April 1, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “The Walking Dead”


Although the ratings continued heading downward, there were heartening developments in the back half of THE WALKING DEAD‘s Season 9.  Under new showrunner Angela Kang, the show took some steps to jar itself loose from the rut it gotten itself into.  The departure of star Andrew Lincoln may have kick-started the need to explore alternative storylines, and the time jump that shortly followed his last episode allowed Walking Dead to shift into a story of community-building and government, rather than the repetitive tales of wandering and encounters with maniacs that marked earlier seasons.

That’s not to say that there was any shortage of flesh-eating creatures, or that we weren’t introduced to another ruthless killer.  This time the latter took the form of Alpha (the magnetic Samantha Morton), leader of a group of survivors known as the Whisperers, who travel among the undead in masks made of their faces, and can pass for zombies until they’re ready to make their murderous presence known.  But even Alpha, as brutal as she was, operated not out of a mad desire for power, but because our heroes had taken in her daughter Lydia (Cassady McClincy).

Tonight’s season finale, written by Kang and Co-Executive Producer Matthew Negrete, and directed by Greg Nicotero (his 29th episode behind the camera), was visually striking, but much less dramatically intense than last week’s installment, which ended with Alpha’s slaughter of multiple humans, including major characters Tara and Henry, as both revenge for Lydia, and to make viciously clear the territory that her tribe claimed as its own.  She appeared only briefly in the finale, which was concerned instead with the dangers caused by a blizzard which required our heroes to go out into the cold, beset by snow-covered Walkers.

The Walking Dead is still a blunt object as drama:  tonight’s sudden break-up of Carol (Melissa McBride) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) didn’t make much sense even after it had been explained, and only the producers know why Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is still part of the show, although he had his moment in the finale as the rescuer of young Judith (Cailey Fleming).  The series is going to lose yet another major character next season, as Danai Gurira has announced that it will be her last, and while Norman Reedus may be the highest-paid member of the cast, his Daryl is still adjacent to the center of the narrative.  (However, considering the ratings for Whiskey Cavalier, Lauren Cohan’s Maggie, carefully kept alive albeit off-screen, may soon be eligible to return.)  Many of the show’s remaining regulars are far less distinctive than the original cast.  In addition, the cliffhanger season kicker of an unidentified voice on a ham radio was less than thrilling.

Still, for a show that’s now probably closer to the end of its run than the beginning, Walking Dead showed some welcome signs of maturity this season.  Episodes took some time to show the survivors metaphorically smelling the roses, with an entire storyline about a daring excursion to capture not food, but the bulb for a movie projector.  Although long-lasting romance continued to be at a premium (at least 4 couples were broken up in the course of the season by violent death), there was at least a willingness to show people having feelings for one another.

The Walking Dead is now a very successful drama, rather than a phenomenon, and if its ratings trends continue, in a couple of seasons it may just be mid-level.  It might be wise for AMC and the producers to start thinking about an endgame.  Creatively, though, it feels for the first time in several seasons as though it’s in worthy hands.


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."