LAST DAY ON EARTH – 9.5/10.
Every work of fiction has its game changing moment, where the established fabric of the universe shatters and nothing is ever the same again. For The Walking Dead that moment came in issue 100, a landmark issue for the indie comic that introduced us to the charismatic villain known as Negan. Up to that point Rick Grimes had been an unstoppable force; despite creator, Robert Kirkman’s claims that no one’s survival is guaranteed in TWD we knew that Rick would always come out on top. But the arrival of Negan changed that, we saw Rick dominated, humbled and broken in a way that ushered in what many consider to be the comic’s greatest run. They say you only get one chance to make a first impression and Negan certainly made one hell of an impression.
Now, four years after everyone’s favourite sociopath burst bloodily into our lives, he is about to make his television debut as portrayed by Jeffery Dean Morgan. Everything in season 6 has been building up to this moment even dating back to Rick’s descent in to alpha male madness. Now as he finds himself happier than ever and confident in his ability to protect the people he loves, he is about to receive a harsh reminder of just how brutal the new world order can be. The last episode left us with a none too viable cliffhanger regarding the welfare of Daryl, while he appeared to have been shot at point blank range it just didn’t make any logical sense for a character that big to die off screen so close to the arrival of Negan. Well the good news is that Daryl is alive and well, for now at least.
We were also left wondering as to the wellbeing of Carol, last seen taking out a group of Saviours singlehandedly. Morgan continues to track her, stumbling across the missing horse of the stranger that Rick had previously tried to shoot. He eventually finds her, wounded from her confrontation with the Saviours. He tends to her wounds and tries to convince her to come back to Alexandria but she refuses, claiming that you don’t get to be with the people you love without paying a price. Carol tries to sneak off but she runs into the last surviving member of the group that attacked her. He tortures her, shooting her leg and arm, but to his surprise Carol welcomes death. Morgan finds them and kills the Saviour to protect Carol. Just as she said, eventually Morgan had to pay a price.
The brunt of the episode focused on Rick’s desperate attempts to get Maggie to Dr Carson at The Hilltop. Last week I predicted that Rick would end up on the road in search of Glen, Michonne, Rosita and Daryl. But his group actually ended up being much larger as Abraham, Sasha, Eugene, Carl and Aaron packed into the RV with Rick for what would prove to be a catastrophic road trip. They found themselves thwarted at every turn by The Saviours who assemble en masse to block every available route to The Hilltop. Rick is at first filled with bravado, issuing threats to the Saviours, but it soon dawns on him that he is outnumbered and outgunned by a superior force that is now toying with them simply to prove a point.
Rick becomes more desperate as Maggie’s condition deteriorates. It becomes apparent that The Saviours are herding them to a specific location, blocking their path with obstacles such as a burning wall of logs and an undead barrier made of chained zombies. Rick is particularly disturbed when he realises that the zombies have been adorned with Michonne’s clothes and hair. As night falls Eugene offers to lead The Saviours away in the RV as the rest of the group carries Maggie to safety, it is an incredibly brave gesture that turns out to be for nothing as Rick and the group find themselves surrounded by an army of Saviours. The Saviour General brings out Eugene, Daryl (see), Rosita and Michonne and lines everyone up on their knees, including Maggie. It’s finally time to meet Negan.
Negan’s introduction is compelling stuff as he makes it clear to Rick that he is now in charge. He taunts the group, proudly displaying his barbed wire baseball bat, Lucille. Negan’s dialogue is taken almost directly from the comic with one very noticeable difference, the total absence of his favourite four letter word. In the comics Negan is famous for his foul mouth, but due to AMC’s idiotic censorship policies we have a somewhat subdued version. JDM doesn’t overplay the character, he is calm, charming and it perfectly counter balances against the rising terror in Rick’s eyes. Negan explains to Rick that he now works for him, that he will obey orders from now on. But before he can let them go he needs to teach the entire group a lesson by killing one of them, but who to choose?
Rick watches on in abject terror as Negan plays a twisted game of eeny meeny miny mo, trying to decide who has spent their last day on Earth. Negan finally makes his choice, however we are left wondering as the season ends on a POV shot of Negan beating his unseen victim to death to a chorus of screams. Yes they ended the season on a cliffhanger and we will have to wait until October to find out who died. Some people may have a problem with this somewhat frustrating ending but it makes sense. The emotional fallout from the death will be huge and it seems logical to start season 7 with the death, rather than using it to end season 6. I actually believe it will be Daryl who dies as the episode featured many shots from his perspective leading up to that final POV shot.
This brilliant episode was reminiscent of old school, stalker horrors like Duel, where the tension slowly rises as our heroes realise how hopeless their situation is. Andrew Lincoln was particularly strong in this episode, his reaction to Negan helped to completely sell this new and very present threat. I have waited years for Negan to arrive in TWD, he is my favourite character and for anyone who has not read the comics then you are in for a treat. Although JDM may not be as physically imposing as his comic counterpart he certainly has the threatening, charm down to pat. But it’s not all bad news; while Rick is making a new enemy, Morgan and Carol are making new friends and the group is going to need all the friends they can get if they are going to survive the coming war.
POINTS OF INTEREST
- Both Eugene and Gabriel have gone through incredible growth this season and it was good to see that both men have earned the trust and respect of Rick.
- The Saviours General was played by Steven Ogg who many of you may recognise as Trevor from GTA 5.
- The armoured horse rider is not from The Hilltop and he’s certainly not a Saviour, so it looks like we will be discovering a new kingdom in season 7, but are they friends or foes?
- Both Abraham and Glen stood up to Negan, could that defiance be enough to put them in Lucille’s sites? We will have to wait until October to find out.
- The menacing whistles of The Saviours was a very nice touch; just one of the examples of how TV has given the writers a chance to build upon the legacy of the comics.