Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Two Worst Nights In The Life Of Rick Grimes Bookend The Walking Dead Season 6!

The Good: Good ethical dilemma, Good characters/development, Decent effects
The Bad: Some elements are troublingly predictable, Unclear threat resolution, Irksome season finale
The Basics: The Walking Dead Season 6 sees threat from crazy humans, walkers and a dangerous new community while expanding the world of the series.

Not very long ago, one of the executive producers of The Walking Dead made the bold statement that the show had no plans to bring the character of Negan into the television show. That made me happy because when Negan entered the books (that volume of the graphic novels is reviewed here!), the series became entirely unenjoyable. It also made me excited because it seemed like the show would go in its own direction. Sadly, it did not take long in the production of the sixth season for it to be revealed that Negan would be making an appearance. In some ways, that makes sense given that where the fifth season of The Walking Dead (reviewed here!) seemed to be headed. The sixth season of The Walking Dead follows up on the threads that were set in motion in the fifth season and then advances the plot to a fairly logical conclusion.

The Walking Dead Season Six does not get to the same oppressive place that the graphic novel series did, but given that the overbearing nature of the series came after Negan arrived, it made some sense that the season is not that bad. Instead, season six of The Walking Dead finds Rick Grimes and his survivors fighting against walkers, the Wolves (crazed people who intend to brutalize and kill other people), a massive herd of invading walkers and then Negan, a nearby warlord who is exerting control over communities nearby Alexandria.

The sixth season opens with flashes between the horrible night when Morgan arrived at Alexandria and a mission the residents of Alexandria are on days later. Right near the Alexandria compound is a quarry, filled with walkers. When Rick Grimes and his friends are on a dry run to figure out how they will corral the walkers out of the quarry and send the massive herd in the opposite direction of Alexandria, a truck falls into the quarry and forces the dry run to become an active attempt to save the survivor's compound. In the days after Deanna's husband was killed, Rick and Morgan take his killer's body out to dispose of it and discover the quarry. They then set up the materials - cars, wall plates, etc. - needed to lure the walkers away. Unfortunately, while most of the community's warriors are out on the mission, Alexandria is attacked by the Wolves, who begin slaughtering the residents. While most of the residents try to hide, the members of Rick's group who stayed behind slaughter the invaders.

Unfortunately, in saving Alexandria, Rick and some of the others inadvertently bring some of the herd back to just outside the wall. When the watchtower collapses and takes out a section of wall, Alexandria is overrun by walkers. On the way back to Alexandria, Abraham and his team encounter a group of people who try to take their new tanker truck for Negan. After clearing Alexandria of walkers and reinforcing the wall, Rick takes charge and begins to lead the Alexandria community. A few weeks later, Rick and Darryl discover a scavenger who leads them to a new community, Hilltop, and there they learn the threat of Negan and the Saviors.

There are a handful of episodes that diverge from the main plot in Alexandria and those episodes focus on characters who are fleshed out. Most notable of these is an episode that features Morgan exploring his emotional journey following Rick's last visit to him outside Atlanta. The episode is notable in that most of the other one-shot character episodes come up when the character is being killed. How Morgan got sane is a surprisingly engaging episode, even if it does not fit the main narrative of the sixth season.

Similarly, near the end of the season, there is an episode that focuses on Carol and Maggie, who are at the mercy of Saviors who are holding them to trade for one of their own. That episode is absolutely brutal in a way that even the episode where an entire family is slaughtered in less than thirty seconds is not. The strength of that type of narrative is that it develops the characters and does that exceptionally well.

The sixth season of The Walking Dead deepens the characters within Rick's group and introduces a few new ones. In the sixth season of The Walking Dead, the essential characters are:

Rick – After his horrible night where he was forced to kill Pete, he leads the effort to secure Alexandria. He orders Darryl, Abraham, and Sasha to keep driving the Walkers away when Alexandria is attacked. In trying to get back to Alexandria, he cuts his hand badly and has to flee there on foot. He finds himself exceptionally attracted to Jessie, but when the wall comes down, he has to prioritize saving the lives of others. When Carl is wounded by Jessie's son, he goes into a rage and begins slaughtering walkers. After a particularly irksome day, he and Michonne become more intimate. He organizes the ruthless plan to slaughter the Saviors and save Alexandria,

