AN ENTIRE SUMMER OF US GOING, “PLEASE NOT DARYL. PLEASE NOT DARYL. PLEAAAAAASE. NOT. DARYL.”
This past Sunday, the art of suspense during the Zombie Apocalypse was raised to a hellish new high. Everyone was anticipating Negan, the Biggest Bad to appear yet in AMC’s The Walking Dead TV universe. More specifically, everyone was anticipating his famous death-by-Lucille (a barbed-wire baseball bat) scene from the graphic novels upon which the show is based, during which he beats one of the core protagonists to death brutally and unapologetically.
Well, after delivering one of the most charismatic villain-entrance soliloquys of all television and movie history, Negan (the perfectly cast Jeffrey Dean Morgan) did beat one of the group to death. Just.. we don’t know who. Plenty of fans had something to say about that fact.
*To clarify at this point, the show almost always remixes deaths from the comics so it stays its own entity and keeps faithful readers off the scent.
GUESS WHAT… IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO.
The camera switched to a first-person POV as we simply saw Negan swinging (both-handed like he’s trying to win the biggest prize at the county fair), a sudden projectile of blood and heard the cries, screams and bone-crunching as the screen faded to black. It was a monumentally traumatizing moment, yes, but the specifics of that scene were not supposed to be the defining moment of the season six finale. After the episode, bellyachers abound whined that one could “have slept through that entire episode and woken up at the last few minutes because nothing happened wah-wah.”
The episode’s climax was never supposed to hinge on the death itself. The climax’s impact only worked because of the story that directly preceded it–the story of how Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the leader of a band of survivors who have successfully outlived extreme terror and danger for some time now, was stripped, layer by layer, of all confidence, hope, and strategy.
THE CLIMAX’S IMPACT ONLY WORKED BECAUSE OF THE STORY THAT DIRECTLY PRECEDED IT.
He began the episode with an alarming amount of swagger, threatening the Saviors, Negan’s muscly (and many) band of followers, to their faces and ended it on his knees with zero moves left on the chessboard. Rick couldn’t even muster the rage when Negan menaced his son. His eyes were void of all emotion except for pure and simple fear, just like a wild and wounded animal completely backed into a corner.
Rick’s (and by default, his group’s) journey from bravado to barely-begging was a triumphant exercise in tension; all that mattered was someone, no matter the person, paid a fatal price for the group’s ignorant hubris. Now whether it is Glenn (as in the comics) or fan-favorite Daryl or someone else entirely is next season’s arc to unfold. It was not a cliffhanger but a glimpse into a brand-new story.
IT’S FUN TO GUESS, THOUGH. JUST FOR KICKS, A POLL BY THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER ON WHO FANS THINK BIT IT BY BAT: