Last night we got to enjoy the 90-minute season finale of The Walking Dead, and if you’re looking for a rant about the absolute bullshit AMC subjected us to in the final frames of the episode, you can read my rant about it here.
But there’s a lot more to talk about in regards to the wrap-up of the season, and so that’s what I’m going to focus on here.
First of all, the aforementioned bullshit aside, wow. What a finale to the season. Rick and pretty much the entire cast on their knees, in front of a swaggering Negan, with one of them about to have a fatal rendezvous with the barbed-wire-studded baseball bat Lucille.
Aside from, obviously, the very unsatisfactory decision to fade-to-black before revealing who died at the end, I felt the season finale was actually pretty satisfying.
For the entire season, the team from Alexandria had been playing cat-and-mouse with the mysterious Saviors, and made some very questionable decisions in doing so. There was no doubt that pennance needed to be paid; and as Rick knelt on the dirt in front of Negan, I could empathise with the terror in his eyes.
Rick led his team to this fateful confrontation, and his actions had sealed their fate. He knew that, and it scared the shit out of him.
But I think that’s something worth discussing in the context of the entire season. In a show that has often walked an ethical tightrope, I think this season the decisions made by the ‘good guys’ of Rick’s team were at their most dangerous and questionable. Even in the scope of an unequivically ‘bad’ group of people like The Saviors, it’s not so easy to think of Rick’s group as the heroes any more.
Let’s look at what happened:
It was Abraham, Rosita and Darryl who first encountered The Saviors, on a deserted road as they limped back to Alexandria. A small group of bikers, these ‘Saviors’ talked tough about ‘owning’ what Darryl and the gang had; right up until Darryl blew them into dogfood with the RPG that Abraham had commandeered earlier.
Famous last words.
Not going to lie – this time, The Saviors had it coming. Morally, I think Darryl and co. were in the right.
But Rick’s response to news of The Saviors is where things go wrong. After discussing the group with the residents of The Hilltop, Rick decides to pre-emptively strike at them. He and a gang corner an outpost of The Saviors while they slept, and murdered every one of them.
Without negotiation, or any attempt to get their side of the story, Rick and his pals committed mass murder. It was one of the most casually shocking things I’ve ever witnessed in the show (and like most viewers of TWD, I’ve seen some shit.) While I can understand, perhaps, the reasoning for Rick’s move – it didn’t sit well with me at all. It was sneaky, it was cowardly and it was not the sort of thing I’d come to expect from Sheriff Grimes.
But last week, that was something the writers themselves addressed – when Rick and Morgan were talking about Carol. Rick had banished her while living in the prison, because she murdered and burned some sick members of the community. Rick admitted to Morgan that with all he’d come to learn, he wouldn’t have banished her in those circumstances. In fact, “I’d have thanked her.”
The journey Rick’s been on has taken him further and futher away from human decency, and closer to an outlook shared by people like The Saviors and the inhabitants of Terminus. The way Negan casually referenced Carl as ‘a future serial killer’ suggests that he’s taking a lot of his friends on that same journey.
Meanwhile Carol, who was always one of the most ruthlessly badass members of the group, was headed in the other direction. She abandoned Alexandria after deciding she could no longer kill to protect her friends; even though she arguably has more blood on her hands than anybody.
Of course, fifteen minutes after leaving Alexandria because ‘I can’t kill any more people’ Carol ruthlessly slaughtered four Saviors like the badass we all know she is – but I don’t think she felt very good about it.
But her story arc wound up with pacifist Morgan – the man who’d perhaps polluted her with his non-violent ways – being forced to gun down a Savior who was about to kill Carol; throwing all of this moral pontificating into doubt.
I think that’s the overall theme of this season of The Walking Dead – morality. As the survivors struggle to rebuild society, they’re forced to challenge what ‘civilized’ people do with the reality all around them; and make decisions accordingly. It’s difficult to pretend that they’re returning to ‘normality’ when that version of ‘normal’ is reliant on mass murder, turf warfare and the ruthless execution of your enemies.
Both Carol and Darryl have had their concept of right and wrong challenged this season.
Previous seasons taught us that the living dead were no longer the enemy – they were merely a hazard of this new world order. Other people were the danger – and you couldn’t trust any of them.
As the residents of Alexandria square off against Negan and The Saviors, we’re going to have to wonder if the ‘civilization’ they’ve fought so hard to establish will be worth saving, after the decisions they have to make to protect it.
What do you think? Is Rick still a hero? Or was Negan’s bloody vengence last night somewhat deserved?