‘The Walking Dead’: Swing and a miss

The Walking Dead
“Last Day on Earth”
April 3, 2016

WELL, THAT’S AN UNDERSTATEMENT.

Before we get to the outrage — and oh, there is much outrage — let’s talk about what exactly happened last night that left Walking Dead fans so infuriated.

Over in the B storyline, Morgan continues looking for Carol, but instead finds a horse and a sign reminding him that “YOU ARE ALIVE,” in case he was wondering. Also looking for Carol, that one Savior who managed to survive the wrath of her Walter White-approved sleeve gun. Who will find Carol first?

Morgan, seeing as he has a horse, duh. Morgan finds Carol curled on the doorstep of a library, and takes her inside to tend to the gunshot wound in her side. While he patches her up, he’s all, “Hey, let’s go back to Alexandria already,” and Carol is all:

leslie-knope-no-parks-and-recreation

Carol “explains” that she can’t go back because she doesn’t want to kill people anymore, and she cares too much not to, or some such nonsense. And Morgan is like, “EXCUSE ME. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE TALKING TO.”

At some point, Morgan goes to investigate a walker clattering around outside, and finds a zombie hung from a set of makeshift gallows. Instead of just leaving it there to rot away, he climbs up the tower, stabs it in the head and cuts it down which just seems like a lot of trouble to go through. But, for plot purposes, it gives Carol time to crawl away, so.

As she makes her escape, Carol is ambushed by Surviving Savior, who is all, “AND NOW I SHALL GIVE A LONG SPEECH ABOUT HOW AND WHY I AM GOING TO MAKE YOU SUFFER SO AS TO GIVE MORGAN TIME TO RESCUE YOU.” Surviving Savior shoots Carol in the arm which just makes her laugh, because have you met Carol? So he shoots her in the leg, too, for good measure, but Carol is all, “IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT?”

carol-game-of-thrones-the-walking-dead-iron-throne

Finally, Morgan arrives and orders Surviving Savior to drop his weapon. When he refuses, Morgan is forced to shoot him with Rick’s Chekhov’s gun so as to save Carol, because it’s all well and good to have principles, but sometimes people need killing.

And then out of nowhere, two dudes in some half-rate Mad Max cosplay (they just strap on some discarded football padding and call it “dystopian chic”) show up with their horse and are all, “We are your deus ex machina here to help you, and introduce you to The Kingdom, a whole other set of survivors. We’ve got a tiger!”

As for our other survivors in the A storyline, everyone is understandably concerned about Maggie and her lady problems. Fortunately, Alexandria’s new friends, Hilltop, happen to have an OB-GYN. Unfortunately, Hilltop is nowhere near Alexandria and Rick and his buddies have managed to poke the giant Saviors wasp nest that lies between Maggie and Dr. Carson, antibiotics, an ultrasound machine and some stirrups.

So the plan is, so far as I can tell, to load Maggie up into the RV, along with as many of Alexandria’s best fighters and characters we actually care about. Along for the ride: Rick, Abraham, Sasha, Eugene, Aaron, and Carl.

Staying behind: Father Gabriel, who has put himself in charge of security and taking care of Baby; and Enid, whom Carl has locked in a closet to keep her from coming along.

trapped-in-the-closet

And Pantry Lady, of course.

So, Team RV heads out, and Rick assures Maggie that everything is going to be OK (nothing is going to be OK) when Abraham has to bring the RV to a halt thanks to a bunch of Saviors standing in the middle of the road, kicking some poor non-Savior. Rick and the others hop out of the RV and are like, “Hey, could you guys move out of the way?” The head of this particular pack of Saviors, whose credits on IMDB include the words “Creepy” and “Homicidal,” and “Grand Theft Auto” is all, “No? And how about you give us all your stuff.” Rick declines and as the Saviors spray paint something on their captive’s chest, Team RV returns to the RV. Creepy Savior calls out to them that there are “plenty of ways to get to where [they’re] going,” to which Rick asks if Creepy Savior wants to make this his last day on Earth. “No! But that’s a good thing you bring that up,” Creepy Savior replies. “What if it’s the last day on Earth for you or someone you love?” he asks, before urging Rick to be super nice to everyone inside the RV, in the event that it is.

Cool. Will do.

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So, Team RV figures out an alternate route and continues down the road. Along the way Abraham is all, “LET’S MAKE THE BABIES,” to Sasha. Sasha’s not so sure.

excuse-me-sopranos

As they come around a bend, hey, guess what, another group of Saviors are waiting for them. Instead of getting out of the RV for a pointless conversation, however, this time Team RV just slowly reverses it and tries another route.

