by Thom Yee
6×16: “Last Day on Earth”
There’s a certain type of dread you might feel when you’ve become invested, a dread of inevitability, when you’re reading something you’ve already read several times before and you know that something bad is coming, but you keep hoping that somehow this time will turn out different. We’ve known for some time now that Jeffrey Dean Morgan was cast as Negan for this season of The Walking Dead, and with that knowledge I was especially terrified as the season progressed to the point we comicbook readers knew it was getting to, both for what Negan represents for the series, and for how far an actor like Jeffrey Dean Morgan would go with Negan. He’s going to change everything.
In “Last Day on Earth”, the final episode of season six, Rick and co. embark on a trip to the Hilltop to seek medical attention for the ailing Maggie who’s experiencing complications from her pregnancy. Emboldened by their recent victories and the seemingly long-term peace and order they’ve managed to establish in Alexandria, our heroes, nevertheless, soon find a group of Saviors in their way. Rather than confronting the group, Rick chooses to go a different way only to find their path blocked at every turn, each time by a larger group. Meanwhile, Morgan finds Carol, injured and disillusioned, and has to save her from the dangers surrounding them and from herself.
The thing that makes “Last Day on Earth” work is that the whole episode is a ticking time bomb, as our heroes face increasingly long odds, the feeling that the Saviors may have them cornered, and the slow realization that they aren’t quite the invincible force they’ve believed themselves to be. As I said in our recap of “East” last episode, as a small group, our heroes have managed to take down in the range of 25-50 Saviors, but with the amount of people Negan has working for him, it wasn’t going to take long before Rick’s small group was going to get themselves in real trouble. It’s just a question of manpower. With their encounters with the Saviors this episode, it’s an open question as to whether Rick and co. could’ve gotten through that first group, it even seems likely that Rick’s group would’ve won (though probably not without significant losses), but with every encounter that followed, it became clear that Rick and co. in their little RV were the mouse, the Saviors the cat in this game.
But if I’m being honest, I was a little bored for most of the episode and it’s 90-minute extended run time. I didn’t like the premise (i.e., Maggie’s sick) with which our heroes set out in the first place, and every time they ran into trouble, they just turned around. I get that each time was a defeat and an act of increasing desperation, but there just wasn’t much to it beyond showing how mean the Saviors were to that random guy they were chasing, holding captive, and eventually hanging, and I think that was a narrative we as audience members were able to follow more than any of the onscreen characters could. Though each of our heroes’ retreats showed the advantage the Saviors had in numbers and over the terrain, I don’t think any of it illustrated that point better than their final confrontation when Rick and co. were clearly, hopelessly, and suddenly outclassed. Rick, Carl, and Maggie all expressed confidence in their power as a group with all they had been through throughout the course of this show, and while it’s true that their triumphs and getting to this point has represented the ultimate survival tale, it’s a bit of a tell don’t show moment, and it would’ve have been more shocking to see how f*cked Rick and co. were if they had found themselves in that same hopeless situation after having just been through three victories over the Saviors rather than three minor defeats where they, basically, turned tail and ran.
I was actually a lot happier with Carol and Morgan’s side of the story this week where we finally have a Carol that needs saving, not because she’s suddenly become vulnerable, but because she can no longer deal with what this world is asking of her. Her interactions with Morgan and the place they eventually end up with each other — Morgan finally taking a life to save Carol — is the natural (and thankfully non-destructive) conclusion of their ideological conflict, and by the end of their story, though Morgan has changed his stance, he still has his basic faith rewarded when the two are saved by two newcomers, two newcomers from yet another community that will most likely open this world up even further.
In the end Rick and co., reunited with Glenn, Michonne, Rosita, and the shot-but still-living (for now) Daryl who were captured by Dwight last episode, find themselves surrounded by Saviors and on their knees as Negan finally makes his first appearance, and it’s probably the most tense, defeated situation our heroes have ever found themselves in. There is no way out as Negan lays out what’s going to happen, toying with everyone before letting us know that things will never be the same as we lose someone dear, not to nature, not to walkers, not to the end of the world, but to the cruelty of one man. If you felt dread, if you felt heartache, if that ten-minute-long monologue really got to you, then I want you to know that was all from the comic, almost word for word, and regardless of medium, it’s a moment that elevates the whole thing.
So who died? We don’t know, and like my problems with this entire episode, that cliffhanger ending is not the way I would’ve gone. I’m not even that desperate to know who died, I just really think it would’ve been so much more of a somber, sorrowful moment and a complete gut punch to end this season of mostly triumphs with the death of someone we love. But as long as we’re guessing, I think it has to be someone core, someone really central to the story, so that rules out guys like Aaron and Sasha, and I think it even rules out guys like Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene who are still a bit on the outside of Rick’s original group. I don’t think it’ll be Rick because we need his leadership to oppose Negan, it won’t be Carl because it feels in poor taste to kill a kid (and I think there’ll be more stuff to come between Carl and Negan), and it’s the same thing for Maggie and killing a pregnant woman. At this point, they’ve kind of ruined Glenn for dying, so if all of that follows, it’s gonna be Daryl or Michonne.
See you next season.
The Walking Dead — “Last Day on Earth” final score
Items of Note
- They should’ve brought that rocket launcher with them. They haven’t used all their rockets yet have they?
- I like how Carol seemed more tired and sad than hurt after being shot.
- So have the Saviors just been waiting on every major roadway for someone to show up?
- Imagine if they’d just plowed through that first group. I think they could’ve done it, it was a pretty small group.
- All that whistling, are the Saviors Hunger Games fans?
- Boy, Tara and Heath missed EVERYTHING.
- Y’know what’s funny? In the comic, Sophia was there too. Yeah, she’s still alive in the comic. And Carol is long dead (and was entirely different).
- Like I pointed out in our Batman v Superman review, Negan and Maggie = Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan = Thomas and Martha Wayne.
- Still wish it would’ve ended with Negan cutting Rick’s hand off. I just think that would be so clever to bring that back here.
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