The Walking Dead S06E08 “Start To Finish” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on: FOX, Mondays, 9pm
Writer: Matthew Nagrete
Director: Michael E Satrazemis
Essential Plot Points:
- The episode opens with Sam listening to ‘Tiptoe Through The Tulips” in his room, unaware of what’s coming or the stream of ants eating his discarded cookie.
- The tower comes DOWN. Rick runs towards the horde as they swarm in, firing at them to draw them away from everyone else. Deanna goes to help him and is almost injured.
- Maggie barely gets to a watchtower before the horde is on her and she is trapped there.
- Deanna is injured and Rick grabs her, Gabriel, Carl, Ron and Michonne and heads for Jessie’s house. Jessie helps them get inside and they barricade the house.
- Eugene, trapped by himself, is rescued by Tara and Rosita and they hide in a garage. After bemoaning their fate briefly, the three set off to explore the house they’re hiding out in.
- While patching up Deanna, Michonne discovers she’s been bitten. Rick splits his time between helping tend to her and helping secure the house.
- In the attack, Carol falls over and injures herself. Morgan carries her to the house where he’s been keeping the Wolf who Denise is talking to.
- At Jessie’s house, it’s clear Michonne wants Alexandria to work.
- Deanna, serene now she knows what’s coming, talks to Michonne about the instructions and repeatedly tells her to work out what she wants to do as well as what’s good for the group.
- Downstairs, Ron and Carl get into a brutal and clumsy fight over Enid. Ron draws a gun on Carl and in the ensuing fight, they break a window, letting the Walkers in. Both boys lie about what happened and go to a separate room. Carl draws his gun on Ron, who apologises. Carl accepts the apology but takes his gun anyway.
- Upstairs Rick almost kills Deanna when she seems to have turned. She shows him she’s still alive and they talk, Deanna emphasising that the entire group is “Rick’s people” now.
- Denise and the Wolf talk and it becomes clear just how mad the young man is. Carol goes to kill him but Morgan refuses to let her.
- At Jessie’s house things are getting much worse. The survivors are trapped on the top floor and, with little other option, Rick and Michonne kill two Walkers and drag them upstairs. They make smocks for everyone and cover them in the Walker guts, planning to head for the Armory.
- Michonne goes to end Deanna’s life but both women refuse to take that option.
- At Morgan’s house, he and Carol get into a vicious fight that he wins. The Wolf immediately knocks Morgan unconscious and kidnaps Denise. Rosita, Tara and Eugene appear from the garage but can’t fire. They surrender their weapons and the Wolf drags Denise out onto the Walker-infested streets.
- Outside the compound, Glenn and Enid climb a tree and Glenn sees Maggie, trapped but alive.
- Inside Jessie’s house, Sam panics at what they’re about to do and his mother comforts him as best she can. Slowly, the group make their way outside. They’ve all been told to be quiet but as they move out, Sam begins asking for his mom over and over…
- In a post-credit scene, Daryl, Sasha and Abraham are pulled over by men on motorbikes. Men who answer to Negan… Glen! Put War And Peace DOWN!
This half season has backed down from absolutely nothing. It’s been relentlessly decompressed, cheekily showman-like and has refused to give us a single easy answer. This episode is no exception, and it’s all wrapped up in a character we’ve spent almost no time with and how you feel about him.
Sam is a normal kid. He likes bad records and cookies and being by himself in the room where his mother didn’t kill someone to defend him. He’s scared and unsure about all these people breaking in and absolutely terrified at what they’re about to do. He’s not quite old enough to understand what’s going on, not quite trusted enough to be told everything and he’s doing the best he can.
And it isn’t good enough. And it’s almost certainly going to get people killed.
Sam, in the space of the 24 hours since this episode aired in the US, has received colossal amounts of hate for what he does in the closing scene. In a rare instance of the internet being classy, it’s all been directed at the character rather than the actor too.
Everyone who has jumped on this kid and his behaviour is right. Sam’s a liability. He’s confused, traumatised and, crucially, no one has taken the time to explain what’s really going on to him. So, of course, he’s going to start asking for his mom at the worst possible time to do so. And, unless the show pulls another double blind, he’s going to get people dead. Quickly.
