Originally posted on January 3rd, 2017.
Warning: There be SPOILERS ahead! If you haven’t watched Season 6 of The Walking Dead and want to keep all the twists, turns, secrets, and deaths a surprise, stop reading!
(Maybe one day I’ll whip up some fancy HTML to hide spoiler text until the area is hovered over, but until then…)
Looking back at my humble collection of around 8 or so zombie DVDs circa 2005, it’s hard to believe the very same subject matter I sought out would, in a few years time, become one of the highest rated TV programs of all time, constantly setting new records (all in an age where traditional TV is dying out, no less). The proliferation of zombies into the mainstream is largely a very recent phenomenon, both responsible for and spurred on by The Walking Dead.
I will admit that my interest in the show is patchy – some seasons I religiously catch every episode, while others ebb by with barely a thought. But when a new season does inevitably pop up on Netflix, I do get a little excited to see what’s happened. I also think it’s fair to say that The Walking Dead can feel like 2 different TV shows depending on whether you’re getting your season in over the course of a few days or actually watching it week-to-week complete with holiday break.
Watching the show week-to-week really helps those “moments” settle in. You’ve only got a finite amount of Walking Dead to chew on for a week or more, so it sticks in your head longer and leaves you to ponder over secondary and tertiary plot strings more thoughtfully and completely. The drawback is that the lulls and the filler are 10x more obvious. When processing the season as 16 different chunks, drawn out plot lines, tangential episodes, and even shockers and cliffhangers are much more noticeable and memorable simply because we have more time to ruminate before our next narrative dose.
On the other hand, binge watching a season gives us a much clearer view of whatever arc the writers had planned since we’re sort of able to feel the momentum and the progress in “real time.” Sometimes the week-to-week stuff is like moving in slow motion, and it’s difficult to see “the point.” Conversely, some degree of detail and nuance is lost with the binge-watching approach because our minds aren’t spending time going over every single detail over and over. We see an episode, reach back to remember what we need to, and move forward; it’s much different than sitting around for a week and wondering where every plot thread will eventually end up.
That being said, depending on who you are and also depending on what season of The Walking Dead we bring into question, one approach or the other may be a “better” or more optimal (or worse or less optimal) way to watch the episodes. However, as the years roll on – particularly from the 4th season forward – more and more I think that binge watching is the way to go, mostly because the writers or producers or whoever seem to revel in audience manipulation. At least you’ve only really got to put up with the season finale when watching it all at once.
Now with all of that being said, I digested the 6th season more or less in one chunk, maybe 5 sessions over the course of 3 and a half days. As a season I would say it was maybe…75% successful? It certainly got off to a good start after the rocky road to (and into) Alexandria in the 5th season. I can see where the quarry situation may have initially come off as contrived and manufactured, but I think the writers actually did a good job of explaining it – these zombies had been falling in and this was one of the biggest reasons why Alexandria had yet to face any serious threats from the dead. Of course the timing of the trucks that held the bodies at bay was mighty convenient, I’m ok writing that off as the magic of television.
Most criticisms leveled at the first half of Season 6 focus on the plodding nature of the events surrounding the quarry – in case you’ve forgotten, the group was successful at leading half of zombies away but the other half were drawn towards Alexandria due to a simultaneous assault by the Wolves. Soon the wall gives way and the town is overrun. I suppose I can somewhat sympathize with these criticisms, but I also feel like there’s a lot that happens over these 3 days (I think) and that it takes a little time to adequately run through all the events, especially since many events overlap and we’re getting multiple perspectives, plus enough information to know how all the events fit together.
Personally, I found the threat of zombies refreshing. Our heroes have become pretty adept at dispatching these things and it’s been a while since we’ve seen more than a few quick stabs here and there. Maybe the group was splintered into 1 or 2 too many subgroups for the show’s own good, but I was still glad to see all the running and cornering and eventual evisceration of several lesser characters. It reminded me a lot of the show’s earlier days when plots revolved around simple supply runs or fortifying a place to sleep.
As for the attack of the Wolves…meh, I could take it or leave it. It wasn’t entirely original, it was 100% expected (at some point anyway, and what better time than the worst time possible…), and I felt like it was a forced means for the show to get to this whole “kill or not to kill” theme that ends up dominating the season. Now don’t get me wrong, I think this is a great question to ask – I’ve been asking it myself for the last couple of seasons – I just thought the whole Wolves attack with “Alpha Wolf” and Carol and Morgan was a weird and slightly unnecessary spark for the conversation.
