|Photo Credit: The Walking Dead / Gene Page|
5. Mid-Season Break Delays Lift-Off
In comparison to the most recent episodes, Start to Finish didn't leave breadcrumbs of which potential innocent civilians we should root for or which villains to be skeptical about. Luckily, there wasn't significant time/location/character jumping. Instead, finally, we stayed in one place with only a few different characters vying for our attention.
With our favorite characters waiting out the zombie invasion in their own four corners of Alexandria, the episode split time between each groups' location: Rick with Jessie, Judith, Carl, Ron, Sam, Michonne, Father Gabriel, and Deanna in one house, Rosita, Eugene, and Tara trapped in a garage, Carol and Morgan fighting it over the Wolf in his cell, and Maggie left up on the watchtower platform. Most of the episode focused on Rick and company because Deanna was brutally injured by a saw wound and a zombie's chomp marks. Making up the rest of the episode were intermittent and uninteresting scenes showing what was going on around the block. The former was by far the best aspects while the latter struggled to remain interesting.
Normally a television event like a winter finale doesn't ask a lot out of the fans. The wait for a show to return from the holiday season is one of anticipation. Start to Finish built up a lot of potential action that made us want to see more...and then halted everything in its tracks. The intrigue of which characters would survive or become become potential zombie brunch was sawed in half. It did not leave us, or rather me, with the usual gratifying tease you'd expect from a mid-season finale. Instead the climatic ending and episode as a whole felt lacking, leading me to reflect deeper on the entire current season and the similar unsatisfying feelings it created.
Over a period of eight weeks, seven episodes centered on one day's (two or three days tops) storyline. The writer's aim this season was to style the season like a film; one story focused on multiple characters and settings. I'm sure I would feel this method is more successful when I watch it back-to-back in a marathon or on Netflix. However, on a week-to-week series, I struggled to grasp when in time we were and who we should truly care about.
The plain and simple truth is that we time, character, and setting jumped all the freaking place. Though The Walking Dead is not new to putting some characters in the front and shoving others to the back of the line, this season's attempt was severely flawed and misdirecting.
Herein lies the rub: we focused on Alexandrians who straight up didn't have a will to survive outside of their luxurious comforts, and we lost Rick as the prominent central figure.
I've ranted about the Alexandrians before, but nothing gives me more cause than Start to Finish. For a majority of the season, Alexandria was the sanctuary and community that Terminus took advantage of from desperate survivors. However, in this genuine safe-zone the population was made up of cowards. On top of which, this season failed to acquire or establish a leader or partners-in-leadership.
Deanna was the politician in charge but Rick had all the experience to guide Alexandrians from civilians to warriors. But too many people were terrified of him, so he really couldn't take charge. When he did, they lost more people with non-existent weaponry skills from the failed quarry plan. Deanna was overwhelmed with grief. So again, we faced Alexandrians not stepping up to the plate.
This season lacked structure about who are leaders were fighting for. Eventually, too much time passed for them to man up and finally transform. We didn't see an army warding off the attack; we didn't see any plan put in motion when hell froze over. Instead, when the walkers bulldozed through the walls, the Alexandrians - the named and the nameless - scrambled and vanished.
Where the hell was Aaron? Did Eric choke to death on a Spaghetti Tuesday on Wednesday - because we haven't seen him since season 5? Where the hell did Tobin go? Where the hell was Heath? Where the hell was Spencer? Where was Olivia? Was Scott still alive?
What is more - we really lost essential parts of Rick too. He was coming up with all actual effective strategies, but they didn't have any time to act them out. Meanwhile Alexandrians, whether in the background or center of the action, gradually replaced our favorites who fell into the white noise of temporary plots.
Did we not learn from the prison's destruction? Not one capable person from Woodsbury learned how to shoot. How long as Michonne and Daryl searching for the Governor - a few weeks to a few months? When he returned, they had nobody but our favorites knowing how to duke it out. Our group puts the responsibility of saving people on their own shoulders, and then we're supposed to care about people who don't have the opportunity to save our own or their own. ?!
Start to Finish itself is the simple story of a zombie invasion. My favorite parts were really seeing Rick return as head honcho with his small group in tow and their strife to aid Deanna for as long as possible. Other than that, the world fell away and nothing else really mattered.
