When producers decided to end The Walking Dead Season 6 with a cliffhanger, they made their most controversial move ever. Do they have any regrets?
The Season Six finale of The Walking Dead was the most controversial episode by far. This time, it wasn’t because of something shocking we saw on screen, though. It was because of what we didn’t see on screen.
We all knew Negan was going to kill one of Rick’s group. Even if you desperately tried to avoid spoilers, you knew that moment was coming. It was the talk of the entire nation in the week leading up to the episode. In fact, even if you hadn’t read The Walking Dead comic book, you likely had heard that Glenn was the one who died at Negan’s hand originally.
A Road Trip to Nowhere
However, when viewers sat down to watch the much-anticipated episode, it was not what anyone expected. It was 90 minutes of Rick and the group driving an RV around, slowly finding themselves more and more pinned in. And that 90 minutes was most definitely not all episode. AMC stuffed the show with more commercials and more commercial breaks than ever before.
So by the time Negan finally showed up at the episode’s end, fans were worn out and frustrated. Then, when the moment finally came, the camera shifted to a first-person perspective. The episode ended on a cliffhanger and we were left to wonder who had died.
The fandom was divided. Some thought it was a stroke of genius. It seemed like more fans were angered, though. They felt cheated out of a moment they had waited all season for.
Hindsight is 20/20
Ahead of the Season 7 premiere, executive producer Greg Nicotero revisited the decision to conceal the identity of Negan’s victim.
“There was indeed a gut reaction to the cliffhanger by some people,” Nicotero said. “I think after that shock wore off, probably about two weeks later, the response that I got was that people thought it was one of the best episodes that we had ever produced. As far as I was concerned, I was very proud of the episode. I feel like it elicited the emotion that we wanted and we used the camera to sort of confine and create this futile feeling of claustrophobia. I think that we checked off all the boxes.”
It was definitely not “one of the best episodes” they had ever produced. The scene with Negan was pure perfection. Everything before it though, was a complete waste of time.
“The fact that people were upset that the episode ended that way was a knee jerk reaction that within a couple weeks that sort of went away,” Nicotero said. “People were like, ‘Wait, you mean we have to wait?’ Now that we’re getting close to it, I think the overall consensus is that we like going on this journey and they want us to keep it exciting and keep it thrilling and keep the mystery. Otherwise, why bother investing yourself in a show if there’s no mystery or excitement to it.”
Cliffhangers Don’t Have to be So Literal
This is the same defense I’ve seen from Nicotero and others involved with the show. That it needed that cliffhanger to keep up the mystery. That’s nonsense. The episode would’ve still ended with a mystery even if they’d just shown who Negan killed. The mystery would have been, “Oh my God, what will Rick and the others do now that Negan has killed Glenn/Maggie/Daryl/whoever-Negan-actually-killed?” We would’ve been left heartbroken and destroyed, just like Rick and the survivors. It would’ve made much more sense.
At any rate, the past is in the past. Season 7 is here now, so it’s onward and upward!