The Walking Dead: Wrath

"My mercy prevails over my wrath."

Wow. The Walking Dead just shocked me more than it ever has since Season 5, by doing the one thing I didn't expect them to do: tell a good, strong story without resorting to cheap shock tactics.

Seriously, has The Walking Dead ever had a finale or even mid-season finale where not a single named character dies? That shows a level of restraint I genuinely didn't think possible. Oh, wait, I guess Regina died but she was barely a character so I'm not counting her. Do you know who Regina is, person who viewed the finale and is now reading this? Without jumping on the wiki? I thought not. But the result was one of the most satisfying finales I think they've ever done, and considering the absolute dumpster fire this season has been generally, that's saying something. It's like the drunk, disruptive guy who's been ruining the party for everyone just paid for everyone to go home in stretch limos.

My expectations for a finale of The Walking Dead were mostly subverted. Aside from the lack of character deaths, nothing was stretched out and the story moved in a logical direction. There were no shocking swerves, and best of all? No cliffhanger. I seriously thought they were going to leave us on a cliffhanger, perhaps with Rick discovering a mortal wound on his person or the like. That didn't happen. We didn't get a "come back next season", we got an ending, which makes all the difference.


So the war is at long last over, and we can all breath a collective sigh of relief that both the characters and show can move on. The Saviors arc wore out its welcome a long, long time ago, but I really can't think of a better way to end it aside from killing Negan. And don't worry, I'll get to freakin' Negan. For now, I admit that I actually cheered when the guns started exploding in their hands thanks to Eugene's sabotage. Although I'd predicted such a thing would happen, it wasn't any less satisfying. In fact, it was more satisfying because it had been hinted at. Had it been a shock out of nowhere, it might've even pissed me off, but this was not a trick played on the audience. This was a trick Eugene played on the Saviors, and one the audience could guess at. I didn't even mind how unlikely it was that every Savior would fire their gun at the same time, and not prior. Not even to kill a Walker. And with that, let's talk about Eugene Porter. The man, the mystery, the mullet.

Eugene is one of my favorite characters, in part because he's much like I would behave during the apocalypse: weak, scared, relying on others for protection. And he's not just relatable, he's a fascinating character in his own right: a man so aware of his own weakness, yet also convinced of his intellectual superiority. Couple that with his bizarre mannerisms and strange hair, and you have a true weirdo. I have a soft spot for weirdos. The thing is, Eugene is so much stronger and braver than he thinks he is. It took serious guts to sabotage the Saviors right under their noses, and he didn't hesitate to run into the woods to save both Gabriel and his cover. Josh McDermitt was fantastic in that scene.

That said, Eugene has been saddled with a tiresome storyline for a long time, and is all the more frustrating for its initial promise and the potential that was only fulfilled in this episode. We didn't need to see episode after episode of Eugene struggling with his decision. We just needed one that showed he was with the Saviors but conflicted. That was all, and from that episode on, the only thing required of Eugene would be the occasional shot of him looking upset or sneaking a drink. We didn't need a rant to Gabriel about his own survival or the like. I'm happy it's over, and I'm happy he's back with Rick's group. I also loved Rosita giving him a hard punch, and Eugene admitting he deserved it. He's still probably got a way to go before he's entirely forgiven.

How lovely was it that Gabriel got a happy ending, after all his suffering? He was so torn up and on the verge of total despair, yet still so courageous. The Alexandria church seemed to be fairly heavy symbolism for Gabriel's own condition: damaged to the brink of collapse, but still standing, and allowing the light in. I'm not religious myself, but I dislike when grimdark shows depict faith (usually religious faith) as being a foolish or childish quality. Gabriel's faith was tested, but he's come out all the stronger for it.

Rick and Morgan, who were with us all the way from the beginning and were suffering through the same call to the dark side, both made good choices too. Morgan realized he wanted to be on a show with Kim Dickens, so he left, and Rick made the choice to honor Carl's memory in part due to Morgan. Carl's death is still a mistake, and it might still damn the show, but it was believable that Carl motivated Rick to mercy. I want the old Rick back, I want Officer Friendly, although he might have been Officer Far-Too-Friendly in this case. He got to throw down with Negan one last time; that final fight between Rick and Negan was short and intense, with neither of them at their strongest. It was right there when Negan should have died.


