April 4, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “The Walking Dead”


When a show is as successful as AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD, it can afford to spend virtually the entire back half of a season as little more than a lead-up to the next.  But can it also provide no satisfaction at all when it reaches the end of the season finale?  Of course, Walking Dead is so huge that even if its ratings plunged by 50% next season–which won’t happen–it would still be one of the highest-rated shows on TV.  Still, tonight’s unnecessarily supersized finale, written by showrunner Scott M Gimple and Supervising Producer Matthew Negrete, felt like a cynical, lazy slap in the face to viewers.

The fall arc of Walking Dead had its groaners, especially the fake-out non-death of Glenn (Steven Yeun), whose intestines were apparently ripped out by zombies on screen, only to have them turn out to belong to somebody else.  But at least it had an unusual structure, with most of its events taking place on and around a single day.  When the series returned in 2016, it appeared that the story was again moving in a new and potentially provocative direction, as our protagonists based in Alexandria, Virginia, agreed to defend the Hilltop community against an evil group called the Saviors–but only if they were paid the same tribute that the Saviors received, half the Hilltop assets.  That kind of moral ambiguity was the kind of thing Walking Dead has grappled with from the start, but this time it would be on a more substantial scale.

After those early episodes, though, it became clear that the winter/spring arc was nothing but a set-up for the coming showdown with the Saviors, and in particular with their leader Negan, to be played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan.  When AMC allowed it to be known that Negan wouldn’t actually appear until the closing minutes of the season finale, the rest of the episodes became a repetitive waiting game, as one Alexandrian after another ventured outside the gates for a confrontation with some lower-level Saviors, occasionally suffering a casualty (RIP, Denise), but mostly wiping them out easily enough.  Our heroes became stupider and stupider, seemingly looking for random excuses to leave their relatively safe base, to the extent that Carol (Melissa McBride), one of the show’s best characters, had her entire persona changed, from a shrewd warrior to a neurotic pacifist who couldn’t even bear to be in a community where she might be asked to kill.  By last week’s episode, half the cast was wandering around outside Alexandria and being captured, so inevitably, that meant that the other half of the cast went after them this week, with the added goal of seeking medical help for pregnant Maggie (Lauren Cohan), another strong character made passive in recent episodes.

It led to a largely wasted 90 minutes of season finale, as the Saviors kept showing up to box in Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the rest of the gang, delivering dark threats and then fading away again, in sequences that director Greg Nicotero was unable to make surprising or gripping.  Finally we reached the season’s final act, and there indeed was Jeffrey Dean Morgan, acting like every uber-villain in every B-movie thriller ever made, at first glance not even as interesting as the Governor, who at least had a misguided sense of destiny and nightmarish civic purpose.  Negan appears to be no more than a grinning thug with a barbed-wire-wrapped bat (named Lucille), and he monologued for 10 minutes while we waited for him to do the obvious:  prove himself a villain to be feared by killing a regular cast member.  The script literally degenerated to Negan going “Eeney Meeney Miney Moe” (the politically correct version, despite his evil soul), before at last… cutting to a POV of the person being smashed by Lucille and then to black, without ever revealing who the victim was.

This was meant as a cliffhanger, but it was a cheat, pure and simple, especially in the age of social media, where we’ll all know who’s out of the cast long before the fall premiere.  Worse, it was a cheat that didn’t accomplish anything dramatically, since Negan’s victims could have been a core character like Michonne or a member of the fringe like Rosita.  It was a frustrating end to a weak half-season that didn’t advance the story or characters, and which doesn’t raise one’s hopes at all for next fall.  It’s not just the walkers on The Walking Dead who desperately need fresh brains.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."