‘The Walking Dead’ season finale redefines series

By Alexander Beebe

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(‘The Walking Dead’ Official Facebook Page)

Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for the sixth season of “The Walking Dead.”

In “East,” the penultimate episode of season six of “The Walking Dead,” Rick (Andrew Lincoln) lies in bed with Michonne (Danai Gurira) and confidently tells her, “The world’s ours…and we know how to take it.”

Michonne was echoing Maggie’s (Lauren Cohan) concerns over a retaliatory attack from the Saviors, but Rick was not in the least bit concerned. They have dealt with people like the Saviors before and have the upper hand. Or do they?

The latter half of season six of “The Walking Dead” has shown Rick making decisions under the impression that he and the rest of his group are ahead of the curve in this conflict, and the season finale, “Last Day on Earth,” is 90 minutes dedicated to showing Rick just how horribly wrong he was in making that assumption.

When Rick’s RV is met with a roadblock set up by a small group of Saviors, the only option is to take an alternate route, but with every new path the group attempts to navigate comes another roadblock accompanied by more and more Saviors, and Rick’s descent into fear and denial begins as it slowly dawns on him that there may be no way out this time.

Comparing this episode to its comic book equivalent, the same situation is handled much more masterfully by the TV series and is executed through an exceedingly impressive and engaging sequence of events that bests how it is approached in the comics. The comic book arc introduced the Saviors by significantly underplaying their numbers initially and then showing their drastic enormity as an army in a surprise reveal.

The previous episodes of the series have continually seen group after group of Saviors killed by Rick and company, creating a smart buildup to give viewers and Rick the illusion that he is winning. This technique makes the realization that Rick is not winning all the more effectively shattering in the context of the finale.

In each past season of this show, we have seen the underestimation of Rick and his band of survivors by every threat that has come their way. Now that tables have turned and Rick’s group has gained a sense of comfort in the Alexandria Safe-Zone, we are seeing Rick take on the role of the aggressor for the first time, proceeding to make those very same mistakes as the numerous antagonists that have died by his hand.

What was weak about the ultimate capture of Rick’s crew by the Saviors in the comic series was that the Saviors snuck up on Rick in his sleep and surprised him with his guard down just like in every other instance where Rick’s team suffered a loss.

In “Last Day on Earth,” what works so well about Rick running into an increasing number of Saviors in seemingly every direction before being forced into a trap, is how strikingly different it is to see that even with Rick and the other survivors being fully alert and putting forth their best efforts, the Saviors are still 20 steps ahead of them.

The effects of the gradual and slow-burn pace with which this reveal is accomplished is on display in Rick’s disintegrating emotional state throughout the episode. Before they run into the first Savior roadblock, Rick is shown comforting Maggie with full confidence.

After they run into their third roadblock or so, the shot of Rick comforting Maggie is recreated, but this time Rick is sweating and visibly panicked, with aching nervousness in his eyes. He speaks in a tone so worried that it sounds more like he is trying to convince himself rather than Maggie that what he is saying is true.

“Last Day on Earth” is a refreshing departure from the regularly explosive and adrenaline-pumping action of past season and mid-season finales, tapping instead into the show’s psychological aspects.

The standout finale of “The Walking Dead” takes viewers along a deliberate and nerve-wracking downward spiral with our heroes where, for the first time in the show’s run, they all find themselves in a situation where there is no escape.

Alexander Beebe can be reached at [email protected]