When last we left “The Walking Dead,” it was in desperate need of a change. Season five had been something of a mess that left the characters with barely a thing to do, little-to-no character development, and a story that had them wandering about aimlessly before the show became overly-complacent with leaving them be in their new home. As I mentioned back then, season four showed that the folks in charge seemed to understand what was missing, and indeed they had injected some of it in that season, but sadly they fell back into their old ways of just not caring.
Season six presents yet another chance for them to put the show back together the way it should be, but it will certainly take a bit of doing. The complacency has to be swept aside and replaced with a compelling plot that leaves room for both story and character development in order for the audience to get engaged in this apocalyptic world overrun by the undead. Are they up to this daunting task, or is it simply too late to bring the show back from the brink? Let’s take a look at the latest season to see where it stands.
The season opens with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and co. discovering a large group of walkers in a quarry nearby and trying to figure out what should be done about them. This leads to them coming up with a plan to lure the horde away from Alexandria, but, of course, it doesn’t go quite as planned, leading to a number of complications. Aside from those outside the walls not being able to control the walkers, those left back at home face a crisis when a group known as “The Wolves” attacks, leaving several residents dead in the process. Help eventually arrives, but the problem escalates further when the walkers breach the wall and swarm into the town.
The second half of the season has the residents dealing with this crisis, which eventually allows for things to get back to a state of relative normalcy. Shortly after, while on a supply run, Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus) encounter a man on the road known as Jesus (Tom Payne), with whom they tussle over a truck full of food. They end up bringing him back to Alexandria as a prisoner, but it turns out he had different intentions all along. As it turns out, Jesus is actually from another group of survivors from “The Hilltop.”
Rick and a few others visit the camp in hopes of setting up a trade agreement, but their leader, Gregory (Xander Berkeley), ends up making a different deal with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) instead. He informs them that a gang known as “The Saviors,” led by a man named Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), has been taking their supplies under threat of attack. His deal with Maggie states that, if Rick and his group are able to take them out, then half of The Hilltop’s supplies would be theirs. The deal is made, but as our group soon learns, Negan and his men aren’t people to be taken lightly.
Starting with the first half, we have an extended premiere that kicks the season off in a rather dull fashion. Much of it is devoted to introducing the new problem of the horde of nearby walkers and the setting up of the plan to lure them away, and while this could have been interesting, it’s done with such flat execution that it merely leads you to think that nothing had been learned from last season. Luckily, the second episode immediately kicks things up a notch by focusing on The Wolves’ attack on Alexandria. Something else I’ve mentioned before is that, if the show was not going to delve into the story and characters, it should at least remain exciting and entertaining, and that’s exactly what this episode is for.
That being said, it still plays interestingly into the chopped up structure of this first half, for we witness the same time period from a few different points of view over the course of the first few episodes, and while a lot of it is done in the same dull fashion that plagues much of the premiere, it at least makes for a slightly more intriguing layout of the events.
Then we come to episode four, which is a bizarre, standout episode from the rest of the season, and yet, it also ends up being the very best that is has to offer. This extended episode focuses entirely on the backstory of Morgan (Lennie James) as he goes from a man who has lost everything, including his desire to live, to someone who comes to appreciate all life. This is done through his encounter with a man known as Eastman (played marvelously by John Carroll Lynch), who helps him through this difficult time. Here we have an episode that features story and character development as its primary elements, so it’s no surprise that it ends up being the very best of the 16-episode season, leaving us with yet another example of how great the show can be when its necessary ingredients are front and center.
As for the rest of this first half, unfortunately it falls to the wayside in that not much else happens to advance the show. There’s a rather sad attempt to make us think that one of the main characters has died, but it’s fairly obvious from the scene that he’s still alive. This leads up to a mid-season finale that tries to be tense as the swarming walkers trap the residents of Alexandria indoors, but once more, they are given such little to do that it ends up being a rather uneventful affair.
As we come to the second half, something rather miraculous happens. After a somewhat exciting conclusion to the walker crisis, we are treated to an episode that could be credited as comic relief. This is the episode where Rick and Daryl run into Jesus and vie for control of the supply truck, which strangely enough offers up a few laughs in the process, something that we almost never get from this show.
However, better yet, it also sparks the beginning of an actual plotline, this being the beginning of their relationship with The Hilltop and their discovery of Negan and his crew. For a span of about four episodes, we are shown once again that the show can be very engaging when it’s actually concentrated on the plot and showing us that it’s actually headed somewhere. It’s quite incredible when this happens, because it’s something else that the show doesn’t do that often anymore (The Governor arc was probably the last time we got a solid plotline), but this is what also makes it rather frustrating when we get towards the end of the season.
