The Walking Dead 6×08 ‘Start to Finish’: Hand in hand

The Walking Dead 6x08 Cover

Cliffhangers are tricky. They can be used as a way to invite narrative tension, like we saw at the end of “A Most Powerful Adversary”, a recent episode of The Leftovers where a character was thought to be dead. Or, they can be used in a cheap way to get people to come back next week. It’s easy to tell if they’re used in a cheap way, as the rest of the show’s narrative mechanics are tossed aside for the sake of the cliffhanger. Instead of a way to invite curiosity, it’s a way to push somebody to simply come back because the story was cut off. And, let’s face it, there are very few shows today that can pull off a cliffhanger because it’s so easy to use them poorly.

The Walking Dead 6x08-1

Source: AMC

That being said, I’ll be blunt: “Start to Finish” was not a good episode of television. Aside from maybe “Now”, it was the most disappointing episode of the season to date. It took the massive build-up that the season has accomplished and largely squandered it for the sake of starting out with a “bang” next February. The zombie invasion, instead of focusing on logistics and how to escape, largely focused on a very literal commentary concerning the main theme at play: connection instead of isolation. This entire season has been about the struggle between taking a risk to find connection and embracing isolation to stay safe, and, at the very least, “Start to Finish” focuses on that theme.

The Walking Dead 6x08-2

Source: AMC

There are, for the most part, two storylines at play during this episode. There’s the absolutely ridiculous Carol vs. Morgan storyline, which makes sense thematically but makes no sense logically. And there’s the Rick trying to keep the zombies out of the house storyline, which is narratively the most exciting but is muddled by deathbed speeches and ridiculous teenage angsty fighting. Carol and Morgan have been at odds throughout the season, as both have a different philosophy on how to deal with the world. I really do like the way that the show has pitted them against the other, not because it’s particularly exciting, but because both have philosophical views of the world that are rigid, yet flawed. Carol understands that killing is necessary in order to survive in the world, but she doesn’t understand that, without making yourself a little vulnerable, you’re going to end up alone in the world. Morgan, on the other hand, understands that killing leads to self-annihilation, but doesn’t understand that some level of violence is necessary to survive. The healthy worldview lies somewhere between the two, even if they can’t see it.

The Walking Dead 6x08-5

Source: AMC

But dear lord, that fight next to the injured Wolf was absurd. Fighting over the fate of the Wolf, all during the zombie invasion (where making noise probably isn’t a good idea) was something that both Carol and Morgan are smart enough to avoid, but for some reason had to engage in for the sake of narrative tension. It’s one of those moments that feels so manufactured that it drains the stakes away and kills the immersive feel of the show. Almost more absurd is the resolution to the Ron vs. Carl issue, where Ron tries to kill Carl in the garage, only to have Rick break into the garage and pull them both out before they’re engulfed by zombies. Their squabbles never reached anything above some very basic motivations, so they always made Ron look like a bratty teenager. It’s easy to understand that Ron is reeling from the idea that his family is falling apart, but the show never tries to sell that, instead giving us some terrible line from Carl about how Ron must be mad that his dad is dead, but too bad because his dad was a jerk. It slaps the most basic motivation onto Ron without discussing just why that motivation was occurring.

The Walking Dead 6x08-3

Source: AMC

But the most disappointing facet of this episode has to be the way that Rick’s season-long character arc was paused until next season instead of concluded now. Rick has been struggling against the massive forces in the new status quo, be it zombie hordes or groups of insane survivors, and while his plans aren’t foolproof, his failure isn’t entirely his fault. He deals with things as intelligently as he can, which is better than most of the cast can do, but his issue comes from his inability to work with everybody in Alexandria. He trusts his group to lead the herd away, to fight the zombies, but he doesn’t trust anybody in Alexandria. And until he learns to accept everybody into his group, he’s going to have trouble getting anything done. However, it isn’t as if accepting everybody is easy, or even smart. We see in this episode how some of the native Alexandrians have trouble surviving in the new world, as Sam (Jessie’s little son) can’t even begin to fathom how to deal with the “monsters”. So how does Rick find a balance between accepting the Alexandrians and keeping from taking too many risks? That’s what he has to figure out if he’s going to make it out of Alexandria alive.

The Walking Dead 6x08-4

Source: AMC

And that’s a great thematic idea to draw from, finding a balance in an insane world. But these mid-season finales have a tendency (though not always) to stall for the sake of cliffhangers. When this stalling happens, everything is torn down for the sake of building a false tension. Instead of seeing some resolution in Rick’s thematic arc, we see a cliffhanger where Rick and Co wade out into the zombie horde with blood and viscera all over them. Even Carol and Morgan, both of whom experience some sort of resolution when they’re beaten down, haven’t worked out their philosophical differences by the end of this episode. There’s almost no closure at all here, and it makes the episode far worse than if it just cut ten minutes of characters rambling and included the bloody zombie walk as the climax of the season. It’s infuriating, and it starts the three-month break on a sour note.

I like The Walking Dead. It’s a fun show, where you can watch blood and guts fly when zombies are torn apart and people are torn open. But these cheap tension-building tricks, from Glenn and the dumpster to the many cliffhangers in “Start to Finish”, have to go. They do nothing but stall, and in a show as frenetic as The Walking Dead, stalling really stands out, making the show more tedious than anything else. Sure, the post-credits scene teases the new villain, Negan. Sure, the fallout from the bloody zombie walk will most likely be shocking and brutal. But there’s only so much teasing that can happen before we just want the show to get on with it.

