Knowing the source material can give you an unfair advantage on an adaptation that works like a double edged sword. Sometimes it means that you won't be surprised by what happens, but thankfully, The Walking Dead fixed that early on by veering far enough away from the comic to make it fresh enough for us comic fans. The dynamics of the characters hasn't been the same as the comic for most of the series at this point. Different people have lived and died in each, so even when they do follow the events of the comic closely, the impact is going to be different enough to make it interesting. Daryl, as much as I think he's the most boring character on the show and has been since season 2, doesn't even exist in the comic, so right off that's a new element in the mix. These are good things. But, because we live in the age that we do, where people that have never read a comic book in their miserable lives can look up whatever they want online, the show has been toying with all of us this season with anticipated deaths and the coming of Negan. And not in good ways.
Don't get me wrong, I think the show is still doing a great job, overall, of giving us this unflinching, dread laden tale of humanity at it's best and worst. And that's what it's about: humanity. Not the zombies. The best episode of the season to me was probably The Same Boat, where Carol and Maggie are captured by some of the saviors and Carol proceeds to break down for reasons you wouldn't expect, before finally having to do the horrible things that were necessary to survive. This episode's reminder that actions, no matter how necessary, have consequences on the conscience of good people could have been cheesy, but instead it was harrowing beyond the violence and gore. You understand why Carol is not just tired, but completely spent on an existential level. And Maggie's moment at the end, after being all hardcore, when she just breaks down and says "I can't anymore" is what makes this show special. There's no glory in the horrors of having to survive this way.
But before we got to that episode there was the whole "is Glenn dead or not?" crap from early on. It was set up as a cheap ploy from the get go with ambiguous editing and media hype immediately following. Then they intentionally didn't get back to Glenn for a couple of episodes before revealing his fate. It just wasn't organic storytelling the way the show has mostly been until now. They clearly were depending on the Internet furor to build up the tension instead of letting the story do it. All it did is spark the conversation about Glenn's interaction with Negan in the comic, which furthered the hype until the last episode of the season. Cheap and unnecessary.
The final episode was actually amazingly well done. The sense of dread and inescapable danger just closing in was almost too much for me. I felt sick to my stomach throughout the episode, partly because I knew what was coming, but partly because I didn't. It was back to old school Walking Dead tension where anyone could die, but someone is going to and it's gonna be hard. By the time we get to Negan's intro, he's everything he should be and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is perfect. You're afraid and this guy may as well be the actual devil, but the fact that he's kinda charming doesn't take the edge off. I've heard people say you kinda like him, but I don't think that's it at all. I think it's the realization that certain other people might like him which means nobody is going to help you. The look on Rick's face is how you feel and hope it never comes to that feeling for any reason in real life. Shit's hit the fan and now the fan is going to hit back. With a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. And it will be messy as fuck, both physically and emotionally. But then, the show went with hokey gimmick again instead of emotional knockout. Instead of just going through with the scene in the way that the comic did, where when I read it, I felt like I'd just lived it, they basically stopped the show. Never mind the shitty POV of whoever is getting beat, but ending the finale before the scene plays out makes the entire season feel incomplete. That is not an ending.
The best cliffhangers end on a big reveal, with what's next hanging in the balance. Locutus appears on the screen, Ryker says "fire" and cut to black (gets me every fucking time). We know what happened to Picard now and we know Ryker has made the hard but only decision. Next season will tell us what's next, and I will be anxious all summer, but there was an emotional arc that came to a close. But on The Walking Dead finale, not knowing who gets killed, even though we're watching the killing is sending the wrong message. It's almost telling us that it doesn't matter who gets killed. But it totally does matter and not just because we love some of these characters. On one level, it matters because one of the questions we are left with should be how will they react and that will depend on who gets killed. But on a higher level it matters because ending this way separates the show from that humanity I spoke about earlier. This scene, in the way it was shot, even though it doesn't actually show much of it, makes it about spectacle and gore and violence. That's the focus of the anticipation we're left with. It's not about consequence at all. The POV especially makes it a video game. It also disconnects us from our heroes because they can't make the violence stop, but we get a break. We're no longer living it with them. It should be an unrelenting scene, but it relents. It relents until October, I guess.
And beyond that, as a cheap TV ploy, it gives the creators of the show a way to gauge who should or shouldn't be killed in terms of ratings, something I don't think they had done before. Let's not forget it's not really all just big main characters in play here. Aaron is in the group too and while he might be a good character, he's barely been there. We just aren't invested in him the way we are with any of the others. If we come back next season to learn he was the chosen one, then the show has officially jumped the shark. This death is supposed to mean a whole lot more to everybody than some guy they just met. I have my suspicions on who it might actually be and if so it's a bold and maybe even dumb move. But it's a move that would at least work to do what it needs to do from a narrative perspective. That's assuming they don't just go with the straight comic version. Either way, I'm sure before the next season it will be spoiled by set pictures or whatever because that's what they've opened it up to. We'll see. . .