I understand why they let Negan live, I do. Even when he collapsed with his throat gushing blood, I knew he would live. The showrunners have invested a lot in shilling Negan to the audience, and they were never going to let him die. From a story perspective, Rick showing Negan mercy is the most noble thing he could have done and does show a significant step toward building a just and working new society. They did the best they could to sell it, but really? Maggie is right. Letting the Saviors surrender and then absorbing them into the community is the right thing to do, and merely slaughtering them all turns Rick's group into monsters. Killing Negan, however, is not nearly the same thing. This is coming from an anti-death penalty guy, although I think those questions need to be reconsidered in a post-apocalyptic world. The fact of the matter is, Negan is dangerous. He is a bloviating psychopath who poses a danger to every living person. Killing him is not a matter of sheer vengeance or even justice for his many, many victims, but a matter of self-preservation. A living Negan is an unnecessary risk to everyone. I'm reminded of a quote from the recent, fantastic comedy The Death of Stalin. I don't know if it constitutes a spoiler, but I'll keep it vague. The quote is, "The only choice we have is between his death or his revenge."

Rick, if you want to deal with Negan the civilized way, give him a trial. That way your hands are clean and Negan's death is assured. Negan would need some Voltron-esque combination of Johnnie Cochran, Clarence Darrow and Saul Goodman to slip out of that noose. Yet it speaks to how much I liked this episode that the way Negan was dealt with didn't bother me too much. Maybe it was because I was expecting it, or because I felt like karmic justice had been mostly delivered. Pasty, scared-of-his-own-shadow-because-his-shadow-could-kick-his-ass Eugene beat the big, bad Negan. That must have stung, especially considering how personally Negan takes betrayal. And then Dwight, with his cuffs on, managed to get his licks in and then in comes Gabriel with one hell of a hook. These three men, all broken, all flawed, managed to humiliate the living embodiment of their fears. It was downright beautiful to watch. As Negan was stumbling away in undignified fashion, I bet he was wondering how the hell anyone got the better of him, especially people who he thought he'd broken.

I think the best thing to come out of the Saviors arc has been Dwight. I kind of want him to get his own spin-off as he searches for Sherry. When Daryl brought Dwight out into the woods, Dwight thought he was going to be executed, and thought he was ready. That break-down was some of Austin Amelio's best work, and that's saying something as he's been a consistant bright spot since he was introduced. Dwight did evil things, but he is not an evil man. He is not a monster. He was coerced, manipulated, and turned into a weapon by a monster. He deserves as much happiness as anyone else in the show, and even though I'd miss Amelio's performance, I almost hope this is the last we see of Dwight. Perhaps we can see him in the series finale, a quick glimpse showing that he's living his own life with Sherry.


It seems that Maggie might actually be the villain next season, and I don't blame her. Even with Negan alive, Rick could have explained his thought process more thoroughly, and he really owed her that much. I'm not sure it would have helped, though. She saw the man she loved get brutally murdered by a man who made a joke of it. Maggie has been keeping it together, but that anguished demand for vengeance was very affecting. And Daryl might have spared Dwight, but he's still full of hatred and still blames himself for Glenn's death. But why was she letting Jesus in on her plan? Jesus, who is still in the show (yeah, I was surprised too), is just as much a pacifist as ever. Wouldn't he just tell Maggie no and run straight to Rick? Whatever the case, I'll be interested to see where they go with this. I also wouldn't mind if Alden died between seasons, since he just bothers me for some reason. Maybe it's the accent, or maybe I just miss Glenn so much I don't want to see Maggie with anyone else.