So, get on with it, The Walking Dead. You will be much better off if you do.

What did you think of the mid-season finale? Will the zombie walk go as planned? Will Negan be more interesting than he is in the comics? Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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  • Gui

    Actually, I did enjoy the episode a fair amount. I specifically enjoyed Deanna’s character throughout, she went out in a pretty respectable way. I actually enjoyed her deathbed stuff, though a lot of it goes more to the actors involved rather than the writing, but still. Though I can agree that there were a fair amount of problems, and I think there’s two main reasons for them.
    On one hand, I get the distinct impression this was meant to be a 90 minute episode originally. But then we also have the problem of AMC REALLY wanting people to watch Into the Badlands. And as much as I’ve enjoyed that show so far (mostly for the fight scenes), it gives me the feeling AMC was entirely unwilling to push it back or change scheduling for this. I really do have the feeling that the content of next episode up to the second set of ads will feel like what the actual ending of this episode should’ve been. That wouldn’t have removed some of the underlying issues, sure, but it would’ve brought more closure and it’d have made sense why the pacing was the way it is, because it really does feel that way.
    On the other hand, there’s the other reason for dragging things out, and it’s the thing that keeps haunting this series in many ways: The comics. At the pace seasons 4 and 5 went, the series was en route to catching up by Season 8. And that’d mean little to no source material moving forward, which it feels they’re unwilling to do.

    Frankly, though, I’m excited about the next half of the season. While I did have my issues with the episode, they left everyone at the worst possible situation and that could make for a great turnaround when the season returns. While it happened in a ridiculous way, with the wolf now being free and walking about while other characters from our main group try to get to the armory, we can at least be sure 6B will start out huge. And I don’t doubt Negan will be noticeably better in the TV series than the comics, if there’s one thing they consistently handle better, it’s human antagonists.
    I had other things to say, but I got distracted and I’ve forgotten what else I was going to type. Oh well.

    • Michael St. Charles

      I wish it would have been a 90-minute episode, if only to include the zombie walk, which absolutely was the way to end this episode. Either that or to cut at least 10 minutes of this episode out in favor of focusing more on Rick. I’m not too worried about Negan being portrayed poorly, as I feel like Gimple and Co have been working on introducing him for a long, long time now. But yeah, Season 6B should theoretically start out huge since it contains the climax that this episode was building to, haha.

      I was pretty hard on this episode, but I still liked Season 6A a lot. “JSS” and “Here’s Not Here” were two of the best episodes the show has ever done. I’d place it almost on par with Season 5A, my personal favorite, but 6A’s lows were a little lower than 5A’s. Overall a great start.

      By the way, is Into the Badlands any good? I keep hearing about it, but I’ve never checked it out.

      • Gui

        Yeah, 5A was pretty fantastic and it just kept coming with memorable episodes. I’d say for first halves of the season, 5A still comes first, followed by 6A and 3A for me.

        Into The Badlands is not bad so far. In terms of writing, it definitely could be better (though I’d attribute some issues to this being a first season), and it’s definitely not gonna win any prizes for originality, but it’s managed to be a good watch and if there’s one thing that it’s worth watching for it’s the action scenes. What it lacks in writing so far, it has in spades with the well directed and choreographed fight scenes.

        • Michael St. Charles

          I liked 3A a ton because it was SO MUCH BETTER than Season 2, which was really mediocre. But yeah, I’ll have to check out Into The Badlands then. Should be interesting.

  • George Liapes

    i agree with you that this episode was disappointing.

    I liked the scenes with Deanna (which I’m surprised you didn’t go into detail) and I’m interested to see where this whole thing with Negan goes (hopefully, he’ll be a little more fleshed out than he is in the comics), but it could’ve been so much more better than what it was. I was seriously looking at the clock with a few minutes to go and i was like “they’re not going to seriously cut off when things finally getting intense… right?).

    the scenes with carl and ron did feel angsty, but i liked ron’s little despair speech before he attacked Carl and i kind of liked the contrasting the season has done with both boys to point out how both of them are different in terms of maturity and hardness (though ron’s “Im jealous because you stole my girlfriend” arc was pretty ridiculous.

    The scene with Carol and Morgan was tense and like you said, thematically sensible, but it felt a little ridiculous for them to focus on whether or not to let the Wolf go instead of trying to find a way out of Alexandria.

    i liked the first half of this season (though i’ll probably look back on”Thank You” a lot less favorably with Glenn’s “death”), but I’m disappointed in some of the choices the show has made regarding Glenn’s “death” and this episode. I’m definitely looking forward to the show in February and how the walk turns out, ( i think we could say goodbye to Jessie, Ron and Sam) but it’ll have to be a lot better than what I’ve been seeing lately to earn back my trust.

    • Michael St. Charles

      Yeah, I thought about talking more about Deanna, but I felt like her arc in this episode revolved around Rick and the thematic ideas I discussed, so I kinda left it there. I think that Season 6B will be interesting and that the climactic moment they build up to here will be exciting. They have a habit of starting out their “B Seasons” quiet, so it’ll be a change to see something as intense as the zombie walk, especially if it goes sour like it does in the comics. I’m also interested to see how they portray Negan, now that they confirmed that he’s on his way. I still feel good about the show, all things considered. Season 6A was fairly strong, and “JSS” and “Here’s Not Here” are two of the best episodes the show has ever done.

      Also, let me know what you think of Fargo after I get that review up. Man, the ending to that last episode was insane.