NOTE: Spoilers from throughout Season Six of “The Walking Dead” are present in this review
After Season Five, The Walking Dead seemed to feel like it couldn’t decide what to do with itself. Until the back half that led Rick and co. to Alexandria, the show just sort of bumbled around, throwing everything at the wall and seeing what stuck. Fortunately, Season Six fixes that issue, delivering a more focused vision that finally carries a worthy seasonal story arc for Rick’s crew arriving in Alexandria. It’s just too bad that so many other elements of this season were either sloppy or downright bad, resulting in a woefully uneven season that seemed to vary in episode quality practically every other week, and eventually just gave up around the fourteenth episode, in favour of teasing a (hopefully) better Season Seven.
If there was ever a season of The Walking Dead to demonstrate just how much the astronomical ratings of this show have gone to the heads of the showrunners, producers, and AMC as a whole, it’s Season Six. Every low point of this season seemed to stem from pure, simple arrogance on the part of the show’s crew and network. It stemmed from a feeling that the show could do no wrong, and thus, had license to get away with whatever bad ideas and fan trolls it wanted to, by sheer virtue of the fact that it’s The Walking Dead, and fans will eat it up no matter what’s on screen. Clearly, given the growing backlash that the show generated this season, especially in regards to the awful way it ended its season finale, the show’s crew needs to start cutting the crap, and ditching these cheap tricks and lazy writing. People are starting to see through it, and they’ve clearly had enough.
Before we get into some of Season Six’s rather glaring flaws though, let’s start with the good stuff. Like I said, for all of the issues that this season had, at least it focused the show, after Season Five’s bad habit of meandering on irrelevant characters and storylines. The whole arc behind Rick’s crew learning to adjust to a better life in Alexandria, and getting a better sense of community and a return to the way the world was before the apocalypse went down, was all great stuff. Rick beginning a romantic relationship with Michonne, Abraham re-thinking his relationship with Rosita, Carol becoming something of a domestic darling, Carl and Enid’s friendship, Glenn and Maggie expecting a child, all of it was superb. Morgan had a standout arc this season as well, with the show giving him an angle of refusing to kill, and trying to cut through the rage, hatred and fear of the world, which was excellently demonstrated in one of this season’s overall best episodes, “Here’s Not Here.”
The only time that the Alexandria storylines seemed to stumble were in the midseason premiere, which springboarded off of an abrupt midseason finale ending, and had one of the show’s worst helpings of lazy writing this season, where Rick’s company bands together and takes out seemingly over a thousand Walkers because they have the power of friendship or something, without a single fatality. Yeah, bullshit. Clearly, the writers had written themselves into a corner with the walls of Alexandria being breached and flooded by Walkers, and the hasty excuse to undo this forced development from the midseason finale was pretty transparent. It was a moment so shameful and contrived that it undermined the very premise of the show, and threatened to be a shark-jumping moment that permanently put off quite a few fans. This de-fanged the Walkers, and made them seem like no big deal. Before this (and seemingly after this), even one Walker is a big danger, but apparently, if you’re angry enough, you can hack through a thousand of them and not suffer a scratch. Seriously, The Walking Dead?
Back to a positive note though, another flaw from Season Five that Season Six ended up fixing, is that it stopped finding cheap excuses to kill characters for half-baked drama. Sure, some characters inevitably died over the course of the season (one of whom we didn’t see, and I’ll get to that later), but the deaths were better earned, and flowed a lot better with the storyline, rather than Season Five’s approach of killing a character, then saying that this character is dead, and we should be sad now because this character is dead, to the point where it was killing characters for stupid reasons, and introducing new characters just so they could be killed off in a few episodes.
Instead, we got a welcome focus on characters that we already know and have been well established this season, though unfortunately, this was dragged down by some really questionable character writing at times. Carol suffered the most in the season’s back half, since she suddenly decided that she was no longer killing people, seemingly out of nowhere, even when it would be justified, and even when she clearly has the power to do so for the greater good, and her own survival. This character turn came out of nowhere, and really wasn’t well-explained, especially when Carol left Alexandria for literally no reason, just to create more filler episodes towards the end of the season.
Likewise, characters would come and go places when it’s really not called for, and would put themselves in danger when it’s clearly not called for, among many other head-scratching moments. The biggest head-scratching moment came from Rick leaving Gabriel of all people in charge of Alexandria, as he inexplicably takes all of his best people to try and find medical help for Maggie, after a pregnancy complication, leaving Alexandria virtually defenseless, and in the hands of someone proven to be a turncoat in the wrong situation. Why the hell would he do that?! For all of the great character moments that Season Six had, they were unfortunately dragged down by quite a few stupid moments too.
Amazingly, no one in Rick’s crew died this season (excluding the mystery death in the season finale, since we don’t know who that is), but Alexandria suffered a few fatalities, including Deanna, Nicholas, the Anderson family, and Denise. While the Anderson family death was another hasty clean-up for characters that the writers no longer cared about, and Denise’s death was a little unintentionally silly, Deanna’s and Nicholas’ deaths were great moments, which packed the proper dramatic punch, and didn’t feel cheap. The same would have been true of Denise’s death as well, had the show not strangely forgotten about Tara in the final few episodes, beyond a couple of token mentions by other characters. That’s kind of a big oversight, The Walking Dead.
