AMC’s The Walking Dead Last Day on Earth TV Show Review. The Walking Dead, Season 6, Episode 16: ‘Last Day on Earth,’ finally delivered some retribution, to Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) war on the Saviors, but may have also been the Last Straw on Camelback for some viewers.
First, things first: some context.
After a taste of what the Alexandrians were up against, in the last two episodes, the ‘Last Day on Earth’ started with a look at how the other half dies – some other guy, from some other group, with some familiar notion of resistance, serving as both an example to Rick’s crew, and a preview of how the Saviors roll, once they get rolling. As if things hadn’t been bad enough, given the outcome to the last break-aways from the pack, Rick was forced to leave the town walls again, due to complications with Maggie’s (Lauren Cohan) pregnancy.
Ever seen a pack of wolves trying to get at a fawn, or a pod of orcas going for a whale calf? I have. It was the feeling I had, watching the main story unfold.
Rick still didn’t get it, of course; so some menacingly cordial words, between the latest Savior frontman (Steven Ogg) & himself, didn’t register the grave point behind a simple wish. The one about the last day on earth best spent being kind to one’s people.
Even if the Saviors didn’t know about Maggie, they knew that Rick had something to lose, and a particular somewhere to be. The rest was all about crossing out options, running out the clock, and wearing down the nerves. The odds are usually with the organized pack hunters, when there’s a baby on board; so it was all about the waiting game.
Exactly what viewers may have been nervously waiting for, however, and whether or not they ultimately got it, was what likely made or broke the episode.
While Rick ran the maze, Carol (Melissa McBride) had one more chance to come to Morgan (Lennie James) – once he managed to track her not-dead-yet self down – or just retire in biblical fashion. By running from option A, she wound up running into option B, and I’ll admit that a part of me wanted her resignation to be another of her improvised mind-games. It wasn’t, though; so badass Carol fans may have been left even further disappointed by her recent evolution.
On the other hand, Morgan was finally able to show that you can have your faith & kill people, too – and that karma counts. It seems both he & Carol are destined for a broader horizon, thanks to a previous pacifist act, on his part.
With the writing on the wall, for the larger story, there were some devils in the detail to consider. A number of newer characters have become Rick Beard certified, since he took over; but there were still one or two left with something to prove.
Carl (Chandler Riggs) feeling the need to be recertified was the only reason I could think of, for his hankering for Savior hide; but there was also the matter of Enid (Katelyn Nacon). I’m still not clear where her new attachment based fear & timidness has come from; but with Carl’s new attitude, the pair has become frustrating to watch. I suppose some of Rick’s imperiousness has really rubbed off on the the little Grimes cutting, which would explain why their connection was so easy for a new arrival to spot – but let’s not get too far ahead, here.
More momentous was Eugene (Josh McDermitt) graduating with honors – taking a long overdue play for the team, as his way of tossing the mortarboard. His goodbyes – first with Rick, then with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) – had to have been just the kind of touching moment that sounds like a dog whistle, to character death-watchers. Further ringing in their ears: Abe taking thoughts of being a family guy to Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), and getting her approval. I’ll explain why neither ear-pricking moment was necessarily a good thing, later. Of course, the biggest devil in the details was saved for last; but was definitely worth the wait.
I couldn’t tell you, with any real authority, if Jeffrey Dean Morgan actually nailed the character of Negan, or not; but it was something of a rockstar entrance. His Negan, while not nearly as profane as his source, was noticeably the most profane character the show has ever had – but that’s a pretty minor detail to fuss over. The fact that JDM brought an abundance of venomous charm to the character (more so than, say, his turn as Watchmen’s Comedian) should be enough to put casting doubts to rest (for now), while giving many a Dead fan a badly needed arch-villain to root against.
Root against, or fear, as the case may be (or has been left as). JDM’s Negan may not initially seem as imposing, or as nasty, as the source character; but that somehow makes him worse. He did kind of come across as the benevolent dictator, wronged by a malevolent hero – adding a summation point to Rick’s road evolution.
His bat did an OK job, playing the role of Lucille.
As I’m not quite sure what non-source fans might’ve come to expect from the show, I’d advise against hoping for a quick comeuppance for Negan, anytime soon. There is a lot to mine from that character, and Dwight (Austin Amelio) currently makes for as good some payback bait as anyone, where instant gratification is called for; so the Negan hate can stew for a while. If done right, Negan hate can even turn to fandom (good bad-guys can be hard to find, sometimes) – so the Saviors/ All Out War arc could give the series some long legs, now that Negan has officially landed.
Okay, so even with all of that going for it, why would the episode be hit-or-miss?
With Negan came the signature moment that source fans have been anticipating/ dreading ever since his name was first mentioned (some fans taking cues as far back as Rick’s Roadies getting to Alexandria), and it was a series highlight, to be sure. Trouble is, it was incomplete.
I imagine past fake-out endings didn’t help, either.
Glenn’s (Steven Yeun) ‘death’ pretty much kicked-off running speculation on who gets ‘Lucilled.’ When he ‘got better,’ however, the question shifted to how faithful the showrunners would be to the source material – either in service to, or as a way to confound source fans. By the time Denise caught one meant for Abraham, the speculation game took on a note of frustration & concern. It seemed that the showrunners were willing to sacrifice newer characters in order to put as many fan favorites on the batting tee as possible. Then Daryl (Norman Reedus) got shot, but still made it to batting practice. With this cliff-hanger, TWD runs the risk of a third strike (come season 7), regarding the fate of not just a fan fav, but an original cast member.
At some perverse level, I can even imagine some fans subconsciously identifying with Carol – wishing for some finality to all the cares & scares. A bad end is still an end; and an end was what many of us needed, after a midseason that amounted to an agonizingly long game of eenie-meenie.
It’s not that I think fans want this death – it’s that after agonizing over the question for so long, they just wanted an answer. The ‘Last Day on Earth’ went by without one.
Personally, I can wait a while longer. For me, the whole payoff of the episode – besides Negan’s opening presentation – was that moment when Rick knew & understood his situation. The point where he realized that he had finally bitten off more than he could chew, and that neither he, nor his people, were getting out of this – as they had time & again. Most of all, it was the realization that he may have led them to this outcome – and that meant fear. Fear of failure, fear of losing a part of his extended family, fear of subjugation for the rest; but fear, all the same.
For me, the ‘Last Day on Earth’ ended with that moment, and Andrew Lincoln sold it even more convincingly than JDM, and his whistling band of merry murderers, did providing it. All of the episode’s tension & suspense serviced both Rick’s reckoning, and Carol’s fever breaking, and I’m fine with that.
As a season finale – or more to the point, as the finale to this season – however, not answering the one question, that everyone was made to ask, could be considered the kind of cop-out fans think shark jumping thoughts about. I’ve already been made privy to comparisons to Lost (all big questions, few satisfactory answers), which is something TWD really doesn’t need, going into what should have been its most anticipated arc – and that might be the heart of the problem, right there.
‘Last Day on Earth’ was supposed to leave us buzzing over Negan, the Saviors arc, and the larger war to come. Instead, we were left fussing over what may have been the biggest closing dodge since the end of The Sopranos.
Ah, well. I got mine; so I’ll be staying clear of the speculation game. Argue among yourselves whether you even want to come back for that answer. I know I am.
The show owes me a Negan role reversal moment I simply must see, at some point.
“Taking it like a champ.”
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