Michonne – Out with Rick on the corralling mission, she recognizes that Rick killing his rival after the man is bitten is a mercy kill (something Morgan does not necessarily accept). She clashes with Heath on their way back to Alexandria over Rick's order to leave behind people who cannot keep up. She comes to believe in Deanna's vision for Alexandria. When trying to lead Jessie and her family to the quarry, she saves Carl's life. She and Rick begin a romantic relationship,

Glenn – Trapped with Deanna's incompetent son on the corralling mission when it goes bad, he and Nicholas attempt to draw walkers off by burning a building to draw them out. After Nicholas has to take out a turned former friend of his, Nicholas gets twitchy and kills himself, trapping Glenn among walkers on the wrong side of the herd. After surviving under a dumpster unable to contact Alexandria, he is rescued by Enid and the two begin traveling together. They arrive home right before the watchtower falls and commit themselves to saving Maggie. He is horrified that he might have to kill when invading the Saviors' compound. He helps Heath out and tries to protect Maggie when she is captured,

Maggie – She is out preparing a garden with Deanna when Alexandria is attacked. With Carol, she kills the invading Wolves. When Michonne and Heath make it back to Alexandria, she becomes convinced Glenn is still alive and goes out with Aaron to find him, but she finds the way completely blocked by walkers. Pregnant with Glenn's child, she willingly turns back with Aaron and awaits a sign from Glenn. When walkers overrun Alexandria, she is trapped on a guard post. She acts as the key negotiator when Jesus brings her to Hilltop. She acts as lookout when Rick organizes an attack on the Saviors, getting captured in the process. When her pregnancy develops complications, the residents of Alexandria try desperately to get her to the Hilltop community to save her life,

Darryl – After disagreeing with Rick on Rick's desire not to go looking for additional people for Alexandria, he takes his newly restored motorcycle out to lure walkers away from the quarry. In attempting to get back home after the mission, he is ambushed and finds himself in a burned-out forest, at the mercy of a new enemy. His attempt to do something kind costs him his new motorcycle and his trusty crossbow. He helps save Alexandria after the wall falls. When going out on a scavenging run later on, he is attacked by the man who stole his crossbow, setting him on a path for revenge,

Carol – After maintaining her ruse of being a simple housewife without any skills, she is forced to defend Alexandria. When the Wolves attack, she disguises herself as a Wolf and starts killing them to maintain her cover. She learns Morgan has a prisoner, but gets a concussion when the wall comes down and finds herself in his care. She squares off with Morgan and has to save Denise's life, though the weight of killing people soon begins to wear upon her. When the Alexandria group learns about the Saviors, she becomes deeply uncomfortable with how many people she has killed and protective of Maggie. Disturbed by how she has had to kill to protect Alexandria, she resolves not to kill again and leave behind Rick's group,

Carl – Defending Judith during the attack on Alexandria, he horrifies his peers by killing an invading Wolf. Jessie's oldest son gets a vendetta for him, believing he stole Enid from him. While trying to leave Alexandria after the wall falls, he is shot in the face, losing an eye. He tries to protect Enid and attempts to be a part of the mission to help Maggie,

Father Gabriel - Still a pacifist, he defends Alexandria only be incapacitating invading Wolves. He keeps Judith safe when the wall comes down. When Rick goes into a rage against walkers, he finally steps up to defend Alexandria,

Tara - Having recovered from her wounds, she tries to help Denise acclimate to being Alexandria's doctor. She gets into a romantic relationship with Denise. She quickly adopts a protective attitude to the people of Alexandria, much to the ire of Rick. She tells Denise she loves her before leaving with Heath for a two-week run,

Abraham - He and Sasha stick to the corralling mission when the horn goes off and everyone else tries to flee back to Alexandria. On the way back to Alexandria, he holes up with Sasha. He begins to express affection for Sasha. He goes out on a limb to acquire a rocket propelled grenade launcher. When making contact with the Hilltop community, he gets the strength and resolve to dump Rosita and pursue Sasha,

Sasha - She becomes the voice of reason while out driving with Abraham on the corralling mission with Abraham. She comes to the aid of Alexandria in its darkest moment. She refuses to get involved with Abraham while he is still involved with Rosita,

