If The Walking Dead had been cancelled and this were its last hurrah, Wrath would probably have been adequate. Rick was morally rejuvenated. Negan got some comeuppance of sorts, in that he now poos in a bucket. Dwight looked set to receive one of the show’s rare happy(ish) endings. And the world – or the tiny smidgen of it our characters insist on never leaving – was on the verge of being rebuilt. It would have been a decent, if slightly soppy, farewell, in which nothing particularly stressful happened and everybody made some new friends.
Wrath wasn’t the show’s last hurrah, though. It was a season finale. And as a season finale, classically when this show’s at its absolute nastiest and unpredictable, it’s a shame to report that Wrath was a load of old bobbins. It was built up to be a game-changing crescendo of excitement and death and long-overdue score-settling, with character arcs and the “all-out war” narrative we’ve been asked to invest in arriving at an explosive and cathartic conclusions. What we got was a lot of people being quite nice to each other, some classic Walking Dead just-in-the-nick-of-timery, and none of the brutal finality that was so vehemently promised. Thus, this season ends on a wet squelch rather than the wallop that – as many viewers debate whether to stick with it at all – was so desperately needed.
The primary point of contention is of course going to be Negan surviving to swing Lucille another day. Only Neegs’ staunchest apologists would argue that it wasn’t time for The Leaning Tower of Geezer to go. He’s had his fun. Whether at the hands of Dwight, Rick, Eugene, Jadis, or any of the litany of other idiots Negan’s irked, surely he wouldn’t be ending season eight with all his bodyparts present and accounted for? And yet, here we are, with him thrown into a cell to gently live to death.
The ingredients for a decent Jeffrey Dean Morgan exit were all there: Negan’s fakeout with the map and his early scenes in Savior HQ built him up as unstoppable, and enjoyably cocky along with it. Eugene’s betrayal was the perfect catalyst, Negan realising only too late that it was his overconfidence in his droogs’ loyalty, and his ability to sniff out a rat, that was his eventual undoing. Yes, Eugene’s plan did admittedly rest entirely on the assumption that no one besides Negan would care to crack off a few practice shots just to check their guns were tickettyboo, but never mind that. The tides turned, and the final standoff was belting along in a loud and satisfactory manner.
Rick instantly ran out of bullets, as he does, having apparently decided one would be sufficient for the huge firefight he knew he was definitely going to have. He and Negan had a brief scuffle. Negan got teary-eyed, and then Rick sliced Negan’s neckpipe using some glass from a sign that was hanging from a tree for some reason. Job done. If that had been it, few complaints would have been made.
Instead, and in-keeping with the occasionally stifling framework of the comics, Rick spared Negan. In the context of the drama we’ve seen it was inexplicable, Carl’s final wishes be damned. Dissatisfying doesn’t even come close to covering it. The revelation that Negan chose to kill Glenn and Abraham to spare Carl offered a welcome shade of depth to a character about whom we still know irritatingly little, as did his genuine feelings of sorrow over Mini-Grimes’s death. But any good work done here was stymied by the total and utter lack of any kind of payoff. In a show that now relies almost exclusively on big watercooler moments, it was a bizarre choice, and one which felt awfully like being cheated. Both this insulting absence of actual consequence, and the promise of further Negan-heavy storylines down the line, will surely be many peoples’ final straw.
Genuine talking points on the whole were few and far between, in fact. The sowing of divisions between Rick/Michonne (Richonne) and Daryl and Maggie (erm, Daggie) hint at interesting developments next season, but offered up precious little to get one’s incisors into here. Dwight’s forgiveness and send-off felt well-earned – good on you, Dwight – but even this was pebble-dashed by the disappointment that he and Negan’s mutual enmity remains frustratingly unresolved. Sod putting it on the back burner for next season – this is the finale. Do it now.
Elsewhere, The Woodland Clan waited until the very last second to come to The Hilltop’s rescue, but did so with fire, so that’s fine. Morgan’s out, and Jadis is in. Also fine. Ezekiel and Jerry also had a nice chat, and Rosita got to repay Eugene for going full Exorcist all over her. All fine, individually. But a season finale? This stuff? Really? Where were the OMGs? What are we supposed to be breathlessly talking about with colleagues over G-chat tomorrow? The fact Daryl let Dwight go? Shut up. Even the reveal that the flash-forward to Rick leaning on a tree, nursing a nasty-looking wound, turns out to have been leading to absolutely nothing. He was fine. So it was nothing more than another dangled carrot, snatched away without any thought of how annoying this might be. Come the credits, it was hard to shake the feeling that Eugene wasn’t the only one who got a smack in the face.
Perhaps it’s one of the more alarming forms of conditioning that comes from watching this show for eight seasons, but Wrath felt entirely inconsequential simply because absolutely no one of note died. Season finales are when people die. That’s what finales are for. And if people don’t – if nothing much happens at all, in this case – why was this even a season finale? Couldn’t this episode have taken place somewhere in the middle of the season, perhaps sparing us from empty-calorie trouser-pongs like this and this? Wrath wasn’t an objectively terrible episode, but it doesn’t feeling like either a beginning or an end, merely a beige continuation which leaves things fairly close to how it found them. Instead of taking things away it appeared to want to give us things – new hope, new friendships, new starts – when taking things away is precisely what the show is supposed to be giving us. Kill someone. Shock us. Make Henry flip out and start murdering people. Anything.
It’s a shame, because this season hasn’t been half bad episode to episode. There have been saggy stretches, but also strong character work, genuine shocks and, more than once, an affable desire to simply have a bit of goofy fun. The season’s not ended on a massive high, and nor has it ended on a huge low. It’s just…ended, with a soft sigh, until it comes back again. Much like this blog.
So thanks to everyone who’s visited and commented over the weeks, even if it’s just been to talk about turnips, how much you hate the show, or how you stopped watching it in 2014. It’s been emotional. The show will definitely coming back for season nine, but will you? Let us know.