Another year, another topsy-turvy season of The Walking Dead.
*Spoilerific spoilers for The Walking Dead Season Six ahead*
When its firing on all cylinders, The Walking Dead is as good or better than most every other TV show around. Its chief problems have always been pacing and consistency, and once again they rear their ugly heads in the show’s sixth season. It’s become a bit of a tradition for The Walking Dead now. It opens with a bang, meanders its way to an ultimately exciting midseason finale, before a slow return and an exciting season closer. After the fifth season I thought that perhaps showrunner Scott Gimple might well have cracked it finally with a largely non-stop season – yet now I have my doubts. I can’t shake the feeling that the show would benefit from having shorter, focused, punchier seasons.
Because when it’s at its most focused and punchiest, it’s really spectacular stuff. Barring the penultimate instalment, East, the final few episodes represent quite possibly the finest run The Walking Dead has had. From the Rick and the gang’s attack on Negan’s Saviours, right through to the reveal of Negan himself in the final scene of the season, it’s pretty much dynamite in its entirety. I’d exclude East from that equation because a), it was predominantly just an episode of moving the pieces of the puzzle into place for the climax, and b), because of the frustrating Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) fake out death. Yes, The Walking Dead’s most annoying new addition – the character death cliffhanger.
A discussion of season six would not be complete without mentioning poor old Glenn, who seemingly found himself pulled apart and eviscerated by walkers, meeting his maker and waving farewell – or, you know, not so much. With Steven Yeun’s name struck from the opening credits, and legions of fans mourning his death, a few clever folks started to pull at the threads of doubt. Was he actually dead? Well, no. Not that we would find out for sure for another four aimless episodes. It all just felt a little….underhanded. And I think by the time it was revealed that Glenn was actually alive that everyone had already made that assumption anyhow. It’s one of a few plot points this season that had a large amount of build up, and not a lot of pay off. See also: Carol’s moral struggles with Morgan, and the Wolves, who were developed over the course of two seasons and then killed off in one fell swoop.
So the Wolves, the impending enemies up until the midseason finale are underwhelming, however Negan and his Saviours, the dangerous villains for the second half are anything but. The reveal of the Saviours, followed by that of Negan himself are both handled expertly. It’s a slow burn, nevertheless an oh-so rewarding one, particularly for those who have read The Walking Dead comics. Personally, I couldn’t help but to sit back in both glee and terror as the shit-storm that is Negan approached. And he didn’t disappoint. No, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s version of the character isn’t anywhere near as sweary as his comic book counterpart, but still he sure is just as scary.
I find it odd that The Walking Dead’s network host, AMC, is so strict on swearing, whilst with violence they’re happy for their shows to be pretty gung ho. Breaking Bad – a show also under the network’s umbrella – had limited cursing, yet featured strong violence and drug use. Negan debuted in an episode which saw Carol (Melissa McBride) ripping the skin off the face of a walker, and still we found his language neutered. I can’t say that I’ve every really felt the need to clamour for more swearing in The Walking Dead, or any other show for that matter, but Negan’s foul mouth is such a distinctive part of his character in his original form that it’s almost a little jarring to see him so well-spoken.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan does an excellent job of working within the limitations though, dominating the final moments of the season and leaving a lasting impression. We got, what, ten minutes with him? And he already feels like a key part of the fabric of the show’s future. Not bad for such a brief appearance. Better than we can say for the likes of Spencer (Austin Nichols), who’s now appeared in twenty episodes (!) and I couldn’t tell you a single fact about him. For a bit of context, that’s more episodes than Merle (Michael Rooker) appeared in, and the same amount as Shane (Jon Bernthal) and The Governor (David Morrissey) had. The point I’m trying to make is that The Walking Dead doesn’t always get it right with their character development, yet with Negan, they’ve made an impact immediately.
As for the main man Rick himself, this felt like a quieter season for him; less central for large parts and without the big character arc that he had in season five. Andrew Lincoln brings a much more balanced portrayal of Rick this time around, and as a leader we see him go from strength to strength, to the point where he’s become overly confident. We’ve witnessed just a glimpse of where that path leads his group, and the repercussions that his choices will have. Come the season’s close he feels more vulnerable than at any point in the past, with Lincoln driving home how high the stakes have become not only for Rick, but for those he calls his family.
Who will save them from the Saviours? They’re in the hands of Negan now. We know that at least one of them won’t make it out alive…no points for those who guessed that yet another irritating cliffhanger would stop us from finding out who until season seven…
Rating (out of 5):