But that’s the point.
Sam embodies the collision between Rick’s group and Alexandria more perfectly than any other character, arguably even Rick himself. All he’s known is Alexandria and the normal world before it so he’s three steps behind where most other Alexandrians are two. He’s a decent kid, but he’s had to grow up way too fast and with none of the pragmatism Carl has been exposed to. He’s a walking victim and the only way that will change is if he survives. And he’ll only survive if Rick and his group pull a miracle out of the bag. Again.
Based on this episode, they’re going to be hard-pressed to do it. But that’s the other point. This is probably Alexandria’s darkest hour and so much of this episode is wrapped up in how people react to that. Rick is mentally halfway out the door and heading for the hills with as many people as he can, ready to abandon the town but he’s the only one. Everyone else, from the criminally under-used Rosita to Morgan and Carol, is entrenched and ready to fight
There’s a lot of good stuff here with characters who haven’t been given enough screen time recently. The Tara and Rosita scene is especially great as is the Ron and Carl fight. But what really stays with you here, oddly, is Deanna.
Deanna is killed in the opening moments of the episode and, like everyone on The Walking Dead, does not go down easy. As she fades, what should be a funereal moment is instead shot through with hope. Unlike very nearly everyone else on this show she leaves with absolutely no regrets. Better still, she leaves with a successor in place; Michonne. Everyone’s favourite wandering Samurai has clearly decided she doesn’t want to wander anymore and if anyone leads the fight to take back Alexandria, I’m betting it’s her. The scenes she shares with Deanna are electric and by the end of them you can see Michonne’s not just grown, she now has the last thing she ever expected to have: hope.
Speaking of personal growth and the pain that goes with it, Morgan and Carol have that debate/punch-up that’s been threatening for weeks now. Again, this is a plot that’s been criticised up and down the internet. Again, I say it’s a good thing. Morgan has one thing in his life: his philosophy. He’s desperate to cling to it even as he questions it and that, oddly, puts him on exactly the same footing as Carol. She’s had her own dark night of the soul this season, albeit in a far more minimalist way and seeing the opposing viewpoint embodied gives both of them the certainty they’ve been searching for.
That certainty, this being The Walking Dead, leads to Carol trying to kill Morgan and the Wolf escaping with Denise. But that’s because, like Tara says, they’re not done paying for Alexandria yet. Whether this leads to someone being exiled, someone being killed or the best team-up in the show’s history is unclear. What’s certain is that Carol and Morgan, just like Rick’s group and Alexandria, have been used to show that there are no absolutes any more. If they want to survive, they’ll work together.
That’s where this show lives, and where it leaves us, in the gap between ethics and compromise, survival and horror, victory and tragedy. It’s almost unheard of for a show with an audience base as solid as this to take such huge chances but it’s so welcome to see. Like all experiments there’ve been missteps but the payoffs have been more than worth it. Arguably the show’s finest (half) season to date and we still have Negan on the horizon. Get ready. The characters won’t be…
- Tovah Feldshuh. The central conflict this half season has been Team Rick’s group of feral deathdealers trying to fit into what is essentially Ramsey Street in the Deep South. Deanna has always been a major part of that conflict and here, her death looks set to do the one thing her life never quite did; bring everyone together. It’s a standard trope for this show to have characters dole out wisdom in their dying moments but honestly, when it’s written this well you don’t care. Deanna’s relentless belief in her people, in Alexandria, in Rick is inspiring and dignified in a show that by necessity rarely bothers with either. Her gentle chiding of him is one of this season’s most poignant moments and the scenes she shares with Michonne are some of its very best. She’s made Rick’s people, and just maybe Rick, believers in Alexandria. Now we get to see how much they’re prepared to put on the line to save it.
- As for Deanna? Everything, start to finish, just like she said. Few characters have had a more futile exit from the show but I’d argue none have had one more true to themselves. Just beautifully written, directed and acted.
- Carl. Remember season two where Carl was just an appalling liability? These days he’s a calm, focused leader in his own right. The scene where he and Ron lie about their fight is another perfect piece of writing. It’s two kids lying to stay out of trouble but it’s also two people putting a tiny difference aside to keep everyone alive. You grow up fast in this world, and Carl certainly has.
