The Walking Dead has closed out its sixth season with the most hotly-anticipated finale of its entire run. The long-awaited arrival of popular comic book villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his brutal clash with the show’s protagonists was an event that many were undoubtedly dreading and anticipating in equal measure. While the finale delivered on the Negan front, with Morgan delivering an incredibly tense performance that has us looking forward to seeing more of him in season seven, for the most part, this was a massively disappointing way to close out the season that failed to live up to its potential. It’s easy (and accurate) to point to the finale’s cliffhanger ending as the main source of this disappointment, but from start to finish, there wasn’t much to like about “Last Day on Earth.” While there were definitely things to like and admire about the finale, the following issues held it back from being the showstopping season-closer that fans were promised.
10. Very Few Surprises
For a 90 minute long episode, “Last Day on Earth” is curiously lacking in surprises. Sure, the episode had a few tricks up its sleeve, such as the creative (though largely unbelievable) way that the Saviors herd Rick and company exactly where they want them, but other than that, things play out pretty much like you expect them to. Most viewers already knew Negan was arriving to mess things up for everyone, so the onus was on the writers to throw in some surprises we couldn’t possibly have seen coming.
It was a forgone conclusion that Negan would take a life, but the real curve ball would have been if a major character had been killed off well before the episode’s climax. For a brief moment, it looked like this was indeed what the show was doing when Carol was shot by the dying Savior, but as usual, The Walking Dead missed its opportunity to throw viewers off balance by having Morgan come into save Carol just in time, as everyone knew would happen. Norman Reedus may have called the finale the most “hardcore” episode of The Walking Dead yet, but as it stands, this episode looked positively tame next to barnstormers such as the season four finale, “A.”
9. Rick Seemingly Forgot How To Be A Leader
On last night’s episode of The Talking Dead, Robert Kirkman argued that this season was focused on showing Rick’s “loss of confidence” as a leader and ultimately, “tearing Rick Grimes down.” That is definitely a great thematic framework to give your lead protagonist, but the problem is that we didn’t see much evidence of Rick’s deterioration as a leader until the final few episodes. For the most part, Rick has been a rock this season, with clear goals and a sometimes ruthless leadership style that has gotten results. Then the wheels came off as soon as the Saviors actually started proving themselves to be capable adversaries, leading to a series of poor decisions from Rick. Leaving Alexandria under-defended and taking a severely-compromised Maggie on a dangerous journey to Hilltop (to be fair, options were limited, but it seems like Rick really rushed into this decision without thinking it through) felt like decisions Rick had to make in order to get to the Negan encounter, rather than rational decisions the character would actually make. Either way, it was a bit jarring to see Rick’s leadership capabilities deteriorate so rapidly and the finale only made this issue more glaring.
8. No Jesus
This is a relatively small gripe, to be sure, but just where the heck has Jesus been for the last few episodes? We know that his priority is looking after the Hilltop community, but after figuring so heavily into the earlier episodes, it felt odd not to have him around, especially in what should be the most important episode of the season. Having Jesus around would have made the ill-fated attempts to get to Hilltop all the more satisfying from a narrative point of view, as Jesus would have borne witness to Rick’s group — the ones who promised to free Hilltop from Negan’s oppressive regime — systematically outplayed by the Saviors. Plus, it would have been interesting to see what Jesus would have done during the Negan encounter, as Negan would obviously be familiar with Jesus, and his true allegiances would have been tested. Alas, it looks like we’ll have to wait until next season to see more of Jesus and his well-coiffed hair and beard.
7. This Guy
Of the many odd decisions made in this finale, one of the worst has to be the focus on the unnamed Savior victim who eventually gets hanged over the side of a bridge. With a cast as large as The Walking Dead has, what purpose does it serve to show the Saviors beating and threatening a character the audience has never met and does not care about? This is such a throwaway plot point and the worst part is that it easily could have been great if the nameless man was replaced with a character we actually recognized. The dynamics of the entire episode would have changed, as the initial road meeting between Rick and Steven Ogg’s Savior group would have been much more intense and meaningful if the character lying beaten in the road was someone like Daryl or Glenn. As it stands, we just got some guy who gets his chest spray painted for some reason before showing up later as a device meant to show how ruthless the Saviors are. RIP Savior victim, we hardly knew ye … literally.
6. Negan’s Likability
This isn’t so much a complaint about Negan himself as it is about how he contrasts with the other characters. The problem with the finale’s climactic scene is that it was difficult to sympathize with Rick and his group’s predicament. Yes, on a fundamental level, what happens to them is horrifying and gut-wrenching, but at the same time, Negan makes some pretty good points. As much as the Saviors are a legitimate threat that the Alexandrians would have had to deal with at some point regardless, the latter group did kill upwards of 30 of Negan’s men. His methods and worldview may be sadistic, but if anything, Negan is letting Rick’s group off easy by having only one of their own killed, as they have done much worse to Negan at this point. Plus, Morgan’s performance is so good that it’s hard not to like Negan despite his position as a cruel villain and when you find yourself rooting for the bad guy — even just a little bit — that’s a pretty good sign that a show’s protagonists are lacking in some way.