This season has been a bit of a slog, and a controversial slog at that. The ratings plummeted, the critics didn't much care for it, and the fans rightly hated some of the straight-up foolish writing decisions that were made in service of shocks. Yet, this finale does give me hope. Maybe I'm like any of the characters in The Walking Dead, blindly believing things will get better while a Walker stumbles toward me with a steak knife and a nice port. This finale, however, went some way to healing old wounds. The slate has been cleared, and here's hoping next season we'll move toward some coherent storylines that move at a good place, consistent characters, and strong internal logic. For this finale, I will say this: You did good, The Walking Dead. You did good.


Bits & Bobs

- I'm excited to see what happens next with Jadis, or rather Anne. Also, I guessed her name! When Morgan first arrived, I knew she was going to tell him her real name, and I thought of "Anna" probably because of Pollyanna. I'm so stoked I was one letter off being completely right.

- I did miss Gregory this week. C'mon, Maggie, he did his best. With a little help, he can improve, can't he? I'd hate to lose Xander Berkeley, although I get the feeling that maybe Berkeley just wasn't able to be on set during shooting. That off-hand comment about leaving him in the house seemed like it was forced by circumstances.

- I admit to getting emotional at those scenes of Rick walking with Carl.

- Negan admitted that he made a choice back when he killed Abraham and Glenn. Jeffrey Dean Morgan had stated as much in interviews, and it makes sense. If I wanted to take out a threat, I'd take out big, strong, defiant Abraham. Glenn seemed more random and in response to Daryl's outburst.

- Did we see Aaron? Did I miss him? He was there, because the Oceanside were there.

- I'm oddly fond of Laura the tattooed Savior, although I found her turn from vicious Negan loyalist to surrendering peacemaker a little abrupt. Maybe she didn't like the way Negan sacrificed his Saviors. Still, I hope Lindsley Register gets bumped up to regular; she's fun and cute.

- I see why they killed Simon before the finale. He would never surrender or accept anything less than a straight-up slaughter, and like Negan, he would have been too deadly to keep alive. Keeping Negan alive is one thing, but both Negan and Simon would have strained belief for too many people. Perhaps they could have shared a cell and got a little sitcom going.

- It was ruthlessly clever of Negan to use Simon's remaining loyalists as fodder.

- The set-ups for next season are Maggie's turn to possible villainy, Anne's helicopter and Georgie's people. I bet Jayne Atkinson will be a regular next season.

- I take Andrew Lincoln for granted as a leading man, but I was reminded just how great he is in this episode.

- In my opinion, the best performances all season belong to Austin Amelio, Steven Ogg, Pollyanna Mcintosh, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Seth Gilliam. Although everyone was pretty brilliant all-around.

Quotes

Eugene: Where does your faith go when you truly need it? Hmm? Seems to me it's the only time worth holding on to.
Eugene was trying to keep Gabriel alive and hopeful here, wasn't he? His tone was cold, but his words were an attempt to encourage.

Negan: You said you didn't want to die a fruitless death. Well, you can't always get what you want.

Rick: Dear Carl. I remember. I forgot who I was. You made me remember. I remember that feeling, walking with you that day. Like I finally knew who I was for the first time in my life. Thing is, we were walking side-by-side, but you were bringin' me somewhere. Bringin' me here. Bringin' all of us to the new world, Carl. You showed me the new world. You made it real.

Four out of four exploding bullets.

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Terrific review, Jonny, of a surprisingly strong finale. Even though I was pretty much expecting it, the line of Saviors having their guns blow up in the hands was just great. I'd been feeling throughout that Eugene was the key and that when it came down to it, he'd choose the right side, but it was still great. So was Dwight, kneeling and expecting execution; I want that character to stay active somehow.

I'm less happy with them signalling that season nine will be civil war, Maggie, Jesus and Daryl versus Rick. I think Maggie has a good enough reason, but I don't want to see it happen. But I guess the conflict has to come from somewhere.

Patryk said...

Maybe they should do a cure storyline and end the show. This could have been a series finale too if not for Maggie scheming at the end.

I wonder if Negan will be in every episode next season or they'll just show him once and let him rot in prison.

Morgan migrating to Fear means that probably we will have a timejump on that show. Maybe he'll hitch a ride on Jadis' helicopter. :)