I don't think the season started out right with the quarry plan falling apart. Ever since then we've spent an agonizing amount of time trying to fix something that was broken, and we're not talking about the plan itself - but the separation of the group, the disintegration of Alexandria, and the intrigue of what kind monsters the Wolves were. I mean, we never really even delved into their psychology before moving on to the Saviors now. I would've liked Deanna to become a stricter, hardened leader after her losses and directed the group to listen to Rick; for him to right away have weapons lessons, and let the story build up to the quarry. At least then we would have seen Alexandria really try, instead of just flail its arms and hide.
Yes, I was not a big fan of season six so far. Yet, you'll be surprised to learn: Start To Finish is probably one of my favorite episodes: PURELY FOR the scenes with Rick's group; everything else, well....shit.
4. Time for a Showdown
It's time for a showdown folks. But was it a game of philosophical beliefs we really wanted to see?
Carol was investigating Morgan's not-so-mysterious hide-out, where he was holding a Wolf in good graces. Sweet Dr. Denise was convinced to help him because he was suffering from an infection and made no qualms about murdering her community. When Carol discovered who Morgan was taking care of, a fight broke out. Ultimately both contenders were left unconscious while Denise was taken hostage by the Wolf. (Morgan bodyslammed Carol into the concrete floor, while the Wolf knocked out Morgan - SURPRISE.)
Carol and Morgan are not the same people, yet the psychological warfares they hold themselves hostage to binds them together.
At one end of the spectrum, we have Carol. Currently in season six she is struggling to take it upon herself to extinguish their most lethal threats - for the most part, people who show no mercy. While she might've been in the position last season to go undercover and coddle Alexandrians like children, she still had to witness the blood being spilt across her neighbor's lawns as well as getting more on her own hands. The steps she took to decrease the Wolves' attack by slaying as many people as she could single-handedly brought back the pressure and wounds of having to be in charge of her family's fates - like Lizzie, Karen and David, to name a few, of stepping up in the worst way possible.
On the other opposite end, we have Morgan. Oh, Morgan.
Morgan lost his family by respectfully not having the heart to do what was required; finish them off before they turned into walkers. Then his guilt catapulted into rage; convincing himself that all he needed to do was clear. He was only brought back by a chance encounter with Eastman who taught him that all life is precious. However, his new belief isn't necessarily turning over a whole new leaf. Morgan himself said that if he doesn't hold onto Eastman's principles, there's very little holding him back from committing mutiny against everyone without having a realistic reason to do so. He did annihilate two strangers in the woods because they happened to come across him; he nearly killed Rick, and would he have slaughtered Michonne and Carl too? Morgan commits himself every day to what Eastman shared but he is hanging on a very thin thread of consciously restricting his instincts and making the most of his coping mechanisms.
They are both the antithesis of each other's psychological state. Morgan's trigger finger might be set off as swiftly as the snap of a twig, while Carol might suffer an immobilizing breakdown. He does not have the foresight nor control to kill for necessities' sake, while she does not have the unconscious capabilities people out of thin air (I don't ever see her turning into Morgan from Clear - nope, not gonna happen).
Obviously, these two were going to butt heads at some point. Not just their mentalities, but details of their backgrounds are plenty similar too. Both have lost their last surviving family members. Both have burned their previous identities away and felt reduced to nothing but ashes. And, both are facing the tough call to kill when necessary. It's one of the biggest transformations Rick had to move on from in order to keep his family safe.
However, the way in which their match was conducted in Start to Finish suffered a major season three fate: one where we the audience were painfully aware of how stupid and illogical a characters' decisions are but are forced to watch their tunnel vision anyways. The comparison I'm making is obviously that everyone in the prison and 90% of Woodsbury were aware of The Governor's true nature while Andrea fell under his spell to live out a distorted, uncharacteristic rose-colored fairytale.
Morgan suffered the same fate as Andrea, and why he gained so much backlash so quickly. We're aware of Morgan's principles, yet we were forced to watch them morph into something so blindingly ignorant; he carried out his mantra to the point of putting innocent strangers' lives in danger. He did this not because I feel like he believes he really change the Wolf but to echo a redemptive desire, to pay back Eastman. But he's totally doing it for the wrong person; a member of a cult who has clearly expressed his desire and intention to "free" his friends and grave-rob their bodies/supplies; someone who Morgan had already shown mercy to once and still came back to murder members of the community.
