The Walking Dead finale has set off a wave of fury across the internet, with fans swearing off (and at) the show and its writers. This isn’t the first time Scott Gimple and company have pissed off their fanbase; in a series fueled by tragedy and character deaths, fans are bound to get angry (or start riots) from time to time. However, for the second time this season, the fan outrage isn’t because of a character loss, but because the writers are lying or withholding information from their audience to boost ratings.
Like with Glenn’s magical dumpster escape, the finale’s manipulation comes from the way that the camera is situated rather than anything organic. It would be one thing if we weren’t seeing Negan bash somebody’s skull in because the characters themselves didn’t see it, or because the episode ended before that moment. But the characters DO see it, and the scene transpires. The director and showrunner simply decide not to show us.
Not only is this kind of cliffhanger irritating to the audience, which has to wait 7 months to find out exactly what happened, but it’s dramatically and emotionally inert. We don’t know who to mourn over, and the moment doesn’t register as a loss. As far as our emotional connection to the show goes, all of these characters are alive and dead, existing in limbo like a bunch of Schrodinger’s cats. In a way, this is the same state of mind we’ve been in since Negan was confirmed to appear in the finale and Andrew Lincoln talked about feeling “sick” after reading the finale script.
In a better show, the Negan sequence would have occurred earlier in the episode, and the death would have been swift and shocking, not drawn-out and unresolved. The rest of the episode could deal with the aftermath and the emotional toll on the characters, leading into next season, when they would have to figure out how to respond to their new situation. Even in the comic, which is much more limited in length, the death occurs with a few pages to go and doesn’t obscure the event from the reader, leaving its impact to resonate.
It’d odd that they chose to deviate in this moment, especially given how close the rest of the scene is to the one in issue 100. Negan’s speech is nearly word-for-word what it is in the comic (minus lots of f-bombs), from the moment he steps out of the camper to when he begins scoping out who to kill. Jeffrey Dean Morgan takes a really subdued approach to the character, who I always viewed more as a Caucasian foul-mouthed take on Tuco from Breaking Bad. He knocks it out of the park here, coming across as intimidating and confident, but also rational.
The only downside to this calm, patient approach to the material is that it draws the scene out longer than it needs to go. While a reader can get through Negan’s speech in a couple minutes, it takes roughly 10 minutes of screentime to get the same thing across, and the prolonged sequence makes some of the more repetitive dialogue stand out. Things begin very tense, but we ultimately feel that Negan is more long-winded than terrifying. Some trimming would have heightened things, which is a critique that could be applied to the whole super-sized episode.
It’s not that the individual moments are bad. I actually liked the varied, escalating versions of road blocks that the Saviors put in Rick’s way, even if it seems impossible to actually plan for all of the contingencies necessary to railroad the characters to Negan. The same goes for Carol and Morgan’s subplot, which dwells on elements of their characters that have been well-worn at this point, but also manages to push them forward a bit. Even Eugene’s goodbye with Abraham played well, despite ultimately having no narrative purpose.
But while small moments like these are nice in a standard episode, they feel like unnecessary bloat in a super-sized big-event finale in which nothing really significant happens. I’m sure that AMC made lots of money off of the extra commercials, and I don’t doubt that the cliffhanger gambit will result in killer ratings for season 7’s premiere. But if AMC and Scott Gimple continue to disappoint, manipulate, and underwhelm fans, it will come back to hurt them. Hopefully they learn something from the finale’s reception.
(The following speculation is based somewhat on events that occur in the comic series. Since these events are not necessarily going to be adapted, they’re not spoilers per se, but if you’re concerned about future comic events, turn back)
So let’s see if we can predict who died in this episode. The following characters were present in the final scene:
First off, let’s take some off the table altogether: Scott Gimple has already said that we would find out what Maggie’s illness is next year, and that they plan to adapt Carl’s storyline with Negan, so obviously neither of them will die. We can also assume that Rick is safe, since he’s the protagonist of the show, and I would hope that they wouldn’t choose Aaron, because his death would have no impact whatsoever on the viewers.
So that leaves Michonne, Abraham, Eugene, Glenn, and Daryl. Of those five, Eugene seems the least likely to die to me. They just set up his “bullet factory” arc (something that would be important in the war against Negan), he’s proving his usefulness, and he’s still got a long way to go before he reaches the potential of his comic counterpart. Michonne is a possibility, but I think she’s safe as well. There’s still plenty to explore with her new relationship with Rick, so killing her off would put an end to more potential storylines than it would create.
Glenn is the one with the biggest target on his head for a number of reasons. For one, he’s the character who Negan kills in the comic. If they want to adapt the stories that currently exist, he’s the obvious choice. That same obviousness makes me wary to say they’ll pick him, but other story elements introduced this season definitely support this choice. The biggest hint is in Maggie’s storyline in Hilltop. She ended up being the one to negotiate with the current leader of the town, setting her up for leadership. Given that Glenn’s death leads to a more pro-active Maggie, and that Maggie eventually goes on to run Hilltop, I’d guess that this is the intended scenario for the show as well.
Abraham is the next most likely character to die, as he is already dead at this point in the comic, and the show hasn’t really set out a clear path for his character. We also got that “goodbye” scene between him and Eugene, which currently serves no purpose (since Eugene is captured immediately afterward anyway), but does if it ends up being his final goodbye to his friend. He’s also a choice that would resonate without completely infuriating the fanbase.
Finally, there’s Daryl. Despite all of the “IF DARYL DIES WE RIOT” fans, he’s still a strong possibility here. There’s seemingly just not a lot left to do with his character. His arc with his brother is resolved, his friendship with Carol is essentially forgotten, and Beth is dead. He’s just been hanging around as a resident badass for the past year, and it’s possible that the writers have decided that his popularity would give the scene the impact they desire. Plus, after six years on The Walking Dead, Norman Reedus would probably like to use his popularity to work in more movies.
However, for my final prediction, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the show will kill TWO characters in this scene next season: first Glenn, then Abraham. Both deaths would pay off prior scenes and move other characters’ stories forward in compelling ways, and the shock of losing two people rather than one would keep the comic fans in check without drastically altering the course of the show.