GUESS WHAT? That route is ALSO blocked, this time by a group of walkers who have been chained together, and decorated with items from Team RV’s friends. In fact, it appears the Saviors have been playing a few rounds of “Pin the Michonne Dread on the Walker,” to Rick’s horror. As Team RV investigates the situation, they are suddenly being fired upon by shooters in the woods. Shooting at their feet, shooting at their feet, shooting at their feet. Eventually, Team RV gets the hint, runs back to the RV and just drives straight through the walkers which is exactly what the Saviors wanted them to do, of course.

And then you’ll never guess what happens. Oh, did you guess that they come upon yet another Savior roadblock? Then never mind.

So they back it up, again, only to find the road blocked this time by a giant Aggie bonfire. As Team RV investigates this problem, the Saviors take their punching bag from earlier and hang him from the overpass behind Team RV. It’s at this point that my husband says, “Look, I haven’t read the comics, but what’s the deal with the Saviors? Are they a bunch of theater majors? Because there is a lot of production value in this elaborate trap they’ve set up for Rick.” And that’s when the Saviors set the Aggie bonfire on fire, because that’s what you do with bonfires.

Out of routes and ideas, Team Rick decides to split up: they’ll have Eugene drive the RV back, while they carry Maggie, through the woods, at night, on a stretcher. What could go wrong? After Eugene gives Rick a “recipe” for bullets and gives Abraham a proper man hug, the Lost “Life & Death” theme swells, and the group parts ways.

For about a hot second.

Ten minutes into the woods, Stretcher group is suddenly surrounded by creepy disembodied whistling.

nervous-sweating-key-and-peele

Soon after, Team Stretcher finds themselves surrounded by about one hundred whistling Saviors, with no way out. It’s like they fell into a trap or something! Creepy Savior comes out and is like, “Hey, guys! It’s me again! Now give us all your weapons and why don’t y’all take a knee while we wait for the main event.”

And then, just as the commercial break comes to an end, literally at 9:20, that’s when my internet/cable goes out.

Dear AT&T: Go die.

god-i-hate-you-30-rock-tina-fey

By the time AT&T finally gets THEIR ACT TOGETHER, Negan is out of his dressing room, Lucille, his barbed wire bat propped up on his shoulder, ordering Team Rick to give him their stuff and thangs or he’s going to kill them. Which is pretty much the gist of his Big Baddie speech: Give us your stuff and thangs or we will kill you.

Negan explains that while he’s really miffed that Rick killed a bunch of his guys, he’s not going to kill all of Team Rick, because then who would give him all the stuff and thangs? However, Negan is going to have to kill one of them, so as to make a point, but who is it going to be? After half-heartedly threatening Carl and Maggie, Negan plays “Eeny Meenie Miny Moe” with Team Rick to choose his victim. But instead of revealing who that victim is, the camera goes all POV while Negan instructs his men that if anyone moves, they are to cut Carl’s other eye out and feed it to Rick. So I guess we can rule the Grimes out as victims. Negan generously tells the others that they can breathe, they can blink and they can cry. And then he brings Lucille down on someone’s head …

R.I.P. Cameraman.
R.I.P. Cameraman.

…before fading to black.

dowager-countess-no

How dare you, The Walking Dead. How DARE you.

~deeeeeeep breath~

Let’s talk, The Walking Dead. Let’s have a chat.

What happened, Writers’ Room? How did you let this happen? Let me ask you a serious question: did your internet go out after you pulled that cliffhanger nonsense with Glenn in the first half of the season and never come back on? Do you have AT&T, too? Because let me tell you how people felt about that cliffhanger nonsense with Glenn in the first half of the season: they did not feel good about it. In fact, they felt the cliffhanger nonsense with Glenn in the first half of the season was a cheap emotionally manipulative trick and they did not like it one bit.

“Yeah, but they were talking about the show!” you argue. Yes! They were! And they were saying things like, “Boy I sure hate The Walking Dead right now!” and “Wow, The Walking Dead sure does suck!” and “I’m never going to watch The Walking Dead again!” and “You know what? &#*! The Walking Dead and their entire Writers’ Room. I hope someone beats them over the head with a barbed wire covered bat for making me think Glenn was dead when he was absolutely not dead. They better not do that again, by, like, I don’t know, shooting someone in the shoulder and then fading to black in the final moments of an episode. And they SURE better not spend the better part of a year working people up wondering which major character was going to die at the end of the season only to kill off that major character without revealing who it is right before they go on a season hiatus because that would be a terrible way to pay back devoted fans. Only a show with absolute disdain for their viewers would do such a thing. THAT WOULD BE A STEP TOO FAR.”

And here’s the thing, Writers’ Room, you don’t need to play cheap tricks on your viewers. You don’t need to manipulate them or use cliffhangers to keep them watching and talking about the show. Do you know how well you’re doing in the ratings? Because you’re doing very well in the ratings! You should call AT&T and demand that they reconnect your internet so that you can see that you are the third most popular show on television. That’s really impressive!