What was disheartening about this scene is the terrified way in which Carol reacted to Morgan's defiance to exterminate the Wolf. She knew immediately t hat keep Denise and everyone else safe, she would have to get rid of the Wolf, and to do that, she would have to kill Morgan too. But, she didn't want to. She didn't want to be put in this position, but Morgan was forcing her to.
Even more disheartening about this scene was that Denise was involved too. She may be scared and lack the confidence in her medical skills, but Morgan took real advantage to lead her to his house where the Wolf was and try to convince her to help him. He didn't even care that she was in the same room as his and Carol's quarrel escalated. She was completely underminded by two men, one of which who swore everything was going to be okay and then put her life in jeopardy.
But I really had no words for Morgan and Carol's scenes other than sheer shock that this is how their battle exploded. Carol was pigeonholed into another situation of having to neutralize threats because no one else is around. Morgan internally feels that "all life is precious" but he's more than willing to put the wrong people on the chopping block; in this case we know, murderers before friends/acquaintances/people who gave him a new sanctuary.
Poor Sam. Yes, Poor Sam. People should cut him some slack. I don't hate the kid. I can't.
Start to Finish opened up with a kid suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Imprisoning himself in his room, not eating nor talking to anyone, Sam was the epitome of terror, guilt, and confusion. He's eleven years old, and the version of what Carl could've been if the tables were drastically turned.
The past few days to weeks has been beyond brutal beyond comprehension. Sam had an abusive alcoholic father who was murdered by his mom's new boyfriend. His mother disappears 90% of the time to be with Rick or to take weapons lessons after she stabbed a Wolf to death in their kitchen. His brother Ron usually ignored him by playing video games in another house, and is now taking after his father. It's never even depicted that other children also live in Alexandria, so the kid had/has any friends.
His only consolation when Rick's group rolled into Alexandria was Carol, who was bossy and pushy but baked him cookies and gave him a home away from home. Once the zombies strolled up to the gates, Sam didn't have anybody. Isolated and scared, he drew pictures of himself fulfilling Carol's prophecy and threat from (season five's Forget) - of which she told Sam that he would be far outside the walls tied to tree where no one would hear him scream as monsters will come to tear him apart.
The speech wasn't considered as brutal when Carol initially said this. It took time to take significant affect. Sam, when left to his own devices, is left with the remnants of what Carol told him. It's sad.
Surprisingly, I don't fully blame Carol for her choice of words. Instead I ponder where his mother Jessie was; for him to be left alone for so long. I mean, enough time has passed that ants are crawling over wasted food and he is absolutely sleep-deprived.
Basically, Sam is the bizarro-world's version of Carl - who has consistently had a community of people around him (Shane, Dale, Glenn, Lori, Andrea, T-Dogg, Daryl, Carol, and Rick - and then Herschel, Beth, Maggie, etc.). By this token alone this makes the Grimes' teenager one of the luckiest juvenile survivors because he had people to confide and guide him.
Yes, Sam's meltdown comes at the most inopportune time. But let's consider that by the time anyone pays a visit to the second floor, Deanna is covered in blood and everyone else is trying to not contain their panic of walkers invading the house. And, his mother's only piece of advice is to pretend to be somebody whose not scared and pretend to be brave. A case could be made that she was saying these things to herself moreso than Sam. However, this is still quite a way to completely disregard his terror and confusion.
When the group joins the herd of walkers covered in zombie gut ponchos, it's the most action, and people (dead or alive) Sam has confronted in a while. Sam doesn’t have shit, to be honest; Sam doesn't have anyone or anything guiding him. For him to call out for his mom, it’s understandable. With the exception of how the comic books turn out, his noise might not draw a lot of attention of the walkers unless he starts throwing a temper tantrum and forces Judith to start crying. Their ponchos will still mask their human scent from the walkers. But, even if we all wanted him to SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UUUUPPPP, I wish someone had actually paid him an inkling of attention. Maybe they could have saved a life or two - depending on how the mid-season premiere turns out.
Ron finally made his move, and Carl did too. Boarded up inside their house, Ron rounded up that Deanna's bleak fate was another reason to dismantle the Grimes family. He's convinced that his entire family is dead and lured Carl into the garage (locking them both inside) to kill him. Their scuffle resulted in breaking the garage door, inviting nearby walkers to hear their brawl and come bursting through. Thankfully, the lil' Grimes defended himself, but it took Rick hacking away at the lock in order to save them both.
