Well, there you have it! When you look back at this show it is actually impressive how far things have come despite the fact this is the first season set entirely outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Yeah, we spent about 5 years around Georgia. Fortunately, the show benefits greatly from this change in scenery.
The first episode begins where last season left off. Rick had gone a bit crazy with power and started contemplating a coup to take over the town Alexandria. A ‘ye ole town meeting was set up to discuss if he should be sent on his way. They decide against this after Rick had his point proved for him in-between dealing with Walkers and abusive husband Pete: the people of Alexandria are soft and weak.
For the first half of the season Rick deals with training the people of Alexandria to become tougher and more independent (although he thinks they are still weak) as well as deal with a quarry full of Walkers. Rick has become much more proactive over the years, preferring to deal with problems head-on before they become worse. Sure, sometimes the problem might go away but more times than not in this world it will come back and kill you. So we see the town try to deal with the Quarry Walker problem over several episodes.
“Rick has become much more proactive over the years, preferring to deal with problems head-on before they become worse.”
The format is quite interesting as this central problem is the focal point for the show over the next several weeks. It allows us to see different viewpoints as several characters try to deal with this threat. Of course, things do not work out quite exactly as planned. This is due to a group known as the Wolves. We do not know much about them except they are basically unhinged bandits who just try to take what they want and kill everyone in their way. Their attack on Alexandria is sudden and brutal.
This attack draws the attention of the Quarry Walker horde towards the town. While some people blame Rick for this, he and others argue this was inevitable and most of the other Walkers had been led away. So while the situation was bad, it could have been much worse.
The fourth episode (“Here’s not Here”) came out of the blue, especially after the previous episode featured the suspected-but-not-really-again-death of Glenn. Show line-up notwithstanding, this was a great character episode which featured a great performance from the always reliable yet criminally underused in anything he does – John Carroll Lynch (eg., the film Zodiac). This was an essential episode which explained what happened to Morgan (Lennie James). Morgan was there from episode one and helped Rick (and us) become acquainted with this new world. Since the beginning, Morgan’s decisions have come back in some way or another – sometimes good, sometimes bad. He could not kill his zombie wife, who ended up eating his son. After loosing his entire family he decided to hold up in town which led to him becoming more and more unhinged. Rick tries to pull him out of it when they meet up again but Morgan wants nothing of it.
This unhinged Morgan is the one we see again in episode four. He is brutal and uncaring, absolutely numb to the world; he is simply existing, not living. When he encounters Lynch’s Eastman, Morgan wants to kill him because he could be a threat; attack first before anyone else has the chance. Yet Eastman wants to give Morgan a chance. Why? Every life is precious.
Despite all of the horrible things which have happened, here is a man who still has hope, who still believes good exists. This does not mean Eastman will not kill if attacked, it is just he will give everyone a chance to walk away. No one deserves to be killed in this world, but if you attack me I will defend myself against you. Morgan is so confounded by this man’s attitude despite everything. As we know, this has a lasting impact on his life as he tries to live up to the same ideals Eastman lived by.
“Despite all of the horrible things which have happened, Eastman is a man who still has hope, who still believes good exists.”
This episode was necessary because, for one, we had no idea where Morgan had been since we last saw him. More importantly, it explains why he has changed so much as well as his sometimes obviously stupid and annoying ideology. While in many episodes in this season you would rightly question how many times must Morgan be proven wrong to get on the Rick bandwagon. It is not until the season finale he makes his case to Rick. Morgan does not think his way is right or wrong because it is not about that, it is about living with yourself the best way you can in this new world (something Carol ends up struggling with). More importantly, he explains to Rick how the Wolf he captured ended up saving Denise’s life and she ended up saving Carl’s life. If Morgan made a different decision, who knows what might have happened?
A strong theme throughout The Walking Dead is decisions have consequences. Usually things end up turning out horribly, but not always, and as Morgan points out it is about living with yourself in this world.
We also see throughout this season how Rick and his Army in Alexandria become overly confident and arrogant in their abilities after they save the town. He realises if people work together then they can achieve anything they want. While much of this change in attitude is a welcome reprieve from the Ricktatorship, and the groups’ arrogance is not entirely without merit, it does lead them to underestimate what will be their greatest adversary (more on them later).
