‘The Walking Dead’ Sticks with Delayed Gratification in Midseason Finale

walking dead midseason finale recap
Courtesy of AMC

Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen the midseason finale of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” titled “Start to Finish.”

The word that comes to mind when I think back on the first half of “The Walking Dead” season six is “frustration.” The show has had its share of pacing issues this year, largely due to the decision to set the first batch of episodes over the course of a couple of days, which – while an interesting idea on paper – has led to a scattershot storytelling approach that has strung some story threads out for far too long (like Sasha and Abraham’s destructive jaunt through zombie territory, and Carl and Ron’s sullen teen angst-off), and allowed for some downright self-indulgent narrative leaps that remain pretty unjustifiable (I’ve said all I need to say about Glenn’s arc).

That sense of delayed gratification continued in “Start to Finish,” which dispatched Deanna in typically heroic fashion after she received a zombie bite in the opening minutes — her decision to take her own life rather than burdening another character with the act gave the episode its title, and she even managed to take some walkers down in the process — but otherwise saved all the good stuff for the back half of the season.

One mark in the episode’s favor: The hour was beautifully shot by Michael Satrazemis, who has been responsible for some of the show’s most visually and emotionally arresting episodes to date – “The Grove,” “Slabtown” and “Try.”

The eerie opening scene saw Jessie’s son Sam obliviously drawing a picture of two monsters (walkers?) flanking a victim tied to a tree, while listening to the strangely ominous “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” as an army of ants crept through his window to converge on a half-eaten cookie — foreshadowing the hell that was about to break loose outside. And the first post-credits scene was a frenetic and heart-pumping exercise in tension-building, beginning with the John Carpenter-esque visual of the walkers ambling through the dust of the fallen watchtower like a throwback to “The Fog,” before we saw Maggie narrowly escape being yanked from a ladder by the ravenous horde, a visual made all the more provocative by the knowledge that she’s pregnant.

Sadly, it didn’t take long for the episode to pump the breaks, killing the momentum of that opening with writer Matt Negrete’s choice to check in with the many disparate groups of survivors, who all found themselves holed up in different houses. This approach inadvertently demonstrated on a micro scale some of the difficulty this season has encountered on a macro level: it’s hard to maintain a sense of urgency or cohesion when we have to keep cutting back and forth between groups to fill in the blanks, always leaving us with the sense that something more interesting might be happening just off-screen.

The episode had its share of engaging character beats — notably the long-overdue confrontations between Carol and Morgan (which ended with both getting knocked out and Morgan’s captive Wolf escaping with poor Denise as a hostage), and Carl and Ron (which ended with both pretending that their vicious brawl never happened to avoid a whupping from their parents). As much as I respect Morgan’s pacifist ideology, that approach has proven far too impractical time and again this season, and at least in the world of the show, it seems that giving second chances and having faith in the goodness of others often leads to ruin for our characters: Glenn’s decision to trust Nicholas almost got him killed on two separate occasions; Morgan’s insistence on sparing various Wolves has endangered not only Rick out in the RV but now also Denise, Carol, Tara, Rosita and Eugene; and you’ve got to wonder whether Carl’s choice not to rat out Ron will have similarly disastrous consequences.

On the other hand, sometimes having a conscience pays off — two of the most satisfying moments, emotionally, came from Deanna’s discussions with Rick and Michonne. Rick’s mistrust of the Alexandrians, while practical, has become a little one-note when everyone else in his group (even Daryl!) has softened to their naive but well-meaning hosts, so it was nice to see Deanna remind him that all of the Alexandrians are his people now. “I didn’t run over to help you because I like you … I ran over to help you because you’re one of us,” she pointed out.

But despite her close relationship with Maggie this season, it was Michonne who was the main beneficiary of Deanna’s deathbed wisdom — as Michonne saw some hope for Alexandria “even now,” with walkers rampaging through the streets. Deanna challenged Michonne to figure out what she wanted for herself — something that the warrior probably hasn’t considered since she first lost her family. Now she sees a future amid the wreckage, which is no small thing, and she’s armed with Deanna’s dying advice, “Someday this pain will be useful to you.”

The episode built to a fittingly stressful, but typically anticlimactic ending — setting up for what looks certain to be a bloody midseason return in February. After deciding to revert to the tried and true method of avoiding zombie detection by covering themselves in undead guts, joining hands and walking slowly into the herd, Rick, Carl (with Judith), Michonne, Gabriel, Jessie, Ron and Sam looked like they might make it out in one piece — at least until Sam started freaking out and calling to his mom right in the middle of the crowd.

Sadly, the series has always known how to bait a hook with a cliffhanger, fading to black just as Sam started having his meltdown, likely leaving the majority of fans as ravenous as herd of walkers to see how our gang will get out of such a deadly predicament. To make matters worse, AMC also offered a sneak peek at the prologue from the midseason return which only reinforced the feeling that the writers intend to keep treating us like Charlie Brown while they play Lucy with the football.

Taken on its own, “Start to Finish” was a solidly constructed hour that at least gave face time to most of our survivors — allowing Eugene to make himself useful, for once; giving Rosita more than one line to say (two weeks in a row!); letting Deanna inspire both Rick and Michonne in very different ways; and allowing some simmering tensions to let off some steam — even if it proved a little too eager to keep things coy and cryptic going into the back half.

But taken as part of a largely uneven block of episodes, the midseason finale doubled down on the show’s unappealing tendency to bury us under more questions before providing any answers — a narrative strategy that yields diminishing returns when viewers are so savvy (and so spoiler-hungry). Here’s hoping that the latter half of season six feels more inclined to deliver instead of delay.

