Major spoilers from Sunday night's "The Walking Dead" finale, "Last Day on Earth," lie ahead.
"The Walking Dead" has been teasing the game-changing intensity of its Season 6 finale, "Last Day on Earth," for months. Most of the fandom — besides the rare ones who don't read any comics spoilers, that is — knew we'd be meeting Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan, and many of us also knew that a main character would find themselves on the bad end of that character's be-spiked bat, Lucille.
But what happened when Robert Kirkman's comic series' biggest bad finally arrived, after eight whole episodes of buildup, might prove to have the opposite affect of what "The Walking Dead" folks were intending. Because instead of serving as a dynamite intro to the series' final act, all "Last Day on Earth" did was reinforce the point that this show has gotten terrible at actually killing off its main characters.
Or, more specifically, we heard someone die when the camera went to black, but we'll have to wait until next October to find out who that someone is. If we decide to accept "The Walking Dead" for what it is and continue with the show, that is.
I would be extremely curious to learn what these last couple of months have been like for "Walking Dead" showrunner Scott Gimple and his staff, who have undoubtedly read how people feel about The Glenn Situation from last fall — and I would venture a guess that they've read at least some of the popular opinion about last week's Daryl death fake-out as well. I wonder if knowing how poorly people are responding to the Grimes Gang having more lives than Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman would have changed how this all went down.
Consistently telling an audience that Anyone Can Die and that utter mayhem is rapidly approaching, then asking it to be content with fake-outs and cliffhangers, is no way to build trust or good favor. Someone should have died onscreen for the Negan entrance to carry the same emotional weight on the show as it did in the comics.
Now, we'll have more than six months to wait. By the time we find out who died, we'll not only be totally ready for it, we'll have also grown impatient with waiting and maybe even be a little bit grateful to Negan for ending months of unnecessary suffering.
What's worse is that the 80 minute — 80 minutes! On a Sunday! — buildup to Negan's entrance was nothing but a whole bunch of unnecessary waiting as well. Did we really need all four roadblocks to hammer in the point that the Saviors have gotten good at this? Did we need all 10-15 minutes of their monologuing?
And why give us an entire fantastic episode of Carol fighting Paula and her group of Saviors — making us realize that they're flawed but human, just like the Grimes Gang — only to do a 180, and reveal them to be one-dimensional cartoonish psychopaths after all? Why spend a season making two of the best actors on this show, Lennie James and Melissa McBride, do things that aren't only stupid, they're completely out of character and ultimately pretty boring? Why make the Grimes Gang say and do things that are so boastful and unlikable, that it's easy to root for an actor as charismatic as Jeffrey Dean Morgan to beat the living hell out of them once he finally arrives onscreen?
I don't know the answer to any of this, obviously. And when "Walking Dead" comes back next fall, god willing, I'll still be sitting here ready to see who met their maker tonight. But the trust built with episodes like "The Same Boat" and "Not Tomorrow Yet" is gone, and it sucks pretty hard that "The Walking Dead" had so much to work with with this new "Alexandria as a permanent home" setting, and wasted it by A) making our characters do very unrealistic things to set up an iconic scene from the comic books, and B) refusing to kill off even a B-character like Eugene or Rosita.
Here's to hoping that Gimple and co. really listen to what fans and critics are saying right now, take it in, and do better next year. And until then, let's all get excited to see "The Walking Dead" cast enjoy their Kit Harington-style summer of deceit and exhausting interviews.