The back half of the series was probably the best. We start off with Alexandria overrun with Walkers and Rick trying to escape with a few others. This human chain does not end well for the Anderson family, which gets eaten up in one of the most brutal moments in the shows history. “No Way Out” was the best episode in the season, yet it would have made more sense being the mid-season finale given what happens. The brutal solution to riding the town of Walkers ends up uniting everyone and revealing to Rick he has an Army at his disposal. This changes him for the better and for the rest of the season.
The season jumps ahead two months later (again, it should have been the first episode back) with everyone managing their day-to-day existence in Alexandria. Rick and Michonne are an item, and everyone seems pretty happy with how things are going despite all that has happened.
“At first, you would think The Savious are pushovers, just like every other group Rick has encountered.”
For the remaining episodes, we become acquainted with a group known as The Saviours. They were briefly introduced or at least hinted at in “Always Accountable”, which was a strong Daryl-centric episode (which I want more of). In this episode, Daryl is out looking for survivors to bring into the town. He ends up being captured by some girls and a guy named Dwight who are apparently trying to escape some community. We are never quite sure of Dwight and his motivations, yet Daryl realises throughout the episode perhaps Dwight is not so bad and decides to ask them ‘the three questions’ before bringing them back to Alexandria. Yet Dwight ends up taking Daryl’s motorcycle and crossbow. Suffice it to say, Daryl is bitter after this episode. “Always Accountable” introduces us to a lot of loose threads which we do not quite understand at this stage in the show. It hints at a bigger world and the consequences of this episode are far-reaching throughout the rest of the season.
At first, you would think The Saviours are pushovers, just like every other group Rick has encountered. Nearly every time Rick’s Army and The Saviours battle, Rick wins. However, I feel the reason for this is because Rick was able to take The Saviours by surprise. They did not know about Alexandra or Rick’s group until he started attacking them and trying to emerge into ‘the bigger world’. Of The Saviours we do meet, we see they are either really horrible people or not too different from our group we have been with over 6 years. The question of ‘who are the bad guys’ is blurred throughout this season. As creator Robert Kirkman explained, if we woke up with Negan in the hospital 6 years ago and followed his journey, then we would probably be rooting for The Saviours against Rick’s Army.
The ultimate goal of this back half though was to introduce us to Negan. Jeffrey Dean Morgan does not fail to impress in the 10-minutes or so he is on-screen. He is perfect for this role in every way and I am greatly looking forward to what he does in season 7. In the season finale, we finally understand why people comply with The Saviours and Negan’s will: they are tough, well organised and dangerous. While they are meant to be ‘the bad guys’ going forward, nothing they do is terribly outside of anything Rick and his group has done. In fact, from what we have seen Rick has done worse; for example, attacking The Saviours outright in their sleep. Granted, Rick did this as part of a deal with the Hilltop colony. It is good to finally see a group which surpasses Rick’s own Army, which to be fair is still badass despite quite literally being brought to their knees by Negan.
“Jeffrey Dead Morgan does not fail to impress in the 10-minutes or so he is on-screen.”
Finally, you cannot talk about this season without talking about Carol and the continuously amazing performance by Melissa McBride. Her character arc has been terrific and we see her in this season as a shattered mess once all the killing catches up with her. She is simply exhausted by all of it and the burden is too much for her. Yet Morgan, of all people, recognises the place she is at and wants to help her get out of it. We do not get to finish this arc with Carol and Morgan, so I am hoping to see more of it when we get back to season 7.
Other highlights of this season include the growing confidence of both Father Gabriel (who is far less annoying now) and Eugene, the episodes which showed how badass Rick’s group was at sorting out problems and the introduction of Jesus and the Hilltop colony.
It is amazing how much territory this show covers in just one season. Granted, sometimes it hits slow patches and a few episodes end up being lackluster. Yet when you look at the whole mosaic rather than just the parts, it is great to see where we have ended up. Season 6 promised us a bigger world, and much of the season was geared towards setting up those pieces. In this respect, it does not disappoint. With the grand reveal of Negan and The Saviours, Rick realises as he is brought to his knees they have seriously misunderstood the New World Order. Sadly, someone pays for this mistake with their life at the very end of the season. We will find out what happens in season 7 and I am hoping to see some themes examined more (particularly how Negan and Rick are not all that different) and our world to open up to The Saviours new world. Overall, this season had a lot going for it in content and pacing was much faster (although it would benefit from fewer total episodes). After 6 years, it is fantastic how far this show has come from one confused man waking up at the end of the world.