And you know how you got there? You got there by being a kickass show that had relatable characters and memorable bad guys. Which brings me to your Negan Problem, a.k.a. where everything went wrong for you.

First of all, kudos on the casting of Jeffrey Dean Morgan — he was perfect as the famously charismatic villain. I’m not a comic reader, but I’ve heard that Negan is a comic fan favorite for being a combination of smart, funny, insane, dangerous, and charming, and boy, Morgan nailed it.

But that’s kind of a big problem, right? Negan, who has been a reader favorite for four years now, he makes his grand entrance in the comics by killing off a beloved character, Glenn. This development is so shocking in the comics that it became perhaps the series’ best known moment even among non-comic readers; so well-known, in fact, that major newspapers’ television blogs don’t even bother to spoiler font it anymore (~cough~).

So what do you do when it comes time to introduce such an infamous moment in the show? Do you proceed with the “Negan kills Glenn” storyline exactly as it happens in the comics, surprising no one? Or do you tease for a year that it is possible you’ll deviate from the original story and kill someone else, a character who isn’t in the comics at all, for instance? That way you can keep even comic readers on pins and needles through the finale, waiting to see who suffers the notorious introduction to Lucille.

That’s a brilliant idea — and one that worked really really well, Writers’ Room. Everyone has been awaiting the arrival of Negan with bated breath, terrified and worried about which favorite character was going to be taken in the last moments of the finale. But that’s the thing: you can’t string everyone along with this season-long tease if you’re not going to deliver in the end. Going out on yet another unsatisfying cliffhanger only accomplished one thing: it diminished Negan’s entrance. Well, it did two things, it also infuriated your loyal viewership in ways that I think might ultimately be your undoing. But that first thing, ruining Negan’s entrance, that’s what is important here.

Look, Writers’ Room, Negan was y’all’s ace in the hole. He practically writes himself and with casting as good as you have with Morgan, this episode should have been a home run. Negan kills one of our favorite characters — it doesn’t even really matter who, Glenn, Daryl, Abraham, whomever — and we spend the hiatus mourning and wondering and worrying what this Negan character is capable of next season. These final moments of this season should have been about Negan, we should be thinking about him.

But instead with that cliffhanger, Writers’ Room, all we’re going to be thinking about all summer long is, “Who did Negan kill?” I heard your head guys talking on The Talking Dead about how this moment isn’t so much about the person being killed, but instead about Rick’s realization that he’s made a huge mistake. But guess what? By not revealing the person being killed, ALL WE ARE GOING TO BE THINKING ABOUT IS THE PERSON BEING KILLED.

I also heard your guy talking about how they wanted this to be the “What’s in the Hatch” moment of the first season of Lost. Now, I happen to know a little bit about that show, and let me assure you, Writers’ Room, this was not that moment. On that show, the reason the hatch cliffhanger worked there was that it was actually a revelation of sorts. We had known for several episodes that a hatch existed on the Island, but it wasn’t until that final moment in that final episode when the light turned on inside that we had any suggestion that there could be someone inside. What’s inside? Who’s inside? What’s the hatch for? Is this a symbol of hope or of danger for our survivors? How will what is inside this hatch change the fate of our heroes? What does it mean about the nature of the Island itself? These are the questions that Lost‘s famous cliffhanger created. The only questions yours created was, “OH MY GOD WHY DIDN’T THEY SHOW US WHO NEGAN KILLED? DO THE WRITERS EVEN KNOW? HAVE THEY EVEN DECIDED?”

And so, Writers’ Room, I need to ask you my own questions: do you even know who Negan killed? Have you even decided? Did you not show us because you are using this as a contract negotiation tool with your cast? Did you not show us because you wanted to keep spoilers to a minimum (you know, you could have just filmed multiple death scenes if that was the case — just a friendly suggestion for later seasons)? Or did you not show us because you genuinely thought this would be a way for us to keep talking about your show until the 7th season begins in October? Sure, you knew you’d make some (all) fans angry by withholding perhaps the most famous death scene in the entire series, but they’d be back to see who it was who died. What are they going to do, not watch?

jennifer-sure-ok

And this is the problem, Writers’ Room: that kind of attitude suggests that you don’t think much of your audience, and that you can pull whatever manipulative nonsense occurs to you, and they’ll just take it and come back for more. That kind of attitude suggests outright contempt for your audience, in fact. And that is a dangerous way to be, especially now that you’ve finally introduced the one character that everyone has been excited about for the past four years, and there’s no one quite as exciting after him on the horizon.

You, like Rick and Carl and Michonne, will survive this moment, Writers’ Room. You will survive this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad choice. But like Rick and Carl and Michonne, I think you’ll forever be changed by it. And not in a good way.

The Walking Dead airs on AMC on Sunday at 8/9 p.m.

This post first appeared on the Hearst site Chron.com.

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