by Thom Yee
6×08: “Start to Finish”
For a variety of reasons, The Walking Dead can be a tough show to judge objectively. It’s really popular, there are a lot of things going on at once, some of which you might love and some of which you’ll just as easily hate, it’s not a situation most of us can fundamentally relate to (at least not at this extreme a level), and as a prestige-format specialty cable series, it runs on a shortened schedule that doesn’t stick around all year like most 22-24-episode shows on the major networks. For me, especially as a viewer of the show and a reader of the comicbook, it feels like we’ve been in Alexandria forever, but here at the midseason finale, it’s only been the last few episodes of last season and the first half of this season, and everything from this season has really only taken place over the course of a day so far. In that context, it’s kind of shocking the that things have changed so much in this little Safe-Zone since Rick and co. decided to drop in.
We’ve got a few different confrontations finally boiling to the surface in this episode, none of which I was really thrilled with, and that includes all the walkers flooding into Alexandria. For an episode immediately following hundreds of walkers breaking into town, remarkably few people died in “Start to Finish”. That’s an episode title that can be taken in a lot of ways, including an all-encompassing view of the sequence of events that have led to this conclusion or the beginning and ending of all things. Okay, so maybe that title can (or should) only be taken in two ways, but generally both involve a conclusion, satisfying or not, and especially for a midseason finale, “Start to Finish” didn’t actually finish much of anything off.
After the walkers start making their way into Alexandria, pretty much everybody escapes to their houses or places of lodging, and the closest any one of our heroes comes to “biting it” is Maggie, who barely makes her way to safety at the top of some random platform and then, I guess, pretty much just lies there for the rest of the episode. The Ron-Carl situation (Ron was gonna shoot Carl in the back last episode) similarly comes to a stunted, uneventful conclusion, though it’s one that works for Carl’s continuing character development when, after disarming Ron, he chooses to cover for him rather than rat him out because he can at least understand where Ron’s coming from (i.e., my name is Ron Anderson, your father killed my father, prepare to die). It’s not a particularly satisfying or emotional conclusion, perhaps most exemplified by the single tear rolling down Ron’s face that looked more like the result of eye drops than any real sorrow, but at least it fit the way I see Carl doing things.
On the other side of town, Carol finally learns the scope of Morgan’s respect for life when she finds him keeping a stray Wolf tied up in the basement of an unoccupied house, and I’m even less thrilled with this fight, especially as it follows Carol falling and hitting her head as the duo made their own escape from the invading walkers. First of all, Carol? Falling and hitting her head? That’s Griselda-(from Fear the Walking Dead)-level tomfoolery for people who were always meant to die, not badass, survivalist Carol, and it’s something that almost takes her out of the entire episode. It also strains credulity in the midst of an all-out walker invasion that Carol and Morgan can’t at least work their differences out in the short-term for long enough to take care of the bigger problem — walkers are everywhere! I hate it when two strong characters’ philosophical differences override their own intelligence to the point where they can’t come to at least some agreement, but I hate it even more when that confrontation cancels them both out of the episode’s main event and leaves them ripe for being attacked by the very thing they’re fighting over when the Wolf gets away from them and even kidnaps the only thing close to a doctor left in the town. So stupid!
The walker invasion did of course claim its one and only confirmed victim, Deanna, who, at least all of us comicbook readers knew, was going to have to go away sooner or later. Compared to the way her counterpart, Douglas, went out in the comic (the writers gender-swapped the character for the show), Deanna, like Hershel before her, got a much stronger conclusion to her character’s arc in the show. Both Douglas from the comic and Deanna from the show suffered the death of their spouse in similar manners, it took a bit of time for both to come back from those traumatic events, and it took about the same amount of time and events for both to meet their ends, but in the comic Douglas fell in more of a suicidal slump to the walkers, whereas Deanna was allowed to go out defiantly and in a way that contributed to the rest of our heroes’ possible (but still not revealed) survival.
It’s a strong final act for Deanna, but it’s also the point at which we arrive at “Start to Finish”’s major problem. Do our heroes escape? Unscathed or forever scarred? At the same moment in the comicbooks, at least three other major characters died and something terrible happened to a fourth, but this episode simply leaves us to wonder what will happen as our walker-guts-covered heroes attempt to blend into the crowd and make their escape. That may make for a literal cliffhanger, but it’s not a satisfying or thrilling, everything-was-leading-to-this-moment cliffhanger like, oh, I don’t know, that girl you’ve been looking for all season was a walker tied up in the barn this whole time, and just fading to black as we wonder if young Sam’s wimpy little calls for his mom will lead to the group’s undoing just left me thinking “That’s it? That’s your cliffhanger?”
We all know TV shows have a budget. We may not talk about it the way we sometimes talk about bloated movie budgets (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides cost almost $400 million dollars? Green Lantern cost $200 million? A movie about the X-Men’s Gambit is going to cost $150 million dollars? WTF?), but they still have a real effect on the quality of a TV show like this, and with the blockbuster way this season started, it’s perhaps no surprise that this midseason was a little underwhelming, especially because almost no one actually died. Several times throughout this season I’ve wondered where people like Carol or Aaron or [newcomer] Heath might have gotten off to as the show’s cast has grown too large for every one of them to get the proper screen time, making that lack of death even more questionable. Luckily, Negan’s coming, so let’s all hope he can get the job done.
See you all in the new year.
The Walking Dead — “Start to Finish” final score
Items of Note
- Invincible toys? I want Invincible toys!
- Sam’s a wuss and a messy eater who draws bugs into the house? And I bet he’d run down the stairs screaming to his mommy afraid of those bugs too if there weren’t zombies everywhere on the main floor.
- Uh oh, Rick’s got a hand axe. Who’s he gonna have to use that on?
- Eugene, he didn’t say he wanted your knife too.
- Was really thinking it would be pronounced it “Nay-gan” rather than “Nee-gan”.
- Negan may be getting the lion’s share of attention, but Jesus is another upcoming character who could be making a big impact very soon.
- My bets for who doesn’t survive the rest of the season: Abraham, Spencer, and hopefully Sam. If I had to
- Wouldn’t it have been awesome if, instead of just driving up to the biker group, Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham spotted them early, got out of the truck, and shot one of those rockets at them?