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Published on April 5th, 2016 | by Bean

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The Walking Dead Season Six Finale Review – Episode 16 “Last Day On Earth”

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WARNING: SEASON FINALE SPOILERS!  

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Anyone with an ounce of engagement, investment or empathy will likely have been feeling as I did in the lead up to viewing The Walking Dead’s sixth season finale; apprehension at the morbid likelihood of another massacre, as the general sense of foreboding that has been mounting for weeks built to a peak. I also felt an odd conflict as the part of me which wanted to rip the plaster off and have done with it battled with the part who couldn’t believe the end was already here. Wait till October? Again?!

Ross Marquand as Aaron - The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 16 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Well, the end came and went and I was no less anxious after than before I watched “Last Day On Earth”. I literally had the shakes during the credits (for shame, it’s a television show!), which certainly could have been caffeine, but was in part an honest physiological response to the strain of suspense. And let’s be honest, we are now all cliffhangered ’til the autumn, dammit!

The appeal of “Last Day On Earth” is in how well Greg Nicotero ratchets the tension in ways perhaps unexpected. For my part, I was certainly imagining an Alexandrian assault, and it’s to the credit of the storytelling that they chose to avoid that trap. The show runners have been laying the groundwork for such an assumption, heavily auguring the need for it’s protection all season, but I’m glad these were misdirects. Attacking the township has been played out enough now, and with last episode leaving many of our main characters scattered to the wind, it was an intriguing development to throw the rest of the beloveds out into no man’s land too.

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Morgan, out alone looking for his quarry, the elusive Miss Peletier, finds first a horse and then Carol. Their scenes see Carol reiterating her stance on where she feels her future and her choices about it lie. She is becoming as dogmatic as Morgan has been, a natural response from a traumatised and terrified human. When she is finally hunted down by one of the Saviours, she truly hits bottom, clamouring for this to be her last day, first from her attacker and then from Morgan. The arrival of two armoured dudes on horseback is a welcome reprieve, finally a turn in someone’s luck. The statement “You are alive”, and the celebration of this mere fact, is the only victory The Walking Dead gives us tonight. But it really is quite a feat in the new world, and one that is central to Morgan’s life-affirming philosophy.

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The logic behind the decision to take Rick, Carl, Abraham, Sasha, Eugene and Aaron out onto the road lies in their mission to save Maggie, who began experiencing sudden and violent abdominal pains at the close of the previous episode. There is an obstetrician at Hilltop, and Maggie is ailing fast; they must try to save her and her baby. There is little time to argue the toss over who should stay or go, and how protected or otherwise Alexandria remains in these pivotal fighters’ absence. If Carl locking Enid in a closet feels a mite absurd and frankly a fairly duff move as far as quasi-romantic-protective gestures go (how is she supposed to defend herself or Alexandria from a closet, Carl?!), then it is another nod to the ‘coming onslaught’.

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Of course, the real terror is out beyond the relative safety of Alexandria’s perimeters. The RV meets one Saviour roadblock after another over the course of the first two thirds of this 65 minute episode. The luxurious runtime allows for maximum panic to mount. Each barrier hems our heroes in and robs them of choices. Five times they are barricaded, three times with soldiers and vehicles, one with an inventive use of chains and walkers (replete with the mind-game triggers of one of Michonne’s dreads and Daryl’s arrows) and one vast flaming log pile. Each move is an increasing show of force and numbers, the scale of the enemy growing with each prod toward the inevitable trap.

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Eventually the group must become truly reckless, abandon the defence of their vehicle and go on foot through the forest with their patient on a stretcher (so no running if chased, then). Each barricade occurs slowly, cornering Rick mentally as well as physically, his cocksure attitude slipping by increments at each failed attempt to cut through the enemy line. By the episode’s halfway point, he is beginning to show the strain and it is a relief when the decisions become delegated.

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Eugene, the self-proclaimed anchorman, really comes good for the team in “Last Day On Earth”, bringing his valuable capacity for creative thinking to the table, along with his newly acquired skills of bravery in the field and self-sacrifice in the final aborted plan to mislead the Saviours in the RV. It all starts to look extra grim for our erstwhile comic foil; he even gets goodbyes, a tearful hug with Abraham and strings in the score. Now we’re all thinking ‘definitely, Eugene’s for the chop then, they’ve shown us bullet holes in the RV, it’s super penetrable, he’s doomed.’ It is ostensibly a kamikaze mission. But again, it doesn’t end up a termination, or at least we don’t know that it did.

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And then we finally meet the big man. Negan. With little more than ten minutes of screen-time, Jeffrey Dean Morgan makes his inimitable stamp as the very worst human being we’ve met so far. Oh, for the halcyon days of Wolves or cannibals or Governors. Alas. JDM is a canny piece of casting – one that I wish hadn’t been so widely known for months, frankly – well-suited to the shit-eating-grin merchant of oppression.

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The new world order under Negan’s rule is one remorseless power grab after another, a nihilistic distortion of Enid’s mantra – just survive somehow. He is not interested in ‘growing a garden’ as he puts it, his community is just so many walking bullets. His most telling remark refers to Rick having killed more of his men ‘than he was comfortable with’. Now that’s cold. He is fearsome, and yet just a man. It is his force of will that is frightening.

Danai Gurira as Michonne; Michael Cudlitz as Sgt Abraham Ford; Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene; Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes; Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha; Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan - The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 16 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

So, the big finale. It’s hard to describe and contemplate the weight of how vile the final scene is. How far from humanity civilisation has descended in the desire to plunder the scraps. The suffering of our heroes, the glee and arrogance of the Big Bad, the immovable cruelty of the Saviours as they whistle like a pack of actual wolves. Like I said, I was shaking after. So let’s just look at the facts and the remaining questions. Who is brutally bludgeoned to death? Whose perspective is that final, terrible POV shot from? And why was it necessary? Stylistically, it’s interesting, if infuriating. It’s a hell of a suspenseful way to end.

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You can try to logic out the answer any way you please, but no definitives are available, we simply have to wait. My money is on Maggie (because you simply cannot show the pregnant lady beaten to death?) or Abraham (he did stand up). If it is the latter, I’d be just as gutted as the former, but he did get to have a beautiful emotional epiphanic breakthrough with Sasha and say the line “Bitch-nuts” three seconds later, so he’s had a good innings.

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But the real mystery is how will Rick and co. go forward in Season 7? The odds they face really seem insurmountable. We can hope The Mounties (for want of a better term) may have a decent squad to retaliate with, and they look well kitted out, but by this point Negan’s crew could be 100 strong, or more. Can Rick bend to the will of a sociopathic, fascist bully? And could we watch as he does? Andrew Lincoln, always doing sterling work but really bringing it here, plays Rick’s crisis as part terror for his crew’s lives, part existential collapse. His whole world view has been toppled, and there is nowhere to go but down.

Review by Nina Clark

p.s. I’ll be reviewing the new season of Game of Thrones in a couple of weeks, so don’t go away peeps!

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Bean

Director at Nina Clark Music / The Musical Walkabout at Nina Clark Music
Bean is the family nickname of Nina Clark, singer, songwriter and professional musician. Nina's many nerdly passions, aside from music, include Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and all things Whedon. (re. GoT, she has NOT read the books, so please be cool - no spoilers!)
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