That said however, while the show avoided cheap, forced deaths this season (Anderson family aside), it can’t be forgiven for committing what’s potentially an even worse sin; Trolling fans into believing that certain beloved characters have died, when they’re perfectly fine. This was at its worst with Daryl, who is believed to be shot and killed with a big comical blood splatter in the season’s penultimate episode, only to have Daryl be perfectly fine, beyond looking a little pale, in the season finale, the very next episode! This same thing occurred with Glenn over a few episodes however, who was dropped into a horde of Walkers when Nicholas commits suicide, and appears to have been killed, only to survive by rolling under a dumpster and waiting it out, then rejoining everyone when it’s convenient. The show even removed Steven Yeun’s name from the opening credits, to further dick with people. That’s not cool, AMC! Not only are these fake, fan-trolling killings cheap and stupid, but they date the season immensely, since repeat viewings where people know this doesn’t pan out will just make these moments look especially awful. As I noted in my review of the season finale, I think Talking Dead is to blame for this idea of intentionally riling up fans with a fake death, but that’s no excuse. This is unacceptable, not to mention lazy in terms of creating drama!
Of course, this was at its worst in the season finale, and let’s talk about this gem of a season ending that had most fans rightfully enraged. Again, let’s start with the positives, which pretty much entirely comprise Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s new arch-villain, Negan. Negan is awesome. Morgan’s playful, but sinister performance is immediately striking, and already rivals The Governor as this show’s best villain overall. The final ten minutes or so of the season finale were a highlight moment for the season, as Negan has all of Rick’s finest fighters on their knees, threatening to kill one of them for their mass murder of his men. As Negan toys with the crew, and seemingly randomly chooses a victim to beat to death with his barbed baseball bat, “Lucille”, it’s impossible not to feel your heart race with legitimate dread!
On a brief side note, regarding Negan’s gang, The Saviors, maybe they’ll be deadlier villains next season, but until Negan actually arrived with his best men to put Rick and co. in their place, these guys were disappointing pushovers. I’m surprised that Negan would even be bothered by the loss of these guys, since most of them are pretty incompetent. They’re at least better than The Wolves, a bunch of complete throwaway thugs who raided Alexandria a grand total of once, and were almost completely wiped out by the end, despite their big foreshadowing at the end of Season Five. The big thing about The Wolves is that they don’t use guns, and were supposed to be more savage and primal, but it’s unsurprising that these idiots didn’t stick, especially since they would no doubt clearly be quite literally outgunned by the majority of survivors in this post-apocalyptic world.
Back to the big Negan moment though, it was so fantastically done for the most part, and that’s why it’s infuriating that it faceplanted right at the end, with the season ending as Negan beats down one of Rick’s allies from a POV shot, obscuring who the victim is. While this is an interesting idea on paper, it was pretty bad in execution, ending this already uneven season on a pretty sour note, for two reasons.
First, leaving the victim a mystery is completely unnecessary, and the cliffhanger would have had the same effect (or more likely, a better effect), had we known who died, and had Negan used the final seconds to start laying out his terms to Rick properly after proof that he meant business. Second, it’s another infuriating fan troll, and clearly the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the fan outcry from this moment was pretty huge, for good reason, and was the biggest moment of backlash from a season that already courted quite a bit of backlash and bled viewers. To put it simply, toying with your fans like this has a credit limit, and The Walking Dead used up all of its credit long before this moment. That’s why people were angry; They are clearly sick and tired of this show screwing with them like this, not only because it’s annoying and unnecessary, but because it amounts to The Walking Dead treating viewers like they’re stupid, and like they’ll bark and clap for pretty much anything.
There were enough good moments in Season Six to prove that this show is still worth watching, especially with the huge promise behind Negan’s introduction at the end of the season, but The Walking Dead really needs to cut out the cheap trickery, and step up its narrative quality. The show is relying too much on fan expectation and fan trolling now, and that’s starting to overtake the need for good storytelling, sensible character turns, and satisfying resolutions. Glimmers of inspiration still shone with standout episodes like, “Here’s Not Here” and, “The Same Boat” this season, but those great moments would too often be followed by episodes that were contrived, half-baked or boring. Negan looks to be a big part of the fresh blood that The Walking Dead sorely needs next season, and hopefully, he lives up to his incredible promise in Season Seven, since fans aren’t going to put up with this show’s cheap tricks and fake-outs forever, and AMC had best be reminded of that.
- Some fantastic episodes like "Here's Not Here" and "The Same Boat"
- Rick and co. embracing a better community
- Negan's badass, memorable introduction at the end
- Too much sloppy writing and inexplicable character turns
- Glenn's and Daryl's fake, fan-trolling. "Deaths"
- Saviors aren't a credible threat until the finale