‘The Walking Dead’ Producers Defend The Season Finale’s Cliffhanger

By April 5, 2016
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(WARNING: Spoilers for those of you not yet caught up on The Walking Dead)

Fans of The Walking Dead were understandably upset following this past Sunday’s season six finale, which included the introduction of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s sinister Negan, who fans have been waiting to see show up, practically since the series even began. It even ended with the iconic moment from the comics, in which Negan chose one member of the main group randomly and proceeded to bash their brains in completely with his barbed wire baseball bat, Lucille.

Sounds pretty solid, right? Ah, but once again, The Walking Dead creative team managed to shoot themselves in the foot by trying to be too clever, or just trolling their audience for the fun of it. Seems like the jury is still out on that, as the episode ended with the a POV shot from the victim’s eyes, as Negan beat them to death, leaving the victim’s identity a mystery until the beginning of season seven… months from now.

Yeah, people were pissed.

While recently speaking with EW though, showrunner Scott M. Gimple defended the cliffhanger decisison, teasing how it will continue into the next season:

“The reasoning behind this was… In many ways what we saw last night was the end of the story of [episode] 16. Where Rick winds up is completely different from where he started in 1 and where he started in 9. I know obviously what it is in 701. And presenting what occurs, to show what happened in full-force, is the beginning of the next story.”

See, but here’s the thing. You can still have the ripple effects of the death resonate into the next season, without having to draw the moment out for months and months on end. What could have been one of the series’ most memorable moments, and greatest achievements, has now been robbed of any real weight or effectiveness because by the time the reveal happens later this year, everyone will already know that someone has died, and it’ll just feel like a footnote tagged onto an already dead body.

So to me, this just feels like Gimple and co. trying to say the cliffhanger was an artistic decision, when really, it was just a cheap tactic to make sure fans will tune in for the season seven premiere. Which considering the ratings Walking Dead receives anyways, feels even more pointless.

Speaking of, the episode’s director and show producer, Greg Nicotero, commented on the finale’s moment as well, and likened it to one of cinema’s most iconic twists of all time:

“I remember sitting in the theater watching Empire Strikes Back and having Darth Vader say “I am your father” and I was shocked and amazed, and I don’t remember being angry. I don’t remember saying, “Oh, I give up on Star Wars because that’s lame.” It’s an exciting time to be a fan of The Walking Dead. Yeah, it’s agonizing to have to wait, but this was the end of our story, and we have an entirely new story coming up.

Next season is really Negan’s story and how our group has to deal with who he is and what his way of life is, so I think it’s the perfect ending to this season: watching everyone on their knees, stripped down to the barest vulnerability, and knowing that the cavalry’s not coming over the hill. Our group has never been in this situation before, so I think it’s the perfect opportunity. We had early conversations about, would we show who it was at the end of the season? Yeah, you always have discussions of what’s the best story. I was very passionate about ending this season on a cliffhanger and not knowing, because I feel like it propels us into next season in a great way. So people can be upset. A week from now, they won’t be upset anymore, and it’ll be fun.”

…. Okay. So. Here’s where Nicotero’s logic fails, is that while yes, the ending of Empire Strikes Back was a major cliffhanger, it wasn’t the twist that Darth Vader was Luke’s father that was the cliffhanger, it was seeing how the characters and Luke would react to the news moving farther ahead, and if Han Solo would ever been saved that was the cliffhanger. The reveal was revealed in the film, and the after effects were what made waiting for three years hard.

This is not even remotely the same as what The Walking Dead did. If it had say, ended with Negan beating Glenn to death with the baseball bat like he does in the comics and it had ended right there – that would have been a solid way to end the season. Because fans would have wanted to see what would happen next, how the other characters would recover and how Rick and his group would start to fight back. Instead, the episode ended with the promise of a flimsy reveal to come in seven months or so. It wasn’t strong. It was weak, and much like the “Is Glenn alive or dead?” question from earlier in the season, it’s the perfect display of cheap filmmaking and storytelling at its finest.

That is, unless Nicotero thinks Empire Strikes Back ends on the catwalk of Cloud City, in which case, someone might want to give him a better copy of the film’s blu ray.

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Alex Welch

Alex Welch

Alex dreams of meeting a girl with a yellow umbrella, and spends too much time* staring at a movie screen. His vocabulary consists mostly of movie quotes and 80s song lyrics. *Debatable
  • David Johnson

    Just like the drawn out reveal that Glenn had been saved (3 episodes to reveal) by the only jacked up 4 wheel drive dumpster in the world, I’m figuring they’ll jump into the Carol/Morgan story next season I didn’t even watch 1/2 the episodes in this 2nd 1/2 of season 6, & I’ll be waiting till after reviews in October whether I’ll be watching season 7 at all!

  • Tony P

    Nicotero needs to retract that… He looks like an idiot with that comment. I can’t believe he would try to use ESB as an example….