By Nanea Hoffman
Before we all get up in arms about the huge cliffhanger in this season’s breathtaking finale of The Walking Dead, I want to take a moment to celebrate the masterful storytelling of Scott Gimple and company. I know it’s too late for many of you. Your arms are way up there. But that’s exactly why that ending worked.
Because when I say breathtaking, I mean, I almost passed out from lack of oxygen during those final minutes. For the entirety of that episode, I was clenched from head to toe. My body was one big kegel, people. THAT is suspense.
All the subplots of season six were weaving their way toward this massive…not exactly resolution, but I guess you could say culmination. And I don’t mean the much-anticipated appearance of Negan (more on Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s genius performance in a bit). I mean the long, slow fall from grace for Rick and the Alexandrians, if you can consider a tiny bit of security in a devastated world “grace.”
Our group fought their way through despair, death, hunger, betrayal, you name it. And their hard won moments of peace are precious and sweet as a Hilltop apple or an acorn beet cookie.
Our heroes think they’ve finally figured it out. They know how to manage shelter, how to fend off both the dead and the living, how to form a working society. In fact, Rick goes so far as to say, “As long as it’s all of us, we can do anything.” He’s reassuring Maggie that they will get her to Hilltop and that her baby will be fine, but if this were a Greek tragedy, this is the hubris that makes the gods go, “Oh, yeah? We’ll see about that.”
That moment right there encapsulates the journey of this episode, and it’s why I’m fine with the cliffhanger. Because the story isn’t about who gets the business end of Lucille (although I can’t wait to see who it is when next season begins). It’s about bringing Rick and the Alexandrians literally to their knees and having them confront the terrible realization that they are powerless.
I don’t know if this will last because it’s very likely that the conclusion of this episode has turned him into a psychopath, but for now I am truly #TeamCarl. When Carl locks Enid in the closet to keep her safe, it’s only a little bit creepy. It’s mostly endearing. He just wants to keep everyone safe. (This is why I think he’ll go bonkers, btw. Because that is kind of an unattainable goal in Walking Dead world.)
The whole “get Maggie to the doc” road trip is just insanely tense, right from the first encounter with the Saviors. At this point, Rick is still cocky enough that he tells Head Roadblock Guy he’s not going to kill any more Saviors. When they get back into the RV, they’re all still confident that everything is going to be fine. But after encountering the zombie chain gang (with a couple of the zombies accessorized with Michonne’s dreadlocks and one of Daryl’s arrows), that feeling begins to dwindle. By the time they get to the flaming log jam and Head Roadblock Guy asks Rick if he’s treating his people well, like it’s their last day on earth, I’m climbing the back of the couch, because you guys, you guys. Someone is gonna die!
Meanwhile, in The Adventures of Morgan and Carol, we’re learning that having a conscience is a sucky thing in the post-apocalyptic world. Because if you get tired of killing people in order to protect the ones you love, then you basically have to give up all your friends and become a wandering loser. Luckily for Carol, Morgan and his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Bo Staff refuse to let this happen. He finds her slumped in a doorway holding a gut wound, and he vows to bring her back. Even after she pulls a gun on him. She still manages to slip away and that’s when the mortally wounded Savior who escaped the firefight with Carol from last week catches up to her. He starts shooting her in a bunch of places because he wants her to die slow, and Carol is fine with it because she is just done.
However, Morgan shows up and shoots the Savior dead! Thank you. Finally. Sometimes, Morgan, some people need some killin’. Also, remember the barn guy from last week? The one who is looking for his horse? He shows up in some rad cosplay homemade armor. His friend even has what appears to be a lance. These guys must be from the Kingdom, which are another group we’ll hear more about in, oh, six long months. Give or take.
Eventually, Rick and company realize they are being herded toward some location by the Saviors, who are clearly able to anticipate their every move. Eugene figures out that the Saviors are watching the RV, but they don’t necessarily know who is inside it. Which means they can wait until the sun goes down and split up. He, Eugene, will drive the RV as a decoy while the rest of them head for Hilltop with Maggie on foot. This is a pretty fantastic Eugene moment. And the bro hug with Abraham is adorable.
Whatever hope we’ve had for our heroes and their new plan is short lived, though. Because as they make their way through the woods, the air is suddenly filled with creepy-ass whistling. They are surrounded by Saviors, more than they can possibly fight.
And this moment is both sickening and amazing. Because every one of these cast members is acting his or her ass off. The range of emotions you see playing off their faces is incredible. And when Glenn, Michonne, Rosita, and Daryl are brought forth, Glenn’s heartbroken cry of, “Maggie?” is like a fist to the stomach.
Also, let’s talk about Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan.
His gleeful performance is absolutely perfect. He’s venal, violent, and scary as shit, but (or perhaps therefore) deeply compelling. We’re as spellbound as our kneeling friends, watching the barbwire-wrapped Lucille, waiting for the inevitable blow. It’s so intense that when it finally lands, blood running down the POV camera, it’s almost a relief.
I know many fans are not happy, but I’m okay with not knowing who the victim is. Because for me, the climax of the story is when Rick sinks to his knees, shaking and utterly humbled. Everything he thinks he knows is wrong.
I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
Do you have a guess about who Negan killed? Tell us in the comments.