It’s obvious that Scott Gimple has gone and converted to the Church of Cliffhangers and lost his damn mind.
The Walking Dead Season 6 Episode 16 “Last Day on Earth”
WARNING: Lots of SPOILERS beneath the cut. But you knew that, right?
Look, The Walking Dead isn’t a work of art like Mad Men or even Lost and it doesn’t need to be. All it needs to be is a show that focuses on characters we care about struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, and in general it does this very well. Despite some uneven plotting, uneven character development, and occasional stinker episodes, The Walking Dead has hit upon a winning formula. Each season is divided into two parts: season A builds to a mid-season finale that pays off the first half of the season while spinning the story in a new direction; season B builds to a season finale that pays off the second half of the season while spinning the story into a new direction for the next season. Character dynamics change, questions raised get answered, and new questions get asked. It’s a solid, workmanship storytelling that’s satisfying to the long-term viewer. I had been under the impression that Scott Gimple had engineered this rhythm and trusted it’s power.
Sometime between Season 5 and Season 6, Gimple apparently got a new religion. The first half of Season 6 had promise despite some bumpy moments, most notably the poorly executed “Is Glen dead or not?” cliffhanger gambit that blew up in Gimple’s face. It seemed like a terrible dirty trick and also tainted the upcoming storyline that’s been pulled from the comic which involves something terrible happening to Glen. I’d be willing to brush past that nonsense, but then we get to the mid-season finale, where the whole season so far culminates in the zombie horde bursting into Alexandria. Somehow Gimple decides to split the climax of the mid-season finale down the middle, giving us a terribly unsatisfying cliffhanger ending and then a two month wait to see how things finish up. That wait diffused all the tension that had been built up over the first half of the season so we come back to action without as much excitement. And then the next episode is basically the B season premier with a time jump that would have fit perfectly to correspond with the two month break. It was a headscratcher, but then the rest of the B season seemed to hit a rhythm decent enough that I had high hopes.
So we get the Glen Cliffhanger Debacle, and then the Midseason Finale Cliffhanger Debacle. And now we have the Season 6 Finale Cliffhanger Debacle. Going into the finale, I was confidant that Gimple was going to come back to the light of proper storytelling. A lot could have been forgiven if he’d stuck the landing. Literally a 15 second shot of our beloved character lying on the ground, head pulverized by Lucille, tacked on at the very end of this episode, would have salvaged the entire season. It would have shocked us, given us time to mourn the loss of one of our favorite characters, and given us six months to talk about what our surviving characters are going to do in Negan’s World against an enemy who is so powerful. Now we can’t even mourn, and the only thing we can talk about for six months is, Who’s Dead? And guess what—we’ve already been talking about who was going to die to Negan’s bat for weeks now (if not longer).
On the Talking Dead Gimple tried to explain his choice by saying who got killed doesn’t matter to the story he was telling for Season six. That’s just insulting to the fans. Someone we’ve cared about and followed for years has just been brutally and horribly murdered, of course it matters! The whole point of the scene is to make us hate Negan, to be instantly invested in the emotional need to see him defeated while wondering how in the world our characters could do it. And we need time to grieve the loss of one of our main characters!
Instead, Gimple has split the emotional payoff of this season with a six month gap that will end up diffusing the impact. When we find out who is dead, presumably in the first episode of Season seven, it’s not going to hit us nearly as hard. Which is not only unfair to us viewers, but it’s also unfair to the writers and actors who have invested so much time and energy into making this character someone we’ve cheered on all these years.
And just imagine if we come back for Season 7 and there’s been a time jump where all the surviving characters have already grieved and started finding their footing in Negan’s World, and the audience doesn’t even know who’s dead yet!
What really upsets me is that I’ve spent all this time writing about how stupid this cliffhanger nonsense has been when I was actually pleased with the vast majority of this episode. The interaction between Morgan and Carol and the introduction of another group of survivors — who wear armor! — was well done, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan was absolutely fantastic as Negan. He just oozed charisma and menace, which from what I understand is spot-on for the character from the comic. I would have much rather be talking about how we had another bumpy but ultimately satisfying season of The Walking Dead with a heartbreaking ending, how big a bastard Negan is, and excitedly contemplating what’s in store for Season 7.
What did you think?