“The world is dark and broken, but we are not. Not yet.” The opening lines of the penultimate episode in the final season of The Walking Dead are part of the series’ latest attempt to infuse the events of the series with something larger and more meaningful. These recurring introductions are spoken by one of the show’s youngest characters, Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming), which provided some final thoughts as we near the end. Although the daughter of Rick Grimes (Andre Lincoln) was largely absent from much of the season’s story (I guess it runs in the family), she was the one to vent some of her internal tensions. Many previous seasons of the show have become increasingly dominated by mundane brutality and the belief that the community wouldn’t save us when the world descended into chaos. These narrations represent a kind of revisionist history and a way the show tries to end on some sort of cogent note. While it doesn’t work as well as one might hope, it does hint at what the story is going on in these final episodes.
In this episode, simply titled “Faith”, the remaining storylines slowly begin to come together. The false trial of Eugene (Josh McDermitt) is in progress even if the result is clear since Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) has the Commonwealth Court completely under its control. The attempted alliance between Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) unravels as they struggle to find a way to escape the labor camp they are confined to. At the same time, Daryl (Norman Reedus), Carol (Melissa McBride), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Rosita (Christian Serratos), Connie (Lauren Ridloff), and Gabriel (Seth Giliam) attempt to rescue them before one of them is killed. That makes for an episode that’s one of the most eventful in recent times, at least plot-wise, though it’s still plagued by issues with character development and emotional investment. Despite all the ways in which the conflict is coming to an end, it really doesn’t feel like this is the final season of such a long-running show, let alone the second to last. However, if you’ve made it this far throughout the series, you’re probably here until the end.
This means that a good number of seemingly important events are happening off-screen, as the show feels like it’s going through key reveals so we can keep moving forward. While that’s not entirely a bad thing, as the show has been overloaded with way too many storylines for too long, there’s still a disappointing lack of emotional connection. Even though we’ve come to know some of these characters over more than a decade of television, everything that made the show so great in the first place is a distant memory as we continue our march. towards this long-awaited conclusion. Rather than being invested in the characters or their struggles, the show’s most intriguing element is how we see the ropes work. We see a whole host of characters make monumental decisions in the blink of an eye and without knowing why, because it’s all about pushing the plot forward. While we get brief character moments between Carol and Maggie as well as Connie and Daryl where they open up to each other that serve as highlights for the episode, each passes by too quickly as we let’s rush into the next scene like when Eugene gives a speech that carries a lot less gravity. There just isn’t enough time to sit down with any of its highlights and let them sink in because there are so many narrative threads to resolve that are more tedious than thematically engaging.
This comes to a head in the climactic scene where Negan seems thrilled to sacrifice himself after making a deal to take the fall for leading a rebellion, though he is stunned when his wife Annie (Medina Senghore) is also placed on the line of fire alongside him. To his surprise, and ours, the rest of his fellow inmates then line up in front to protect him. It’s certainly unexpected, but it’s played with such poor pacing that it lacks any sort of suspense. On top of that, we know no one will actually shoot Negan like he did. his own spin-off show to survive for. It undermines what should be a heartbreaking scene as the countdown drags on so long that we know everyone will be fine. When Ezekiel proclaims that they don’t all have to be broken, echoing Judith’s opening narration, it only cements how it’s all going to end with the main characters unscathed.
Of course, the overriding sentiment of this message is undermined when the man holding everyone captive is brutally killed by Rosita, who forces a zombie into his face. She does this to get information about her own daughter, but there’s just a weird tension about who these people are that the show still hasn’t gotten a handle on. He tries to say something as we reach the end, but he keeps undermining himself at almost every turn. The episode then ends with what is supposed to be a thrilling revelation when Eugene is saved from execution with the promise that an uprising will happen. What holds him back is that everything feels so empty and without any overriding emotional core. There’s still some residual curiosity as to how this will end and, as has been hinted for a while, whether any familiar faces will show up in the final episode. Sadly, except for those little things, there just isn’t much that drives the show at this point. Each scene feels like ticking boxes rather than creating tension and drama about what it will all end up amounting to. There’s nothing better than to get that assessment wrong, but it’s hard to imagine that even two outstanding remaining episodes would be enough to redeem the rocky road the series has been on for far too long. There is simply no life left in this undead spectacle.
The Walking Dead is streaming now on AMC+.