Morgan’s obvious reticence towards killing has always brought with it a tiny air of mystery, but it wasn’t until this season’s 4th episode that we fully understood the breadth of Morgan’s journey from Atlanta to Terminus. As a sidenote, I have mixed feelings about these flashback episodes. Usually the information presented within is interesting, informative, and worth the use of an episode, however, no matter how great it is as a standalone piece, it still interrupts the flow of the season. I guess it can’t be helped (other than to do away with these types of episodes, though I don’t think that’s the answer) but maybe they could place these episodes more strategically, i.e. not following a cliffhanger. Oh well. Back to Morgan and his Odyssey.
When I was finally able to get my mind off of Glenn’s fake death and get into the tale of Morgan (who I’ve always been mildly ambivalent towards as a character) and the one-shot Eastman, I thoroughly enjoyed the renewed interest in morality. Rick & Co. have continually oscillated between “kill fucking everything” and “we’re all a big happy family” but from very early on it’s been established that killing the living is par for the course and must be done. Via Morgan, we’re finally getting around to, “is it really necessary?” It’s not only interesting but also a vital component of the equation at this point in time and I kinda dig how it’s rippled outwards from Morgan, eventually deeply affecting Carol. Daryl isn’t so closely associated with all of that, yet he also seems to have developed a renewed appreciation for human life.
It’s a little early to get into the implications of whether or not killing is wrong and if people can truly change, but I hope we’ll move further into this territory. All of this Negan shit sort of turned the concept on its head and basically gagged and blindfolded us and dropped us smack dab in the middle of everyone-needs-to-die-NOW land. I hope that the issue resurfaces somehow and wasn’t merely heaped on just to create the jolt that was Negan…I guess we’ll see before long.
And then there was the fake Glenn death which I feel obligated to mention…it was stupid. Anyone disagree? Didn’t think so. Moving on.
Wrapping up the season’s first half, which thematically runs through the 9th episode, I’d like to add that I especially enjoyed the payoff that was the death of the Andersons. Don’t get me wrong, I was rooting for Rick and Jessie, but what better way to keep us viewers on our toes than by BAM killing the little kid and BAM killing Jessie and then BAM killing that other kid who also shoots Carl’s fucking eye out. That last part was a little gruesome and perhaps overkill, but I get that it was adapted from the comics. Still, Carl doesn’t have but so many lives….and at the same time it’s kinda cool to watch him become battle-hardened and world-weary – a true product, both mentally and physically, of this post-apocalyptic existence.
The back half of Season 6 kicks off on a positive note. I thought it was great that Michonne and Rick finally got together. Back on the road to Terminus it seemed like there was a spark between the 2, but once that was abandoned I gave up on it. To see it happen was an interesting moment for the show…as far-fetched as the pairing seemed, it also totally makes sense. The cherry on top was seeing that Carl was cool with it. He and Michonne had definitely established a bond, plus I don’t think any of the viewers are in the mood for some “you ain’t my mama” drama.
Of course this is a very minor plot point compared to the flavor of the next few episodes. For anyone in need of a refresher, we meet “Jesus,” the Hilltop Community, and learn about Negan. To hell with morality – the citizens of Alexandria make a decision to launch an all out assault on Negan’s crew, albeit somewhat out of desperation for food (which they intend to trade for Hilltop – exterminating Negan in exchange for necessary goods).
At first the march of war seemed pretty damn interesting. The assault itself was pretty awesome, and we also see both Glen and Heath (I think?) struggle with their “duty” to kill other humans. Some of this guilt seems to subside as they study the Polaroids of smashed skulls pasted to the walls. Then we deal with more Negan as Carol and Maggie are captured, and then the season sort of spins its wheels for a few episodes in anticipation of the long awaited confrontation with Negan.
Watched as a whole, this string of episodes creates some mild exasperation, so I can only imagine that when viewed weekly the show seemed to absolutely slow to a crawl. We do get the death of lesbian M.D. Denise somewhere in there, which actually kinda pissed me off. It seems like – lately anyway – secondary and tertiary characters will continually languish in the background, only to be gradually brought into the forefront. And then, just when you’re starting to settle in with the new addition, they’re unceremoniously killed. It actually seems pretty tough for secondary characters to make the jump to the front row. Either they’re given the axe, or they continue to doddle in the background without being given any real significance.
