In defense of TWD’s season 6 finale

Obligatory warning: This post is one long spoiler. Show spoilers. Comic spoilers. All the spoilers.

Let’s start with a question, mostly for the people who are upset about the way they ended the finale (Ep. 6.16 “Last Day on Earth”): what influence does Negan’s choice of victim have on your emotional take-away from this episode? Are you more sad if Daryl dies than if Michonne dies? Would you miss Maggie more than Glenn?

When Rick’s comforting Maggie on the way to Hilltop he emphasizes again that their strength is in their unity, the overarching theme of the season. Show creator Scott Gimple’s comment on the finale was that it “was the end of the story of season 6…Presenting what occurs, to show what happened in full force, is the beginning of the next story.”

Of course I want to know who’s dead, but it’s the fact that any of them died that matters. The degree of grief may vary, but losing anyone from the core group is a big blow for both fans and characters.

Something else to think about: if fans knew who died in April, we’d have the whole summer to get over it and would be emotionally ahead of the characters when we rejoin them in October. Splitting the scene delays that emotional shift from fear to grief.

I have a theory that makes the show’s treatment of the Negan introduction even more brilliant. The short version: the show wanted to keep Glenn as Negan’s victim and this tweak to the structure of the death is to compensate for the fact that the other details are nearly identical.

The long version: There were 24 major TV character deaths in the first 6 seasons (arbitrarily defining “major TV character” as any member of Rick’s crew who’s alive in at least 4 episodes). Of those, 6 had no comic book equivalent (Jacqui, T-Dog, Merle, Bob, Noah, Sam) and 6 had basis in the comics but were re-imagined for the show (Patricia, Mika, Lizzie, Beth, Deanna, Nicholas) leaving 12 with a direct comic book counterpart. Deaths that were the same in show and comics are bolded.

  • Amy Ep1.4: killed by walkers in the camp outside Atlanta
  • Jim Ep1.5: left to die from walker bite sustained in same attack
  • Sophia Ep2.7: killed by walkers on the road to the Greene farm | Comics: still alive
  • Dale Ep2.11: killed by walkers on Greene farm | Comics: bitten then attacked by Hunters (used for Bob’s death in the show, Ep5.3)
  • Shane Ep2.12: shot by Rick | Comics: shot by Carl
  • Lori Ep3.4: dies in childbirth | Comics: shot by Governor
  • Andrea Ep3.16: Jigsaw-style murder by the Governor | Comics: still alive
  • Hershel Ep4.8: decapitated by the Governor | Comics: shot by the Governor
  • Tyreese Ep5.9: bitten at Noah’s house | Comics: decapitated by Governor (used for Hershel’s death in the show)
  • Jessie Ep6.9: killed by walkers that overrun Alexandria
  • Ron Ep6.9: killed by walkers that overrun Alexandria
  • Denise Ep6.14: crossbow bolt from Dwight (Abraham’s death in the comics) | Comics: bitten in conflict with Negan

…which to me says two things of note:
1) Season 6 is the first time we’ve seen a direct translation of a death from the comics since the very first survivor camp outside Atlanta back in season 1.
2) There has never been a direct comic translation of a death for an established, multi-season character, even if the death was just slightly tweaked (like in Shane’s case). Also worth noting that the two most gruesome deaths (Hershel’s decapitation and Bob’s post-infection consumption) were translated to different characters for TV.

The show’s Alexandria thread has been keeping close to the comics. The Grimes family story is nearly identical, barring the changes necessitated by previous changes (e.g. Judith is alive, Andrea is dead, etc). The Glenn/Maggie story took a bit of a detour with the Nicholas thing, but with Maggie pregnant it’s tracking back with the comics.

Ultimately, that’s bad news for Glenn.

Glenn’s death in the comics is iconic and gruesome. Based on past treatments, the show would shift it to another character. But who? We know it’s not Rick or Carl based on Negan’s comment (if anyone moves cut out the boy’s eye, etc). If the first person POV used throughout the episode is all the same character (not necessarily true, but likely) that limits the options to Glenn, Rosita, Michonne, or Daryl. Rosita’s death wouldn’t have enough emotional impact. Daryl’s would, but what does killing him accomplish? Putting more strain on Carol’s already damaged psyche? Same thing with Michonne. She’s a big character, but her death would just be Rick losing the woman he loves (again) and that particular twist of the knife is played out.

Glenn’s death in the comics is just too perfect. Change the victim and the moment loses its power. For the first time, a long-running major character’s death has to be the same on the screen as it was on the page. Altering the presentation was a way to maintain some of the mystery, thwarting viewer expectations somehow since they’re not doing it through the story.

I could be completely wrong. Maybe Negan kills Eugene. Who the fuck knows. Point is, though, we know he killed somebody. There’s no miracle dumpster, no convenient rocket launcher, no sudden rescue that can save our heroes this time. Season 7 is when the characters will grieve. Not finding out who’s dead until October gives fans the chance to grieve right along with them.

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