Warning: This contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead ended its sixth season with a skull crushing blow that will leave you feeling a mixed bag of emotions. Shocked, angry, upset, maybe even delighted, as finally we meet Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), leader of the Saviours and harbinger of death to at least one of our survivors. The events of Last Day on Earth will have serious ramifications for Season 7, not just because we are at least one survivor short, but how Rick (Andrew Lincoln) will unleash his personal brand of justice, if he even has the ability to anymore.
With Maggie (Lauren Cohan) in need of medical attention, all the Alexandrians that we care about – and those that haven’t already been taken by the Saviours – pile into an RV and make their way to the Hilltop. Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) is left in charge of Alexandria’s defence; he’s proud and strong once again, telling Rick he would do anything to protect Alexandria, although his first duty is to Judith. Gabriel has found God again and that God is Rick Grimes. As the survivors set out, Rick commands those staying behind that if the Saviours turn up, they should tell them to wait for him. He’s confident and cocky – he has led people to war before and they’ve survived, and he doesn’t see this going any differently. His faith is still strong that if Alexandria sticks together, they can achieve anything.
Almost instantly, Rick’s mentality is put to the test, when the RV runs into a Saviour roadblock who spray-paint a beaten captive with a cross. They exchange threats about living their last day on Earth but without bloodshed, Rick retreats his group back in search of a different route. Yet every way they turn they encounter another Saviour blockade, burning logs, a chain-link fence of walkers, dozens of Saviours. With each obstacle he encounters, Rick starts to look more and more broken, as he realises that he has grossly under-estimated his opponent. Having slaughtered several Saviours, each claiming to be Negan, Rick had every right to think that the threat had been eliminated. Yet as they encounter the final hurdle on their path, the strength of the Saviours is revealed, as echoes of creepy whistles in the wind uncover a herd of enemies laying in wait.
While Rick looks to be starting to break down over putting his new family in jeopardy, Carol (Melissa McBride) has reached the pinnacle of hers. Morgan (Lennie James) finds her in a bad way, bleeding out from a wound sustained in the shoot-out and mentally scarred by everything she’s done. Her philosophy for leaving is that by not being around the people she loves, she will not have to kill to save them. But she doesn’t grasp that having left them alone, she is leaving them to die. Morgan won’t let her give up, but Carol is too far gone and manages to give him the slip, only to end up caught by the Saviour hunting her since the fracas at the car. Unrelenting, he fires bullets into her arm and leg but she just laughs. She wants to die; to her, it’s the only way she can escape the horror that surrounds her and so when the Saviour walks away, she begs for him to come back and finish the job. Fortunately (although maybe not for Carol), Morgan arrives just in time and when pushed, he finally pulls the trigger on the gun Rick gave him – proving he is willing to kill for the people he loves, if there really is no other way. We know Morgan thinks people can come back; hopefully, Carol can come back from this trauma as she and Morgan are taken away by strangers willing to help.
Season 6 has been building to this moment. It’s been a journey filled with tension and bloodshed, but casting everything in shadow is the name Negan. The relationships forged in Alexandria have been waiting for this moment when they could be torn apart. All this build-up, sometimes slow, sometimes agonising, finally concludes with a skull-smashing blow. The introduction of Negan is delightful; he’s dark, but he has a charismatic quality about him. You can’t help but like him and Jeffrey Dean Morgan feels a perfect fit for the role. As he explains that Rick has killed a lot of his men and, for that, at least one of them must die in return, you might find yourself agreeing with him. There can be no argument that Rick has become a monster and in a post-apocalyptic world, the only form of justice is an eye for an eye.
If you know of Negan from the comic books, you know he is a little bit sweary, favouring use of the F-word a lot. Over the course of his 15-page introduction, he uses the word 35 times. His on-screen monologue is almost identical, word for word, save those too rude for TV. The lack of swearing doesn’t make his appearance any less frightening and leaves us shaking, as we watch Negan move his baseball bat from person to person, singing a playground rhyme, as he tries to decide just who he needs to make an example of. But there are no games as the episode ends. The final shot airs from the point of view of our victim, the screen going black and red amidst screams from the other survivors when the bat comes down with a thud. Negan might not be swearing (yet), but that won’t stop you yelling an F-bomb when the realisation sinks in that we’re left waiting until October to find out who has had their brains splattered.
That’s the big mystery that will have bookmakers taking your money until the next season. If you ask us, we think your money is safe on Abraham (Michael Culditz). For the past few episodes, the ginger moustache has been getting his life together. He has seen that there is a new world out there and that it’s one that you can, and he is willing to, bring children into. He has moved on from the textbook sex with Rosita (Christian Serratos), while Eugene (Josh McDermitt) watched from behind the bookcase, instead expressing true love with Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). He has also forgiven Eugene for the lies he told, releasing his grip on the reins and sharing a cuddle with him. Abraham is the one character who has almost made his peace with the world and found his own happiness – which would make now just the right time to have it smashed all away from him.
But in reality, no one is safe from the bloodthirsty bat. Daryl (Norman Reedus) is alive, barely, so those potential riots will be called off for the summer. He has been another prime candidate to feed Lucille in this finale, but his story doesn’t feel finished – he still has a gear to grind with Dwight (Austin Amelio) who once again holds the crossbow.
The result may feel like a cheap finish, that the pay-off never came to those who invested themselves in the season, but it will make you tune in next time and allows for plenty of thought and discussion. If, like Gabriel and the rest of Alexandria, we truly believe in Rick Grimes, then we need to spend the summer praying that he rises again from this tragedy.
The Walking Dead Season 6 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. You can also buy and download it on pay-per-view VOD. For more information, click here.
Photo: Gene Page / AMC