5. The Saviors Are Suddenly Magic
Much like Rick’s full 180 as of late, the Saviors went from being an enemy that didn’t seem to even know Alexandria existed to organizing extremely elaborate and complex plans in a span of a few short episodes. Obviously, the finale needed to drive home the fact that Rick and his group severely underestimated Negan and his army, but “Last Day on Earth” goes so far in making the Saviors into a well-oiled unit, it borders on the absurd. As a plot device, having the Saviors slowly close Rick and his group in with a series of increasingly intimidating roadblocks is a great way to ratchet up the tension and funnel them to their final confrontation with Negan. However, this plan calls for so much planning and time management that it ends up feeling ridiculous by the end (how did they even know where Rick’s group was headed to begin with, anyway?).
While the finale succeeds in making the Saviors a terrifying force to be reckoned with, it also presents them as a group with near-superhuman levels of precognition (how did they know exactly where Rick’s group was in the forest? Whistling echolocation?) that they feel more like wizards than another group of survivors vying for power. At least Steven Ogg of GTA V fame shows up as Negan’s ostensible second-in-command; we’d be lying if we said we don’t want to see more of him next season, magic powers be damned.
4. It Was Boring
Even by regular episode standards, “Last Day on Earth” was uneventful, and when you factor in that it’s one of the most hyped season finales of television this year, it looks positively boring. Make no mistake; the last 20 minutes or so of this episode was extremely tense and largely delivers on its promise (if you don’t take the cliffhanger at the very end into account). Still, that does little to make up for the 70 minutes of largely-wasted time that precedes it, which is padded out to such a degree that many viewers probably wondered if Negan was ever going to show up. As an extended episode clocking in at over 90 minutes in length, “Last Day on Earth” should have offered much more in the way of thrills, and capped it all off with a shocking ending that left fans talking for months. Unfortunately, people will indeed be talking about this episode, but more to highlight how much of a missed opportunity it was.
3. Silly Carol
For some inexplicable reason, the last few episodes of this season turned Carol into a deeply confounding character who made increasingly stupid decisions. We were hoping that the finale would start to turn things around and sort out some of Carol’s issues, but alas, it only made things worse. When Morgan finds Carol and tries to convince her to come back to Alexandria, she explains that because she cares too much about her people and doesn’t want to have to kill for them anymore, her only choice is to venture off on her own. Rightfully, Morgan calls her out for how idiotic this is, and while it would have been nice to see Morgan be much more direct in his disparagement, he feels like an audience surrogate in this scene, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Carol has gone from being one of The Walking Dead’s most compelling characters to one of its most unbearable in an alarmingly short amount of time and frankly, it’s becoming a bit difficult to watch. It looks like season seven will see Morgan and his mysterious new armored allies(?) rehabilitate Carol in the wake of her multiple gunshot wounds. If the writers decide to let her survive, they also need to outline a clearer arc for the character because whatever they’re doing right now, it’s most certainly not working.
2. Insulting To Fans
Everyone involved with The Walking Dead — from the writers and producers to the actors who star in it — hyped this finale at every opportunity in the weeks leading up to its air date, to the point where it never really could have lived up to expectations. That being said, there was a bare minimum quality that this episode had to hit — season finales of The Walking Dead are kind of a big deal, after all — and while it’s still too early to say whether this was the worst finale in the show’s history, it’s definitely a contender.
The main problem is that, even for the most loyal of fans, there really wasn’t much on offer to get them excited. Yes, the climax with Negan was undoubtedly thrilling, it was cool to see those mysterious armored guys show up to help Morgan, and enough happened overall to lay the groundwork for a potentially thrilling seventh season. As a standalone episode though, “Last Day on Earth” wasn’t very good and certainly not as good as some of season six’s highlights. Walking Dead fans are some of the most passionate of any TV show audience and they arguably deserved a much better season closer than this, especially when they were tricked by the show’s creators into thinking it was going to be one of the best episodes in the show’s history.
1. That Damn Cliffhanger
Has there been anything in The Walking Dead’s history that’s felt like as much of a cop-out as the season six finale’s infuriating cliffhanger? All that build up; all that promise of a game-changing season finale and we don’t even get to see who’s on the receiving end of Lucille. On The Talking Dead, Robert Kirkman tried to defend this decision by arguing that the death of whichever character was not what this season was about and that the reveal of who actually died is the start of the next story. All due respect to Kirkman, but that is a totally insufficient excuse for what amounts to a mean-spirited trick pulled over on the audience. The main reason people watched the finale was because they knew a major character was going to be killed off and by needlessly moving that moment to next season — a full six months away — Kirkman and the rest of The Walking Dead’s creators robbed viewers of something that was essentially promised to them. We’ll all tune in next season to find out who Negan’s victim is, but you can be that many of us won’t be happy about it.