Two full seasons of “Rick vs. Negan” drudgery and all we get as the big payoff is an abortive firefight and a fistfight that didn’t end with either man (i.e. Negan) dead? Good lord, what a stinker. Normally you can count on the season finale for three things: A major casualty, an above-average battle, and closure to some narrative arc. Last night we got one out of three plus a tangle of loose ends and unanswered questions. Why did Eugene sabotage the Saviors’ bullets after serving Negan faithfully for so long? One two-minute lecture from Rosita in the last episode about doing something meaningful with his life couldn’t have had that much influence over him, especially when she was trying to kidnap him at the time. What was the point of those scenes with Aaron and the Oceansiders all season long? They showed up at the Hilltop last night and threw some firebombs at the Saviors, but that was their entire contribution to the episode. All those screentime minutes just for that 15-second scene in the finale?
Whatever happened to that helicopter from the junkyard a few episodes ago?
The writing was so, so weak. How many different players had an embarrassingly clunky monologue? Rick had two; Ezekiel had one; and Negan had that excruciating Bond-villain-style “my master plan is about to vanquish the hero and surely nothing can go wrong” disquisition right before the Saviors’ guns blew up. He spent the episode inexplicably sparing people he had every reason to kill, too. He didn’t kill Dwight, I guess, because Dwight had to be made to witness the Grimes gang’s ultimate defeat. Same for Gabriel despite his escape attempt. I nearly turned it off, though, when he gave Rick 10 seconds to make the Carl pitch for peace to him when he could have bashed his head in then and there. Mike Myers satirized the gimmick of the villain inexplicably giving the hero time to collect himself and wriggle out of trouble 20 years ago in “Austin Powers” yet TWD is still doing it earnestly today. Even the Saviors’ failed ambush was painfully corny. What kind of military leader leads the enemy into a trap and then insists on holding fire so that he can announce himself and trash talk on a bullhorn first? You can hear almost Scott Evil’s voice: Why don’t you just shoot them?
It was pulp. And not good pulp like Romero-era zombie movies, either. It was embarrassingly cliched bad-action-movie pulp. Even that might have been forgiven had the actors sold you on it, but with the exception of the always game Lennie James (who’s now off to another show) and poor Lauren Cohan, forced to shriek like a lunatic after Negan was spared, the whole thing felt phoned in despite the fact that it was the climax of a massively hyped multi-year plot line. Did the cast and crew get as bored with the Saviors by the end as the audience was?
After about 65 minutes I was prepared to make this the final grumble thread, as even a masochist can take only so much. But Maggie scheming against Rick and Michonne reeled me back in, at least for a few episodes this fall. There were nonsensical elements to that too, of course. Why would Daryl and especially Jesus suddenly be gung ho to punish Rick and Michonne for sparing Negan? Daryl bears Negan a grudge for imprisoning him in the Sanctuary but he and Rick are practically brothers. The solution to his problem with Rick is to sneak into the infirmary and murder Negan, not turn on Rick, let alone Michonne, over it. Jesus is an even stranger participant since he was the guy who spent most of the season urging Maggie not to murder the Savior prisoners and then spent most of last night urging Morgan not to murder living combatants. Now he’s ready to exile Rick and Michonne, if not kill them, for not tearing Negan apart. Makes no sense. But the idea of sweet farmgirl Maggie Rhee turning into a vengeful, ruthless mini-dictator is attractive, and when you add the prospect of civil war with Rick, it’s irresistible. The show’s biggest dramatic failing is that its characters never seem to develop. At best they run in circles like Rick does, forever oscillating between mercy and wrath. Looks like we’re about to get some major development with Maggie, though, and a civil-war arc that probably should have happened five years ago. Better late than never?
I’ll give them to Thanksgiving to bring me back into the fold. Or Christmas. Maybe Valentine’s Day. The show has to be headed somewhere creative eventually, if only by sheer accident. I live in terror that the week I finally give up on it will be the week it finally starts getting good. (He said to himself in 2025.) Exit quotation from IndieWire, describing Rick slashing Negan’s throat: “Don’t worry, though! It was one of those super-precise minor throat slashings that can be stitched up by a med student in the middle of a field.”