But more on them later.
Rosita and Tara run to save Eugene, who is surrounded by walkers but manages to respond to Daryl’s call to Rick (as seen in “Always Accountable”). Now we know that it was actually Eugene – and not Glenn – who squealed “help” into the walkie talkie in that episode.
Most of the hour focuses on Rick’s group at Jessie’s house. Inside, Ron finally makes his move on Carl, pulling a gun on him after Carl goes to the garage to check things out. The two have a scuffle, and Ron picks up a shovel meant for Carl’s head, but ends up destroying a window, paving the way for the walkers. Rick saves Carl and Ron, and the group throws themselves against the door in a desperate attempt to stop the horde from entering. When Rick and Jessie ask what happened, Carl covers for Ron. I really wanted Carl to rat Ron out just to see Rick’s reaction, but instead Carl handles things, and as soon as he and Ron are alone, he pulls a gun on Ron and makes him surrender his weapon. Carl then utters a matter of fact but absurd line of dialogue when he tells Ron, “Look I get it, my dad killed your dad. But you need to know something. Your dad was an asshole.” Really Carl? That explains things? Did he expect that statement to make Ron feel okay about everything? But in the interest of convenience, the writers called truce between them, and after all, they do have bigger problems.
When Deanna realizes she’s been bitten, she takes the news very well. A lot of this episode belonged to Tovah Feldshuh, and her subdued yet powerful portrayal of Deanna, whose fervent belief in Alexandria’s potential never wavered. She’s been the most interesting Safe Zone resident to date, and actually would have been an asset to Rick’s group with her resilience and brain power. But unfortunately that’s not to be.
A tense moment comes later when Rick hears Judith cry and sees the back of Deanna leaning into Judith’s pack and play. He has his ax at the ready, but Deanna yells “I’m still me” and Rick stops before it’s too late. But inevitably, it’s time for Deanna to pass the leadership baton to Rick. Before she does, however, she calls Rick out on his attitude that the Alexandrians aren’t part of his group. She tells him, “I didn’t run over to help you out there because I like you… I ran over to help because you’re one of us. That’s the right answer.” It was a touching moment in the episode, and Rick’s reluctance to embrace the entire community has been a theme since season five. But for a lot of this episode, it felt like they were trying to force the profound moments. Whether it was Tara waxing philosophical to Rosita about earning The Safe Zone, Glenn schooling Enid on not giving up on their loved ones, or Deanna challenging Michonne to find out what it is she wants (and really, how much more can someone want in the zombie apocalypse than to stay alive and have a place to lay their head at night?). But sadly, most of these moments felt contrived, like you could actually see Matt Negrete sitting at his computer typing “They share a meaningful glance and – cue emotional music.” Usually the show does these types of scenes very well, so it was surprising as well as disappointing.
Meanwhile, Carol and Morgan retreat to a house with Denise, who tends to the captured Wolf’s wound and encourages him to change (Yeah, okay). Carol, realizing who is in the makeshift jail, pretends to fall asleep so Morgan will leave, and then rushes downstairs to kill The Wolf. Morgan quickly follows after her, and the two have a major confrontation that was indeed a long time coming. Carol wants Morgan to step aside, and she’s dead serious about what will happen if he doesn’t. She tells him, “I will kill you, to kill him, because I don’t want anyone else to die.” And that actually makes perfect sense. Morgan’s pacifism threatened all the Alexandrians’ lives, and his obsessive need to protect the Wolf scum could get people killed at any time. In fact, during Morgan and Carol’s brawl when he knocks her unconscious, The Wolf grabs Morgan’s staff and knocks him unconscious as well. This leads him to take Denise as a hostage. Rosita, Tara and Eugene arrive, but The Wolf puts a knife to Denise’s throat and they drop their weapons – though Rosita really should have tried for a shot to The Wolf’s head considering he was about to take Denise outside with the horde anyway. But the fact is, none of that would have happened if Morgan had just stepped aside and let Carol kill that Wolf.
Jessie’s house is no longer safe, but Rick has a plan to get to the armory for more guns to take the zombies down, and for flares to lead the rest away. But in order to carry out the plan, the group will have to mask their scent with walker guts and march right past those zombies. Rick’s plan goes all the way back to the second episode of Season One, when he and Glenn concealed themselves and went through a mass of zombies in Atlanta. I was thrilled that they brought this idea back, because it makes no sense that they wouldn’t consistently use this method when they need to get past a horde of walkers.
Rick and Michonne cut up two walkers, and as the entire group is covering themselves in guts in walks Sam. When he surveys the scene – including the disemboweled walker bodies and his own mother and brother wearing the intestines – he recoils in horror. Jessie’s only consolation to Sam is to tell him to pretend he’s someone that isn’t afraid. But somehow, that won’t be enough of a pep talk for the boy.
The group moves the couch from the bottom of the stairs (and that was the “What the Hell?” moment of the episode – walkers can’t climb over a couch?) and make their way out to the porch. Upstairs, Deanna – who refused Michonne’s offer to mercy kill her before the walkers came – decides to go out on her own terms and take some walkers with her. And as part of the horde descends upon the bedroom, Deanna gets in some perfect head shots before letting out a primal scream to meet her end.
Outside, the group stands motionless on the porch, and we gets shots panning to each member, the realization of what they are about to do written all over their faces. They link hands and make their way into the street, surrounded by walkers. And as they move slowly and deadly silent, Sam starts calling out to his mother! We don’t find out why, but a kid his age should know better, and we have to assume Jessie also prepped him to stay quiet. But in the end, Sam may be the group’s downfall.
This was a decent episode, tying up the loose ends and showing us the locations of all the group members – although Aaron and Eric were absent from that headcount, and we had to sit through 10 minutes of Into The Badlands to see where Daryl, Sasha and Abraham are now. But for the most part, we saw our main survivors (including Glenn) and still got a cliffhanger, so in that aspect, the episode was satisfying. But for a mid-season finale, there could have been more “wow” moments and less forced melodrama. The episode did leave me anxious to see what happens to everyone, so it ultimately did its job. Now we wait to learn the fate of the Alexandrians – who all have become Rick’s people – and for the introduction of Negan and his crew. Needless to say, the second half of the season will see conflict between the two factions. And in the true spirit of The Walking Dead, there will also be plenty of characters who won’t live past the return episode.