Because there are spoilers ahead from this point onwards. You have been warned.
Out of the frying pan, as the saying goes, into another frying pan in which you get violently beaten to death. The Walking Dead has finished up its sixth season and, unusually, ended on a traditional cliffhanger. Negan, leader of the Saviors, lined up the group on their knees, showboated for a while and, as revenge for their killing a number of his group, seemed to murder a main character, whose identity is so far unknown.
Fans have been vocal in their frustration online: cliffhangers like this are a bit cheap, right? You can’t deny they’re effective, though. Like the famous Sherlock swallow dive from the hospital roof, it’s got us talking, speculating and calling anyone who disagrees with us an idiot.
Now that Negan has shown his true colours, though, or at least that he exists and owns a baseball bat called Lucille, what’s next for the gang? Probably a nice easy time of it for a few months, eh? Or possibly not. Here’s what we think.
Maybe everyone is fine…
First: you have to entertain the prospect that no one is dead. Unsatisfying as it’d be in principle, it’s a possibility, and the writing has always been smart enough to dig the characters out of holes without you feeling cheated (even when the Governor literally fell into a hole).
… but probably not. So who died?
But you’re right, it would be a bit much. Someone’s got to die. There are characters who by now are effectively ring-fenced from death because of their importance. Rick, Daryl and Glenn are probably safe for sure, and at this stage you can probably relax about Michonne too. It can’t be Carl, because Negan says before he starts swinging: “Anybody moves, anybody says anything, cut the boy’s other eye out and feed it to his father.” This would be unnecessary if the lad was already getting the business end of Lucille, right?
Others, like Rosita and Aaron, are a bit too minor for their deaths to make a satisfying impact for a season seven opener. So our money’s on Sasha or Eugene, either of which would achieve maximum ironic impact on Abraham now he’s found his “calm”. Or it could be Abraham himself, if the bat even made a dent in his head.
What else is in store?
But whoever dies, there are more questions to answer. A traditional season finale for The Walking Dead has often involved the sanctuary they’ve found being compromised (the farm, the prison) and them having to flee, resetting the whole thing to zero again so they can traipse around in the woods looking for shelter next time around. This time it’s a different beast: the Saviors have them kneeling, with seemingly no choice but to work for them and hand over half their stuff.
We can’t see Rick going for that, can you? You’d imagine there’ll be a rebellion sooner or later, but we like the idea that it might be later. It’d be interesting to see how they all react to a few episodes of enforced servitude. Some members – probably those with most to lose, like Glenn and Maggie – might think the best course of action is just to get on with it and pay the Saviors what they want. Others – like your Michonnes and your Daryls – just weren’t born to roll over and accept another man’s decree. That sort of tension could drive a wedge between the group.
Wait, isn’t this a show about zombies?
The interesting thing is that none of this involves the walkers. These days they’re not much of a threat, and characters seem to treat taking them down with a knife to the head as an inconvenience more than a perilous situation. Ever since the Governor’s arrival, it’s been clear that the main enemy is people, and this leads the show towards a very murky conclusion.
How is it all going to end?
As The Walking Dead becomes less about killing walkers and more about moral compromise and the collapse of civilisation, it’s not enough for us just to see whether the gang survive. The important thing is seeing how they do it and the effect it has on them.
For example, you can imagine a final scene for the whole show in which the group finally find a sanctuary where they can grow old peacefully… only for Rick to shatter it by killing someone for looking at him funny. Because his survival instinct has now become such that murder is his first response to the slightest perceived danger. When this happens – when he loses all sense of humanity - he will effectively become no better than a walker.
All of which is a bit depressing to think about, isn’t it? Not least because we never want The Walking Dead to end. Luckily, we might be a few years away from a final FINAL conclusion. Whichever way you slice it, though, it’s clear that the group’s experience with the Saviors is going to leave them profoundly changed.
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