It’s tough being a fan of The Walking Dead. The show had me in season 1, before I’d even read the comic books. It lost me in season 2—the boring farm season—and won me again when the Governor got his revenge in season 4. I’ve been on board with the zombie-slaying and civilization-building since then, but I think The Walking Dead may have just lost me again.
The season 6 finale aired last night, and it was a major fuck-up.
This was the season someone was going to die. Everybody knew it, whether they’d read the books or not, because it’s all fans could talk about. Negan, the series’ most infamous villain—worse even than the Governor—would be introduced (and played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, woohoo!) and he would murder a main character and it would be gruesome and wonderful.
As the show crept closer and closer to the point at which the books reached their 100th issue—a milestone for any comics series, and an occasion series creator Robert Kirkman used to kill a beloved original character—the dread began to set in. The show, for its part, milked it harder than Hershel milked cows before the apocalypse.
Partway through the season, one episode ended with Glenn apparently getting his intestines ripped out by walkers as he writhed on the ground. Turned out they weren’t his intestines, but it was a dirty cliffhanger anyway. The penultimate episode concluded with fan-favorite character Daryl getting shot from behind, viscera splattering the camera, leading fans to wonder at his fate. Turned out he was fine: It was only a flesh wound (or something), as we found out last night.
The show kept toying with killing characters fans love, like that season of Mad Men that was all about mortality—the one where Megan almost got kidnapped and Don had a toothache. At the end of that season (spoilers, sorry all two of you who never caught up), Pryce hung himself in the firm’s stylish office.
At the end of The Walking Dead season 6, the show didn’t even have the decency to play a death straight for once (exception being Denise, who in an earlier ep caught an arrow through the eye in the middle of a monologue. RIP). Instead it showed the highly anticipated murdering from the perspective of its recipient, leaving fans with yet another cliffhanger and a sour taste in our grimacing mouths—not the first time for either.
The finale—which arrived at the end of a season that was basically one big build-up to this episode—was itself one big build-up to the final scene. Rick and his group of survivors have pretty much steamrolled anyone who’s gotten in their way for most of this series, which is why they so easily underestimated the nasty Saviors and their leader, the charismatic Negan. Earlier this season Rick thought he’d wiped the Saviors out; throughout this episode he learned how wrong he’d been as the formidable group blocked every road all at once, flexing their muscles and finally revealing their truly massive numbers.
It all led to the final reveal of Negan himself, a showdown that Rick and his people had no chance of winning. It was a high noon duel at midnight, one side outnumbered ten to one. With the good guys on their knees, Negan only had to choose—"eeny meeny miny mo,“ literally—who of Rick’s people would get to meet "Lucille,” Negan’s razor wire-wrapped bat.
In the books, it’s…well, I’m not going to say, because in the show we still don’t know who got it. It was a cheap cliffhanger on top of a season full of cheap cliffhangers, and it didn’t do The Walking Dead or its fans any favors.
I get that they think there needs to be a cliffhanger for viewers to salivate over the season 7 premiere. But The Walking Dead is huge—fans will look forward to it regardless. And the show also has a lot of critics. This kind of shit is exactly why.
I want to know which of The Walking Dead’s beloved characters—Daryl, Michonne, Carl, Abraham, Rosita, Glenn, Pregnant Maggie, etc.—got offed last night. I’ll tune in once again when the show returns for season 7. But I’m not going to be happy about it.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Gaming Editor, in charge of all things video games. He’s looking forward to meeting Ezekiel. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.