Eugene - Still a coward, he inspires Denise not to be cowardly when she starts practicing medicine. He starts training, reluctantly, with Rosita. He manages to overcome his cowardice on the night Rick goes apeshit on the walkers within Alexandria's walls. Shortly thereafter, he develops a plan to produce bullets for Alexandria and illustrates an ability to improvise that is shockingly effective,

Rosita - After aiding in the defense of Alexandria when the Wolves attack, she remains unphased by the attack, having seen life outside the walls. She starts training the residents of Alexandria and Eugene. After Abraham leaves, she is on her own for the very first time in her life,

Deanna - After her husband and Pete's deaths, she accepts Rick's methods and his help in defending Alexandria. She leaves the defense of Alexandria up to Rick's people, remaining with her cowardly son outside the walls in hiding during the attack. In shock after the wolves attack, she creates a plan for the Alexandria community. Unfortunately, when the wall comes down, she is wounded,

Aaron - After the attack on Alexandria, he is horrified to discover that he inadvertently led the Wolves to the community. He immediately takes responsibility for his actions and he aids Maggie in leaving the compound to search for Glenn. He exhibits a lot of loyalty to Maggie from that time forward,

Denise - Pete's replacement, she is completely unskilled at actually practicing medicine. She loses her first patient after the attack on Alexandria. She is consoled by Tara. She struggles to save the life of the man Michonne and Heath rescued and is advised by Tara. Morgan brings her to care for the Wolf he captured, which puts her in mortal jeopardy. After she is rescued from the Wolf, she saves Carl's life and stitches up Darryl. She tries to get soda pop for Tara before Tara and Heath head out for a two-week run,

Morgan - Is willingly imprisoned by Rick so Rick can determine he's all right to come into the Alexandria compound. He makes it back to Alexandria first when it is attacked by the Wolves and he inadvertently helps one flee with a gun. He encounters the Wolf he previously let live and captures him, which tests his resolve to not kill anyone else. He keeps that Wolf imprisoned in a basement in Alexandria. He objects to Rick's plan to kill Negan's Saviors,

Heath - One of the Alexandria community's residents who was on a run for weeks when Rick's group arrived, he is part of Rick's mission when Alexandria is attacked. He is horrified to hear Rick tell Glenn and Michonne that not everyone will make it and thrown off when Rick scavenges from the body of a resident who is killed. He is very competent and he strives to keep people from the community alive when the corralling mission goes south. He and Glenn debate Rick's plan to kill Negan's people; he managed to not kill a living person before,

and Enid - Having survived before Alexandria on her own, she starts to bond with Carl. When the Wolves attack Alexandria, she stays with Carl. Once the fighting is over, however, she leaps the wall and flees the safety of the compound. She finds Glenn and reluctantly begins to travel with him back to Alexandria. Once back within the walls, she bonds with Maggie.

The sixth season of The Walking Dead is an effective season of growth that does not simply feel like it is a transition between getting to Alexandria and the rise of Negan. In many ways, season six of The Walking Dead feels like what the prison would have been for Rick's survivors had Andrea not ended up with the Governor. In some ways, it is even more unfortunate that the show decided to add Negan as he seems - in his very brief time in the sixth season - like a cheap retread of The Governor. Fortunately, there is so much character development and actual things that happen, that it is hard not to feel satisfied by season six.

In fact, the only real serious problem with the plotting for season six of The Walking Dead is that when the Wolves attack and Alexandria is overrun, it is not clear whether the threat from the Wolves still exists. Morgan and Carol fail to interrogate the captured Wolf to find out basic information like where they are based, how many of them there are and how many were part of the attack on Alexandria. As a result, the time lapse that occurs late in the season feels somewhat problematic in that it makes no real sense that the Wolves do not attack in that period . . . if they still exist at all.

On the acting front, The Walking Dead Season 6 hones the talents of all of the major players. Newer characters like Eugene (played by Josh McDermitt), Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Denise (Merrit Weaver) are all given substantive moments in the sixth season. Steven Yuen, Andrew Lincoln, Melissa McBride, Danai Gurira, and Lauren Cohan are all given enough to do to keep their characters interesting and push the envelope for their performances forward.

Ultimately, the sixth season of The Walking Dead holds up incredibly well, especially when binge-watched!

For other works from the 2015 – 2016 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 1
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 4
Doctor Who - Season 9


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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