As the gif set above shows, Carl wasn't having it. He wants to square away their beef, but in a parallel of Glenn to Nicholas, he keeps giving Jessie's son multiple chances. Unlike Nicholas, Ron keeps blowing them off - not 'cause he's unappreciative but he's dead set on enacting revenge against them.
So Rick and Jessie asked what happened in the basement as they are barricading the garage door with furniture, and Carl covers for Ron. Was this a smart move? Carl probably thinks that this is not a big deal as it could turn out to be. He recognizes the bitterness Ron has towards his family, but with everything on their plate already, he probably thinks he can handle the jerk.
Yes, I don't have sympathy for Ron. He's not like Sam, who is too young to understand what is going on. Ron is unstable, but he's aware of his decisions and actions. We've seen him calculate that his life fell apart when Grimes moved in and he wants to do away with them all and cover up his murderous plans.
Following Carl covering Ron's scheming arse, he also poked the bear a little bit more. Thankfully, he at least forced the brat to relinquish his gun leaving a little less of a chance of having his eye shot out. Ron may not have a gun in hand anymore, however, there was a very interesting and lingering shot of Jessie putting hers in a holster. Will Ron get his hands on it? Or when the shit hits the fan, will she be the one to start firing off bullets and damage Carl (considering both of her previous kills were with a knife)?
Carl defending himself was such a great moment. We can't say for sure that the kid who once admired the sight of a deer in the midst of an apocalypse is still gone. He's aware of the monster inside him; the one who reared its ugly head and allowed him to go on a brief murder spree; the one who called his father repeatedly an asshole and shitface and that he could manage without him in After. He knows for sure there are bad people out there, but he's not going to become one of them.
What's even greater is that in season four Carl was convinced that the reason why Shane, Lori, and so many others died was because of Rick's inability to take out the Governor. Part of this is true because all he wanted to do was play farmer, but his temporary change in title from Sheriff to Mayor of Crazy Town to Kick-Ass Rick also gave enough father-to-son instruction and bonding. Lil' Carl recognized that his father isn't all that of a bad guy. Even further in A, when Rick ripped out Joe's throat and stabbed that other guy from stem to sternum, he knew that his dad would do anything for his survival. I just loved Carl standing up for his old man, especially while wearing his iconic Sheriff's hat.
Shit is right. I loved this episode because of Deanna. All of my love and predictions for Deanna were for not, and I really wanted so much more time with her than what we got.
When walkers came through the walls, Deanna ran to Rick to help him; she ended up slipping and falling on the table saw (the one Rick and Tobin used to re-inforce the walls) as well as getting bit by a walker.
I thought her death would be swift, and from a writer's perspective from how the season was going, merciless and melodramatic. Hauling ass into Jessie's house, Rick, Michonne, Carl, Ron, Father Gabriel, Jessie, Judith, and Sam aid in taking care of Deanna as best as possible. But thankfully this clan was the absolute best of the mid-season finale. Her decline was considerably longer than any other one we've encountered. And to boot, it was humorous as well as emotional and empowering.
From start to finish, both in the episode and literally, Alexandria's boss was the woman and leader she wanted to be. After losing her husband and son, and seemingly becoming aware that her town was nothing but a pipe dream, Deanna gained an even stronger will to live.
One of my biggest qualms of Deanna's leadership was that we only saw pockets of her efforts in various Alexandrians; many of which who disappeared in this episode as if they never existed. Hopefully they come back, and when they discover Deanna's fate, they too will feel the impact of her death.
Without the Alexandrians or her son Spencer by her side, Michonne was the closest to reach out to her. As we remember in season five, she was the first one to jump on the boat of Aaron's offer to come back with him. From the beginning she tried to acquiesce Deanna's commands and wanted to fit in. Towards the latter half of the season it was Rick and Carol who were pushing all of the wrong buttons, the us versus them mentality, and Michonne was trying to make it work. She even knocked out Rick when his speech about changing the way things were went too far in defying Deanna and getting them exiled.
