There’s a lot to unpack from tonight’s extra-long series finale of The Walking Dead. AMC’s zombie drama sendoff had some truly great moments, some tantalizing cameos and yet it still left me feeling a little hollow and letdown. I suppose it’s only fitting that some of the show’s most irritating bad habit reared their ugly heads in the final episode, but it’s still a bit grating.
I think one part of my disappointment here is simply that the final showdown felt rushed. I know they’ve been building toward this for many episodes now, but it still felt like the crumbling of the Commonwealth happened too quickly and that the stakes were never that high. Indeed, the outcome seemed pretty obvious from the get-go.
The setup for tonight’s big showdown was badly fumbled one way or another. Pamela Milton’s retreat—abandoning thousands of her people to the zombie horde—was so sudden in last week’s episode, we never really got a sense of exactly what it meant for the wider Commonwealth. And the scale of the zombie horde was poorly established, at times seeming much larger and at others much smaller—oddly similar to the population of the Commonwealth, which felt seems to barely top 150 people despite being a community with tens of thousands of inhabitants. When it comes to world-building, The Walking Dead dropped the ball almost completely in Season 11.
That we spent 23 episodes reaching this one and it still felt like a poorly established final conflict says a great deal. It never ceases to amaze me just how out of their depth the showrunners, producers and writers of The Walking Dead seem to be. They’ve had eleven seasons to make this show great, and during brief moments in the finale you see that greatness shine through. But as far as final showdowns go, this one was awfully dull, the Big Bad uninspired and flat, and even at the bitter end The Walking Dead pulled almost every punch. Almost nobody dies in the series finale.
That being said, the finale’s one big death definitely hit me in the feels. It was, in my opinion, one of the most emotionally poignant and powerful deaths in the entire series. Moments of greatness shining through, like I said. More on this in a minute.
The episode opens to the hospital that Daryl (Norman Reedus) took Judith (Cailey Fleming) to at the end of last week’s episode. She’s been shot by Pamela and needs medical attention, but when they get there the hospital appears to be abandoned. We see from Judith’s perspective as a couple of Stormtroopers come into the lobby area and then we see Daryl fall to the ground. Outside, the horde of zombies is approaching. Judith musters her strength, blocks the doors, and passes out next to him.
Daryl—with a very black eye—awakens sometime later laying next to Judith in hospital beds, with Carol (Melissa McBride) looking down on them. Across the room, Magna’s group is weeping as they scramble to save Luke, who was bitten trying to save his girlfriend, Jules, as they fought their way through the horde. They’ve sawed off the bitten appendage but he’s lost so much blood in the process. As the women sob above him, Luke dies. It’s the second death of the episode, and a pretty dramatic one. But Luke is a character we haven’t spent much time with over the last couple seasons, or really ever. He had potential to be a more important and prominent character, but out of the C-tier group that came with Magna (late additions to the cast who haven’t added much to the story) Luke was probably the least important. I knew immediately when they killed Jules first and then spent so much time on Luke’s death, that we probably wouldn’t get many more.
I was right, of course. Only one other death follows Luke’s. In a wildly bloated cast filled to the brim with potentially gory and grotesque deaths, it’s baffling that the creators of The Walking Dead would kill off so few characters tonight. It’s all rather toothless in the end.
Granted, I don’t think you need to kill off characters to make for a good show, but the final triumph over the undead (or this giant herd of undead, anyways) feels so anticlimactic when nearly every member of the group that arrived at the Commonwealth this season is left standing in the end. The Whisperers and Saviors both did more damage and the final showdowns with those groups were far more dramatic (though the end of Season 8—like the rest of the Savior arc—was so poorly staged it’s painful to think about).
In any case, the zombies eventually breach the hospital and the group inside makes their escape. I thought this whole sequence was actually quite fitting as it’s such a direct callback to the series premiere when Rick (Andrew Lincoln) wakes up in the hospital and finds himself smackdab in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The series begins with a hospital and ends with one, though they could have done so much more with it than they did. Instead of bringing people back to a well-lit safe-house and a helpful doctor, having them survive an increasingly terrifying hospital would have been so much more tense.
Rosita and Eugene
Outside the hospital, Rosita (Christian Serratos), Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) have rescued Rosita’s baby but find themselves surrounded by the dead. They have nowhere to run to, so they start climbing a pipe to reach an upstairs window. “You first!” Eugene says to Rosita, because he’s a gentleman and also she’s got a baby swaddled to her chest.
I have to say, this next part would have been much better if it didn’t annoy me so badly. Instead of going first, Rosita says “Just go, I’m right behind you,” and then both Eugene and Gabriel start up the pipe, leaving Rosita defenseless with a baby strapped to her chest, surrounded by zombies. This is preposterous. There’s no way these men, both of whom care deeply about Rosita, would agree to go first and leave her below with an infant. And Rosita, with her maternal instincts still intact as far as I can tell, would not urge them to go before her, if not for herself than for her child.
But up they go and Rosita follows. Of course, she’s snagged by clutching zombies and dragged back down into the horde, disappearing beneath her descending assailants. “ROSITA!” we hear Eugene cry out. For a moment you think she and the baby are done for—which would have been a pretty shocking death!—but suddenly she bursts through, swinging her bat-sword-thing around her and taking out a few zombies along the way. She clambers up onto a nearby vehicle and leaps to the pipe, making her way to safety.
This was a pretty cool action sequence, reestablishing just how much of a badass Rosita is—not that we need reminding. We’ve seen her in several seriously badass fights in recent seasons, and I kept hoping she’d take on a more pivotal role in the series, since I like her a lot more than Maggie (Lauren Cohan) or Michonne (Danai Gurira) and liked her a lot more than Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) back in the day also. For one thing, I think Serratos is a terrific actor—one of the best and most underrated on The Walking Dead—and in the finale she really gets her chance to shine.
Later, in the safe-house where everybody reconvenes—including a freed Mercer (Michael James Shaw)—Eugene sits down and talks with Rosita while Max (Margot Bingham) sleeps. He senses something is wrong and immediately realizes what must have happened. She shows him the bite on her shoulder and makes him promise to hold it together and not tell anyone. She’s not ready to just yet.
I have to say, this scene was really great and emotional. As much as Eugene has annoyed me over the years—often because he’s been written into so many stupid corners or awkward romantic moments—in this episode, I thought McDermitt really knocked it out of the park. He’s devastated that Rosita is going to die and as he takes his leave he says to her, “I just love you so much.” She takes a moment but then replies, “I love you, too,” a tear running down her cheek. Both Serratos and McDermitt really act the hell out of both their big scenes together. If you had asked me several years ago who I thought would carry the series finale of The Walking Dead, I would not have said Eugene and Rosita, and yet here we are. Isn’t life strange?
In the end, at the victory celebration, everyone is drinking wine and eating a lovely looking feast and Gabriel goes over to sit with Rosita. He sense something’s wrong also and when he asks her, she leans in and whispers in his ear, and you can see the shock and sadness on his face without either character speaking. The camera cuts to Rosita, tears running down her cheeks and she smiles and shrugs and it’s just heartbreaking. It’s another in a series of profoundly beautiful—and profoundly sad—moments that comprise Rosita’s death. Judith looks over and her smile fades as she sees the two of them clearly upset.
Next, we see Maggie and Carol helping a rapidly declining Rosita to an upstairs bedroom where baby Coco lays sleeping. Daryl looks on as they get her settled. They leave and Gabriel comes and kneels beside her, saying a prayer (a version of the last rites, though not one I’m familiar with). He stands and walks around the bed as Rosita leans over and kisses Coco’s forehead. “We’ll see you again someday,” Gabriel says, and then picks up Coco and leaves.
Eugene is the last to come sit with her, pulling up a chair and looking down on her sadly. “Rosita,” he says, tears springing to his eyes. “I wouldn’t be the man I am today if I hadn’t met you.” He takes her hand.
“I’m glad it was you, in the end,” she says to him, and then she closes her eyes. Eugene isn’t the only one crying at this point. This was, without a doubt, the most powerful death scene this show has given us in years. I think it’s the only death scene that has made me this emotional, which surprises me. Most of The Walking Dead’s deaths are shocking or dragged out in some way. Glenn’s death was terrible but the violence and brutality of it—something we’ll touch on more in a moment—was just so graphic that any sadness was buried beneath our disgust. Carl’s death was dragged out over a mid-season break and was poorly filmed and cheap, done solely to boost the show’s flagging ratings. Coco’s other parent, Siddiq, died in a truly shocking and horrific way, but that kind of death doesn’t leave much room for sadness, either.