After that run of four episodes, the show takes a sudden turn for the worse, delivering one of the worst episodes of the batch that has Carol (Melissa McBride) and Maggie kidnapped by members of The Saviors and held captive until a trade can be arranged with Rick. However, the downturn doesn’t end there as the final three episodes are no better, featuring Carol running away from Alexandria (followed by a few members of the group trying to find her) and a season finale that couldn’t have been much more disappointing if they tried.
In the final episode of the season, we are presented with an extended episode that is little more than a repetitive mess. It primarily features members of the group trying to get Maggie to The Hilltop for medical attention, only to be blocked on every path by The Saviors. I’m not sure why they felt the need to show us the same scene of them driving down another path and getting blocked over and over, but all it really does is make you question why in the world they felt the need to make this an extended episode when they weren’t going to put that time to better use.
At the very least, the final scene was worth sticking around for. It’s here that we are finally introduced to Negan himself, played brilliantly by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He takes the stage and delivers a monologue that pulls you in and doesn’t let go, that is, until the extremely disappointing final moments. It was well-known that someone was going to die at the end of this season, and the main reason many tuned in was to see just who it was going to be, but instead, those behind the show decided it would be better to have a cop-out ending that merely shows the POV of a character getting clubbed to death by Negan. Basically, it’s a lot of buildup with no payoff. Now all of that tension is gone, and it’ll be extremely difficult to build it back up for next season. This is not even to mention that most seemed to have stopped caring about the mystery in the first place, for once they dropped the ball at the end of this past season, interest seemed to plummet as well.
All things considered, season six was definitely a step in the right direction, but there are still plenty of problems that need to be worked out in order for the show to be running on all cylinders. It was interesting to see them try new methods of telling the narrative, and while it didn’t really help advance it, at the very least they tried something different from what they had already done before. It was also intriguing to see them try to start up a new arc, one that would have been rather compelling if they had managed to keep it up, but unfortunately it would appear that they ran out of ideas too quickly. In the end, nearly half of the episodes are decent, which is far better than last season (which merely had two), so while it’s still not quite recommendable on the whole, there remains definite hope that things could get better.
“The Walking Dead: The Complete Sixth Season” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of mostly decent quality. There is a slight fuzziness to the picture throughout these 16 episodes, but it’s not nearly enough to hinder the viewing experience. In fact, it actually adds a little more atmosphere to the already dark and gloomy show. The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD Audio is excellent, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and various sound effects in outstanding quality. Overall, the show has been given pretty good treatment that is sure to leave the fans satisfied.
The Making of The Walking Dead: A neat series of featurettes, running just a few minutes apiece, that go behind the scenes of each episode.
Audio Commentaries: Commentary tracks on select episodes that feature some of the cast and crew delivering some interesting behind the scenes tidbits.
Deleted Scenes (9 Minutes): A collection of six deleted sequences (all from the first half of the season) that fans may find of interest, but there’s nothing particularly important to be found in them.
In Memoriam (10 Minutes): A featurette that has the cast and crew reminiscing about the characters that were killed this season.
601: Out of the Quarry (8 Minutes): A look behind the scenes at the making of the season premiere episode “First Time Again.”
Guts & Glory: The Death of Nicholas (5 Minutes): An examination of the character of Nicholas and his death scene.
Strength in Bonds (11 Minutes): A featurette that focuses on the various relationships between the survivors.
Negan: Someone to Fear (5 Minutes): A brief and superficial look at the series’ new villain.
The Face of Death: Iconic Walkers of the Season (4 Minutes): As the title implies, this is just a look at a few of the walkers seen throughout the season.
Last Day on Earth: The Extended Version: A slightly longer version of the season finale that only adds a couple of minutes to the episode.
While season six may be a step up from the previous season in several regards, including story, characters, and entertainment value, there are still a number of problems in all of these areas and more that continue to hold “The Walking Dead” back from its full potential. Once again, it would appear that those running the show know exactly what it needs to get there, as evident by the excellent episode that explores Morgan’s backstory and the first few episodes of this season’s second half that began an intriguing arc, so it continues to be a mystery as to why they don’t incorporate these ideas into the show much more often than they do. When at last they’re able to figure this out, then the show could be something really special. Until then, it’ll merely continue to hobble about with only sporadic moments of greatness.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting Tuesday.
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