Michonne believed Deanna's revitalized plans could work, and I don't think she was just trying to give her one last hope. For a fellow female character who's pocketed as much loss, she needs to find a way for it to be useful. All Deanna wanted was a better future, and that's what she got; she got to do what she wanted right up until the end - similar to Eastman, or Andrea. I know Richonners will say that Michonne is thinking about her future with Rick, and I have nothing against that. But Michonne was empowered by Deanna to consider what she could contribute to the group as a whole; what her movement will be and how will she commit to it.
Deanna's death racked up a lot of similarities to Andrea's. The latter wanted both her former Atlanta family and the Woodsbury people to join forces. Her attempts might have been out of hand due to the abysmal direction of the third season, but in the end, she continued to try. She faced off against one of the series' biggest villains. Not only did she leave her mark because Rick took the Woodsbury people home with him, but her death was also her choice.
Rick was the second best way Deanna could make amends and push people towards their own greatness. His greatest challenge has been to see everyone as a whole group. He's made a far departure from season three and four when he accepted Michonne as one of their own and considered Woodsbury people as close as his own. Before Andrea shot herself, Rick told her that she was still one of them. Here again later after everything his people has been through, and the true sanctuary that was offered to them, he was combating his instincts to protect everyone. Deanna tried to save Rick when the walls fell because she considered him to be one of her own. She even gifted Rick with the blessing that her are all his people, and she hopes that he will take care of her son and the others as one of his own.
I loved that both Michonne and Rick were her ways of insuring her hopes continued. Pieces of her wisdom will persevere whether or not the physical structure of her town will still stand after the dust settles. Here's a woman who still went out fighting. Unlike Andrea, Deanna didn't put herself out of her misery, or burden Michonne with that responsibility. Instead with the last round of bullets, she took out several of the walkers coming up the hallway and allowed herself to be mauled by them.
What's also great about Deanna's leadership is that one other skeptic was made into a believer too: Father Gabriel. At least we can hope. The group's only chance of surviving was to cover themselves in walker guts. Without drawing attention to themselves and masking their scent, they could all make it to the armory. Father Gabriel seems to have, at least a while ago, realized his mistakes when he tried to convince Deanna that Rick's group didn't deserve her paradise. That was a grave mistake because he's been shunned by Grimes ever since. But banding together, in this preposterous idea that none of these other characters would've ever dreamed up - Gabriel swore he would not turn his back on them.
Everyone in this set of sequences were really great. Tovah was amazing as Deanna, and as sad as I'll be to go back and watch her in season five, she had a really electric presence. You really don't know in the past what kind of woman she was. Her cold poker player exterior didn't let on that she was trustworthy in the beginning. But so many sides of her kept growing and it's a shame but also a badge of honor as a fan for her to go out like this.
Again, it was great to see Andrew Lincoln too. I feel like we haven't gotten a lot of him this season. It's hard to pin down the grasp we have of his character right now. I loved his scenes with Tovah, especially the one moment of pause they had when he thought she had turned and was mauling Judith. Her screaming, "It's still me!" and Rick's immediate regret that he could have axed her but didn't was humorous, and a little scary, but totally memorable. I loved their goodbye; it was subtle but emotional, and they both did a great job (as did Tovah and Danai in their scenes too). I just wish we had seen more of them as wingmen taking care of their people together.
A lot of characters have given us reason to try to see the light in the darkness, to hold onto humanity and reasons to live while facing so much death. Deanna pursued who she was going to be from start to finish. While everyone else was crumbling around her, she didn't let the world change her ambitions and aspirations. The first sight of Alexandria made us think how much long went into that place still standing, but really it must have taken a lot of sweat. One woman was determined to rebuild the fabrics of what society was. She got to build something with her family and be the change she wished to see in the world, as cliche or corny as that saying sounds. She went out with a bang, by daring greatly, and giving 'em hell.
+ Rosita felt Abraham was dead; a foreshadowing of his and Sasha's possible romance, or was she relaying guilt to having possible feelings towards Spencer. I found it odd that her conversation with Tara didn't go farther than this confession.
+ Anyone else love the Grimes family portrait on the front porch?
+ Was I the only one really excited to see them cover themselves in walker guts. I actually sang it's WALKER GUTS COVERING TIIIMMMEEE!!!
+ Absolutely loved the music at the end of the episode while Rick and the group walked hand in and out of the house in walker guts. SOOO GOOD.
+ Finally, we have the confirmation of Negan's existence. Let's all be happy for a few seconds, and then realize that we're all gonna hate him when everyone meets his BFF Lucille.