When we finally meet Negan and ultimately put the pieces given to us in the season finale together, we get what I feel is a wildly unrealistic picture of who Negan and his followers are. First of all, how has any group out there amassed this many members? There was the motorcycle crew, the crew at the outpost, the reinforcements that were inbound, and then enough members to create several roadblocks, impassable to even Rick and his well-armed and well-trained crew. To me, this feels like a huge convenience created just to stymy Rick and Co. No one we’ve ever seen has had this much of a following, and furthermore it seems that this following isn’t confined to a single location either, as evidenced by the “outpost.”
I guess it is possible that they just happen to be the ones that made it long enough and stayed well enough off to become so large, but there’s a few problems with this. For one, there’s the tyrannical nature of Negan. If this show has shown us anything, it’s that violence begets violence and if you rule with a violent hand, all you’re doing is setting yourself up to be overthrown by the next badass under you. Pretty soon you’ve got a group with poor leadership and in discord and they get eaten by zombies or whatever. (Shane, the Governor, Alpha Wolf) The second issue is how predatory Negan’s group is. To maximize their spoils, they’d need to keep their numbers small. They’re not the sort of community that can just continue to grow, especially since they’re relying on the exploitation of others. Too many mouths to feed. No no, you need servants, not comrades. There are just some glaring logistical issues with having a group so big yet so dependent on taking what they need by force – eventually they’re going to run out of people to extort.
Finally there’s the common issue of how many people would seriously pledge their loyalty to a guy who beats people to death with a baseball bat and laughs about it, but that’s more of something to discuss with Season 7.
Any damn way, this big climax with Negan was pretty darn disappointing. I know that Jeffery Dean Morgan garnered a lot of praise for his portrayal, but honestly he just talked too damn much. (And if you don’t think so, just wait until you get into Season 7…) Yeah, he was definitely evil and unnerving and made for some serious suspense, the problem was that it was just drawn out too long. By the end of the finale we know that Negan wasn’t bluffing and that somebody bit the dust, but in true Walking Dead sensationalism, we got no idea who.
Like so many of The Walking Dead’s biggest moments, this one was also polarizing. Plenty of critics loved the buildup and plenty others were unsatisfied. Good TV shows will almost always create this sort of division, though I can’t help but notice that many of these “shock” moments are the target of harsher and harsher criticism as time goes on. My concern is that the show will become something like Jerry Springer or Maury – a once serious show that ostensibly remains so, but in reality is just out for the shock factor. What it seems like the writers and producers don’t seem to realize is that a) TV is not a comic, and b) it only takes 1 or 2 severe blows to shatter a viewer’s interest and emotional investment in a show. (Yes, I’m looking your way Season 7…) Sure, you can keep pulling the rug out from under us and making us gasp and cringe with the very things we thought would never happen, but there’s only so many times you can play that card before unpredictability becomes predictable; where viewers learn to expect the unexpected, and as a result, go into the show with a degree of skepticism that hinders their full enjoyment.
Furthermore, the number of possible storylines grows ever smaller with many of these moments – whether it be someone minor like Denise or Noah (huge waste of potential in my opinion) or a bigger player like, let’s say, Lori or Dale – and to be honest, the show has had a difficult if not impossible time when it comes to replacing these folks. Frankly no one has even come close to replace people like Herschel, or Dale, or Shane (ok, Shane had to die), or even smaller roles like Beth. Looking back on it, Michonne was really the last great character they introduced; I guess Tyrese was alright once he came into his own. But the other sorta-newcomers – Sasha, Ford, Rosita, Eugene, Father Gabriel – none of them really come close to hitting the highs that much of the Seasons 1 – 3 cast did. The Walking Dead has all but become “The Rick Show,” and while part of me can get behind that idea, part of me wishes it was a little more balanced.
So for all these reasons I’m giving the season a 75% success rate. Obviously we had a stronger first half and though some may see it as drawn out, looking back on it I enjoyed the multitude of perspectives and events taking place. And like I said, it gets a big “thumbs up” from me for once again featuring zombies as the primary threat. As far as the second half, I don’t have a problem with Negan and I think that – eventually – it’ll create a fun context to explore the morality of killing people within, but as of the season finale, the road was just too damn long and too damn uneventful.
Currently I’m 4 episodes deep into Season 7, and as soon as my cable’s OnDemand is fully functional again I hope to catch up to the mid-season finale. Hopefully I’ll feel strongly enough about it to follow up…I certainly have some choice words concerning those first 4 episodes already!