“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

What did you think of “Start to Finish”? Weigh in below.

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  1. Gloria hHines says:

    I was very pleased with the show, but I saw Deanne when she fell, I did not see the walker bite her but when she fell on a saw leaving teeth imprints could have been easily mistaken for walker bite.

  2. Flip5ide says:

    Just watched the episode. I still can’t figure out how they thought handing over the weapons to one of the guys that hacked up half the community was a good idea. Plus their weapons were their only defense against the millions of the zombies outside. So again, why hand them over? The writers should put more effort into making the show a little bit more realistic. I mean it is tough being a zombie show, but still, I can’t see how they write these scenes and think they make sense.

    The other lame scene this season was when Daryl was with those 3 Negan defectors, and the younger girl walks over to those two dead bodies. I mean we are what, in year 3 or 4 of the zombie apocalypse, and they let her walk over to them without putting a knife in their heads. And how did that young girl not even know better? She wasn’t behind the walls in Alexandria all this time, so she should have known better too. Just dumb.

  3. JFA says:

    This show is losing steam in a big, BIG way. They’re starting to rely on one narrative gimmick after the other. It’s absurd.

    Now it’s obvious they’re bringing in Neegan to replay the dynamic they had w The Governor when the show was actually good! Yes I know Neegan is part of the source material but so was the DC Scavengers/Wolves narrative but look at how badly they mangled that storyline. What should’ve been a really cool story thread laid there like a limp noodle. Please Scott Gimple get back to the basics of good story telling instead of relying on your cheap bag of devices…. Please!!!!!!

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  5. Morgan’s actions made me scream at the screen !!! He is so stupid that I wish he dies before the pastor !

  6. Zach Deedler says:

    Deanna is not dead, and she was not bitten. She fell on a gear/saw that makes it look like a bite. How am I the only one to see this?

  7. I’ve stopped watching the show. It drags on and on. I just read the spoilers now to follow what’s happening.

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  9. Busko says:

    Jessie’s sons are something else. First Ron tries to kill Carl and in the process the walkers storm the garage and break into the house. Fast fwd to them walking outside, good ol Sam decides to call out for his Mommy. Seriously, are you that stupid?! Hopefully Rick’s group finds a safe passage and Sam doesn’t f things up for them.

  10. Tony says:

    First Ron messes things up by trying to kill Carl and all the walkers crash the house…now as they are walking out, Sam decides to call his mommy…seriously?! Those 2 got their dads brains. Something’s gonna happen for sure.

  11. JeffreyR says:

    i’m tired of the Alexandrians and was hoping some of them would bite the dust tonight. most of this episode just pissed me off, with Morgan right at the top of my irritation list. when is this character going to get out of his zen hippie mindset and just whack a few people? yeesh. plus I didn’t like the way he knocked out Carol. Eugene, except for picking a lock, is still useless and don’t even get me started on how stupid Ron and Enid are. the only part I liked was Deanna going ape #@!$ gonzo on a few walkers before she said farewell… all in all, not one of the show’s best hours… it’s hard to get into a program with all the annoyance I feel by the dumb ass characters in it….

  12. Gabs says:

    This season makes me miss Shane. I miss his no bullshit attitude. Carol and Michonne are pretty much the only characters I’m rooting for now. Everyone else is annoying and has me yelling profanities at the television because of their stupidity. I’m talking to you, Morgan.

  13. Ron says:

    You posted in the first paragraph that there are spoilers, so watch out. Yet you used a huge spoiler as the title for this crappy article. Idiots. I’ve already watched the show, but a lot haven’t.

  14. Goodbyenoway says:

    Did no one think to turn off that annoying brat’s music? Time for these kids to die.

    I hope Carol kills Morgan. He’s useless and dangerous. He must go.

    • Ian says:

      Morgan has to go. I’m all for the “humanity” thing, but now he’s caused more suffering and for what? That piece of crap wolf?!?! God help Morgan if Carol wakes up!!

  15. Trump for President says:

    I am a fan of “The Walking Dead” every since it first aired. I am one that is starting to get tired of the way they are running the series. I am to the point of even giving it up. The writers and producers are doing nothing more than toying with the ratings of the show. Matter of fact, I would not be surprised it the viewership falls so low that it will not be picked up next year. It will be a shame if this happened. AMC is trying to push shows after it, however, the shows they are picking are lacking to say the least. TWD series has a lot of promise, but it looks like AMC would rather put their money in other projects that are sure to fail. The only show I watch on AMC is TWD, and I used to watch at least Talking Dead after it, but seeing how I have to wait another hour to see it, I don’t bother watching. Just my Opinion.

    • TruthBE says:

      The article is right on. Thank you Laura. This season is the type of season of a series that finds me getting really bored… and annoyed. I appreciate the series is tracking with the comics and is about the issue 90 range of the currently published 150+ issues; however, this IS television. There are only so many weeks/episodes that the “delayed gratification” can go on without people like me losing interest. Not to mention the fact that week in and week out the completely illogical story lines of unrealistic stupidity (can we spell M-o-r-g-a-n… R-o-n… etc.) allowed to go unchecked/unpunished is beyond annoying. Bullet… head… Morgan step up or die… this is the zombie apocalypse–not the 60’s… there is no Kumbaya time.

      As Laura noted, here is hoping that the second half of the season makes up for the disastrously slow, gratifying pacing of the first half.

    • dannyaf55 says:

      It’s already been picked up for the next season

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