Honestly, I just can’t remember another death on this show hitting me the way Rosita’s did, and I think that’s partly because it was given just the right amount of time and partly because the acting and writing were so on-point (which is often not the case with this show). They didn’t rush the death but they didn’t drag it out either. There was a lot of emotion conveyed nonverbally in each of these scenes. And having Rosita’s final moment spent with Eugene, and her final words spoken to Eugene, was perfect. Somehow they didn’t even bungle the scene with bad dialogue. Even Eugene kept it short and sweet.
This was, in my opinion, the high point of the entire series finale and one of the best moments The Walking Dead has given us in all its eleven seasons. It didn’t rely on shock value or trickery to move us, but rather solid writing and direction and powerful performances from McDermitt and Serratos. I’m impressed. I wish we had gotten more of this kind of character building and depth throughout The Walking Dead’s 11-year run.
The Dead At The Gates
Before Rosita dies, there’s work to be done. Pamela has shut herself into the Estates, a gated community where only she and her cronies (who we weirdly never see) and some troops are allowed inside. A smallish group of a few dozen Commonwealth citizens have gathered at the gates trying to get inside, but if any climb the wall they’re shot. Our heroes have managed to get inside thanks to Mercer and his people, though we don’t see how and at first it’s kind of confusing when we realize they’re already inside the Estates and not outside trying to find a way in to take down Pamela.
Negan and Maggie (who we’ll talk more about in a second) have a sniper rifle and Maggie is planning to shoot Pamela when Mercer and the rest of the good guys show up and confront Pamela and her troops, placing everyone in a bit of a standoff. Outside, the zombies are approaching and the people are panicking, shouting to be let in (though, as with so much Commonwealth-related stuff, the extras at the gates are phoning it in or hamming it up depending; the tension here feels rather strained).
Gabriel walks to the gates despite Pamela telling him to stop. Pamela’s new general tells him she’ll shoot if he tries to open the gates, and our heroes promise to respond in kind. Then Daryl gets so upset that he actually says something. As Pamela screams “Shoot him!” our rugged hero interjects. “Stop!” he shouts. “What are you doing? We all deserve better than this. You built this place to be like the old world. That was the f*cking problem.”
“If I open the gates the dead will get in, not just the living,” she replies.
“If you don’t, you’re gonna lose everything anyways,” he says. “We got one enemy. We ain’t the walking dead.” (Take that Rick Grimes!)
This seems to do the trick. Pamela’s soldiers abandon her. Mercer tells her she’s under arrest. Gabriel opens the gates and lets the people in just in time. Among them are Jerry and Elijah because almost nobody dies this episode. The dead swarm to the gates and Pamela walks slowly toward them, spotting a familiar face. Hornsby’s animated corpse snarls and spits at her, reaching, grasping, and she approaches slowly, almost in a trance. Closer and closer she comes, and we think okay, suicide by zombie is actually a pretty hardcore way to go. Then Judith shouts, “You have to help them governor! All the people who are still out there . . . it’s not too late. It’s never too late!”
There’s a gunshot and Hornsby’s zombie head explodes. Pamela turns, her grim reverie broken. Maggie the sniper took the shot that saved her life—and condemned her to a life in prison—something that Negan says “people like that” find worse than death (and he should know!)
You Spin Me Right Round Baby Right Round Like A Record Baby Right Round Round Round
Now that Pamela is out of the picture, it’s time to deal with the zombie horde. So they come up with . . . kind of a ridiculous plan. Basically, they’re going to play loud music to lure all the zombies to the Estates where they set up a trap. They gather up all the fuel they can find, pour it beneath the Estates in the sewers, line barrels of it up all around, and basically rig the entire area to blow. People with riot shields push the zombies toward the Estates. The zombies, drawn by the loud sounds, apparently all shuffle their way there just in time for the record to stop playing. Once it stops, a mechanism has been rigged to set off a spark which in turns lights the elaborate series of fuel barrels to explode, triggering a mass zombie-killing event in which thousands of zombies are incinerated in the flash of an eye. It’s probably the biggest CGI-infused set-piece this show has ever done.
And it’s just goofy. For one thing, that record wouldn’t play long enough to get all those zombies up into the target area. That’s a process that would take hours, I imagine, on top of the time it would take to gather the fuel and set the trap. Relying on a device that goes off when the record stops spinning is quite literally insane. And stupid. The whole plan felt like something lifted from a Fear The Walking Dead episode. Sure, the big explosion was cool. We all like to watch stuff go boom and seeing all the walkers char up in the inferno was fun. It’s just wildly silly nonsense that I don’t buy for a second.
Worse, it rushes the resolution. I understand the need for the extended denouement in a series finale like this. We’re saying farewell to these characters, some of them forever, others who we’ll see in spinoffs. There were lots of things I enjoyed after the zombies were taken out, but it still felt like a cheap trick, an easy way out, and ultimately an unearned resolution to the horde of zombies problem. Just wave a magic wand and poof—all those pesky zombies disappear. Our heroes emerge almost entirely unscathed.
Maggie And Negan
Maggie and Negan had a couple good scenes in tonight’s finale as well, though they oddly don’t really set the stage for a Maggie/Negan spinoff. AMC bizarrely announced The Walking Dead: Dead City starring the two actors long before the main series ended, robbing viewers of all the tension that their potential deaths would provide. That’s really annoying, AMC! Please stop spoiling your own shows!
Still, I enjoyed the pair’s two big scenes. In one, when Negan tries to take the assassination of Pamela into his own hands to protect Maggie, she stops him and he finally gives her a genuine, heartfelt apology for killing Glenn. She thaws a little to him at that point, and the two go to carry out their deadly business together.
Later, they talk and Maggie thanks him for his apology—an apology she’s waited many years to receive. She tells him it’s brought her some comfort, knowing that she’ll never be able to forgive him for taking Glenn away from her, but that she knows he’s trying and that he’s welcome to stay with the group. “You’ve earned that,” she says. He looks truly devastated by all of this, finally realizing that no matter how much you change, some things, once broken, simply can’t be put back together again.
Greetings & Farewells
After Eugene sits with Rosita and she passes, we get a one-year time-jump. He’s putting flowers at a memorial with the names of the dead on metal placards (the Commonwealth can manufacture just about anything, don’t ya know). He and Max must have got to baby-making very quickly because they have a little girl named Rosie. We see Coco with Gabriel and the kid appears to have aged at least three or four years to me, but who knows. This show never could figure out how to portray children.
From here on out we get greetings and farewells. Ezekiel (Khary Payton) is now the Commonwealth’s governor, and Mercer is his lieutenant governor. Everyone seems happy and content. The rebuilding has gone well, clearly, and there’s no more Stormtrooper armor anywhere, which is a relief. We seem to bounce back and forth between Alexandria and the Commonwealth, or else there are just parts of the Commonwealth that look like Alexandria. I’m not really clear on this, but the colorfully painted windmill looks like Alexandria. The verdant landscape around the Commonwealth walls looks almost cartoonishly lush.
Whatever the case, things have veered into happy ending territory. There is peace in the valley. Lots of hugging and well-wishing from characters who apparently haven’t seen one another in a while.
It gets more interesting when Carol and Daryl sit and say their goodbyes. Daryl is off to search for Rick and Michonne and to find answers about the zombie apocalypse in general. He’s not one to sit still, and after Judith—in her gunshot-inflicted delirium in the hospital—reveals that Michonne had gone to look for Rick, it seems the bug for adventure has overcome him, now that things are safe and calm. He’s said his goodbyes to Judith and R.J. He’s leaving Dog with them.
Carol is sad and tells him she has every right to be. “You’re my best friend,” she says. “I love you,” he tells her. “I love you, too,” she says back.
This is the second scene in this episode where two characters have exchanged these words and it struck me because they’re just so rarely spoken on this show. “I love you,” is almost never said by any character to any other. I suppose this makes these moments that much more powerful, but then I think: Why didn’t Daryl and Judith say “I love you” or any number of other characters? I think it would have been nice to hear that more, to see more affection and love between characters. It humanizes them and let’s us root for them more.
“I wish you were coming with me,” Daryl tells her, but she’s done with her adventures—and Melissa McBride has decided not to be in the Daryl/Carol spinoff, making it just a Daryl spinoff only.
They embrace and then he drives off on his bike into the trees, down the lonely road, past the shuffling dead. Some of the loveliest music The Walking Dead has ever offered up plays as he drives off into the great unknown. It’s a powerful scene and a great way to end the show.
