Oli Davis reviews The Walking Dead Season Six, Episode Eight…
Start to Finish.
Directed by Michael E. Satrazemis.
Written by Matthew Negrete.
It’s difficult to write about Season 6a’s closer episode without mentioning the one immediately before – a rare ‘catching our breath’ period, as Michonne coined it. I’d call it ‘the calm before the Undead storm’.
‘Heads Up’ expertly built tension across an array of central characters, pushing the more beige Alexandrians to the background. Sure, there was no immediate threat. The walls were holding, Glen was OK (and, more importantly, his return didn’t feel like a complete Kirkman-palm slap in the face; that was to come later). Yet tension pressed at the seams. Morgan had a literal Wolf in the hen house, Ron’s firearm training intentions were dubious. So much tension was created, in fact, that it toppled over an entire watch tower.
That’s how ‘Start to Finish’ opens: the falling watchtower puncturing Alexandria’s bubble. What a topple, too. The practical effects gave the impact a very real-life weight. The zombie dude with his jaw hanging off shortly after was a great follow-up act.
There are so many different storylines going on at once. It’s like the 1992 Royal Rumble. Carl being pursued by Ron (which he handles like an absolute boss). Glen trying to make his way to Maggie (her POV of the recurring green balloon motif being the episode’s best shot). Deanna planning for society after this whole mess is sorted (she showed more wise-cracking charm in this episode than all her others combined; RIP). You start to realise that the entire first half of Season 6 – both the good bits and the bad, for better or worse – has been building towards this zombie/Alexandria showdown.
The most engaging subplot, however, was the Carol/Morgan confrontation. The two are diametrically opposed on killing, so, naturally, they get stuck someone Carol wants dead. Two characters arguing over the morality of killing another. Lessen the melodrama, and it’s a Harold Pinter play.
Beneath Carol and Morgan upstairs, Denise the Doctor makes conversation with the Wolf – about who he really is; you know, before the whole world ended. It’s impeccably scripted and performed. But what makes it even better, what makes this encounter so engaging, is that there’s another layer. The Wolf is lying. It’s a trick. The Alexandrians are just lamb.
Intercutting between these slower scenes with walkers besieging Jesse’s home keeps the episode at a terrific pace. Satrazemis does a marvellous job directing, from the lowering camera movement transitions between scenes to Sam’s Godfather moment as the door slowly shuts on him watching Deanna writhe in pain.
He isn’t coping very well with all the stress. Carol threatened him, his (now killed) father used to beat him and then the Wolves dismembered his neighbours. The episode takes a great deal of care to show us events from his point of view. His sullen eyes, the slowed down, distorted music on his vinyl player (even the apocalypse can’t get rid of hipsters), the opening prologue of rotting, half-eaten food in his room – just when you think The Walking Dead has done every kind of ‘I ain’t gonna kill in this world’ storyline, Kirkman pulls another bleak perspective out of his playbook. Sam is depressed, in shock and not even 10 years old.
It’s him the episode cliffhangs on, calling out ‘mum’ as Rick, Jesse, Carl and co. make their way to the armoury camouflaged in zombie guts. Making noise again, just like he did with that god damned Tiny Tim song on the record player. Why didn’t someone pull the thing out the wall? And while we’re here, couldn’t they just stay upstairs at Jesse’s and pick off the zombies one by one with a long pole? You could pop those undead heads like ripe avocados by now, and that sofa defence system was surprisingly robust.
Damn it. I’m worked up now. I genuinely enjoyed this episode – particularly the escalating tension and crescendoing montage music for the climax – but the cliffhanger stunk. This wasn’t even a tease good enough for next week, let alone next Spring. Half-season closers should be considerably more intriguing. Instead, it feels as though the episode ended accidentally mid-scene. The ‘prologue’ crap for Season 6b after the episode aired was the aforementioned Kirkman-palm slap.
I love this show. I know it isn’t the best series of all time. It’s no Breaking Bad or The Wire. But it truly is my favourite. And what’s frustrating is that sometimes – when everything fires – it touches Walter White; it touches Stringer Bell.
I just wish it loved me as much back.
Oli Davis is the Co-Editor of Flickering Myth, curator of its Super Newsletter, host of the Flickering Myth Daily podcast and Lead Producer of Flickering Myth TV. You can follow him on Twitter @OliDavis. Keep checking back here for Flickering Myth’s coverage of The Walking Dead Season 6…