- Glenn seeing Maggie, trapped and isolated but ALIVE across the compound. And, just maybe, her seeing him. My emotions. MY EMOTIONS!
- Three separate characters fall over in the opening assault. In each case, the scenario is the same; female character leaps into/flees from danger, trips, is almost killed, saves themselves or is saved at the last minute.
- One of these characters is Deanna and that’s kind of fair enough given the Alexandria leader’s well-meaning and relentless optimism has always outstripped her abilities. The other two are Maggie and Carol. CAROL??? Superficially this looks picky I know, but the more you think about it the worse it becomes. Firstly having the same gambit hit three characters within minutes of each other is lazy. Secondly, the fact it’s a cliché that was old when high-heeled lady scientists were falling over in the 1950s makes it tedious. Thirdly, the fact it’s all women makes it outright offensive. Because no guys fall over. That’s why this is nonsense, because it’s impossible not to read it as incredibly sexist. Especially given Maggie and Carol’s well-established positions as two of Team Rick’s major asskickers. It’s lazy, bad writing that causes the episode to stumble far more than any of the women do and it’s, at least, a decade past its sell by date. Do much, MUCH better next season, please. The female characters deserve better and the audience damn well do too. Or at the very least have the guys trip every now and then too.
- Everyone’s obviously under a ton of stress and that’s legit but are you honestly telling me, at no point, did anyone go deal with Sam’s record player?
- The MiniMates on Sam’s bedside cabinet are characters from Robert Kirkman’s other major comic series Invincible. Yay product placement!
- “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” is famously the song playing during several of the spookiest moments in the Insidious movies. This probably does not mean Sam is a possessed child. But we’re keeping our options open…
- Morgan ends his fight with Carol by hitting the Rock Bottom, one of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s old pro wrestling finishing moves. Looks like it bloody hurts too.
- “I got to do what I wanted, right up until the end. What do you want?” “I want this place to WORK.” Deanna’s serene progress into death is deeply odd and very moving. Plus, while she brushes aside this response from Michonne, I think we’ll be coming back to it.
- “What do you want for you?” “I don’t know.” “You better.” Likewise this. Michonne knows what she wants for everyone else now. What she wants for herself will be a big part of next season I suspect.
- “Will you look out for him like you look out for your people?” “…” “Guess what. They’re all your people, Rick, they are.” I love this exchange because it finally calls Rick on his nonsense and transfers the one gift Deanna truly can give; hope. Even in the face of destruction.
- “I didn’t run over to help you out there because I like you or because I think you’re a good man, a good father or that you can grow one hell of a beard. I ran over to help because you are one of us. That’s the right answer.” Likewise this. Rick’s group, his family, is much much bigger now. I can’t wait to see what he does with that knowledge.
- “Place that has got to have a price, right.” “And we haven’t paid it already?” “Apparently not.” Tara and Rosita need to hang out more.
- “Lock pickin’ is within my skill set.” Never change, Eugene.
- “We are better than the…” “NOT IF WE KILL.” Morgan desperately holding onto his morality and Carol desperately holding onto her’s. The truth is somewhere between them. It’s going to be interesting seeing them survive long enough to figure that out.
- “Now what do you want? Figure it out.” “I will.” “Good. Give ’em hell.” Every exchange between Deanna and Michonne is great but this is a standout.
- “Your dad’s a killer.” “So was yours.” Ron and Carl do surprisingly great work here. I love this exchange in particular, as well as their pragmatic, unspoken agreement that they need to settle their problem before everyone dies.
- “Carl I’m sorry.” “Yeah I know. Now gimme the gun.” Carl does not mess. He’s also past the adolescent rage Ron is still caught in.
- “I don’t trust you but I never thought you were lying.” The psychological nuance here is the best. Carol has no particular beef with Morgan. She just can’t rely on him and that makes him a problem until he’s a solution.
- “I will not turn back, no matter what happens.” “Yeah I know.” Father Gabriel and Rick finally talk to each other like adults.
- Shot of the week is this. Deanna, three-quarters dead, choosing to go out fighting. Her entire character in one pointless, massively significant, glorious gesture.
Review by Alasdair Stuart