Alas, it is not the end of the episode, after all. And as much as I’m intrigued by the cameos that follow, I think ending with Daryl riding off into the sunset would have been more poetic and moving, and a better final moment. Instead, we get a big tease for Rick and Michonne’s return to the series—or to whatever spinoff they’re going to be in.
They’re not together. Both narrate alternating monologues. Michonne is writing letters to her kids who she’s apparently been trying to get back to, but can’t for some reason. We see her in crazy leather armor riding a horse and swinging her sword. Rick rambles on about how he thinks “about the dead all the time, and about the living who I lost” and it’s a good excuse to show shots of all the characters who died throughout the series. Glenn, Hershel, Henry, Laurie, Carl, Shane, Siddiq, Jesus, Beth, Tyreese, Enid etc. etc. etc. This show used to kill off a lot of its characters!
“All of our lives becoming one life,” Rick says. “We are endless,” Michonne says. We see them looking at one another over a firepit, but it’s clear they’re not actually looking at one another. Just looking out into the night, two fires in two different places.
Michonne is in some vast field, riding toward either a very large group of people or zombies. Rick is walking along a muddy shore littered with zombies stuck in the muck. A helicopter appears above him. “No, no!” he says. The chopper hovers above him and a voice says: “Come on Rick. It’s like she told ya. There’s no escape for the living.”
“Remember what I said, it’s what he said. Hold it to your heart. It’s true,” Michonne narrates. And then we get a classic late-stage Walking Dead montage of various characters saying “We’re the ones who live.” Whoever thought that having characters repeat a phrase like this over and over again was a good idea, or added to the drama rather than just the cheese factor was sorely mistaken. “We’re the ones who live,” Maggie says. “We’re the ones who live,” we hear Aaron and Gabriel and Ezekiel—and even Morgan—say. Scenes from the show flash by and then Michonne is riding down to the field below and Rick is raising his arms to be recaptured.
We cut to Judith and R.J. looking out over the pastoral beauty that is somehow where they all live now and Judith says: “We get to start over. We’re the ones who live” as if anyone would actually say that to another human being. This is my frustration with The Walking Dead. They take good ideas and screw them up so badly with cringey nonsense like this. It’s supposed to be this dramatic, profound ending and it just sets my teeth to grinding.
Daryl driving into the sunset on his motorcycle with the gorgeous music playing would have been a perfect ending. Hearing half the cast repeat the words “We’re the ones who live” is just grating and goofy. And while I liked seeing Rick and Michonne again at the very end, it bugged me for two reasons:
First, it gave these two characters who have both been gone from the show for so long the final moments, upstaging the cast and characters that stuck around to the end.
Second, it’s just a tease for more Walking Dead content. Sure, maybe as a post-credits scene some version of this would have been fine, but as the final scene of the entire show it just falls incredibly flat. If I had it my way, I’d have cut the narration altogether and all the ‘We’re the ones who live’ crap and just shown Rick walking on the beach and the helicopter arriving to take him back to wherever he escaped from. Then I’d show Michonne on her horse riding across the field. And that would be it. A teaser midway through the credits without all the hokey stuff. We already had some big, powerful, moving, emotional scenes in this series finale. We didn’t need this ending at all.
In the end, I think this finale was about as good as it could have been given the state of The Walking Dead in Season 11. But honestly, you could have cut the entire Commonwealth storyline and had Rosita get bitten in the final showdown with Beta and the Whisperers and after they won that fight you could have played out the ending exactly the same way and it would have been even better. Our heroes would have triumphed over a much more terrifying foe than Pamela Milton. Almost nothing fundamental to any of the characters actually changed. Bring back Maggie a little sooner in the Whisperer arc and you could get her and Negan to the same place pretty easily.
This finale got some of its emotional beats right and for that I’m grateful, but the entire Commonwealth plotline felt so superfluous that I’m not sure there really was a great way to wrap things up and even though I find myself irked at just how happy this ending was, and just how many characters survived what ought to have been a much bloodier bath, it could have been worse. At least Bran didn’t become king.
It’s the end of an era, folks. Even with the spinoffs coming and another season of Fear The Walking Dead. I’ve been an awfully harsh critic of this show over the years, but I have a fondness for it nonetheless. I do love some of these characters and I will miss them. I’ll miss writing about them, too. To all of you who have read my reviews over the years, thank you for your support. Please do keep following as we find other shows to watch together!