This has been a strange and frustrating half-season. Setting all eight episodes over a very short period of time was an intriguing idea, but the result has been an exciting opening followed by a saggy mid-section. This mid-season finale goes someway to redress that balance. It's packed full of incident, yet feels lacking in consequence.
That's not to say that “Start To Finish” is a bad episode. It's beautifully shot by Michael E. Satrazemis, with the opening zombie attack especially striking. It subverts expectations, too. I was fully expecting the final scene of the episode to be Ron standing over a wounded Carl, smoking gun in hand. Instead, that plot appears to have been closed down – at least for now, thanks to some smart thinking and fast action from Grimes the younger. Good stuff.
It also goes someway to restoring Deanna as an interesting character – just in time for her to die, natch. She's bitten, but she uses the opportunity to try and build bridges between her community and Rick's. She gives him her blessing (despite the fact that, as Ron points out to Carl, he's notoriously good at getting people killed) and encourages Michonne. In the face of her own demise Deanna still makes the well-being of others her first priority. And if you didn't already think she was a hero, she goes out shooting zombies and screaming defiantly.
But, frustratingly, it also deliberately leaves everything hanging. By the end, little has changed. Glenn isn't reunited with Maggie. The Wolf that Morgan captured escapes, dragging Denise with him. Even the gang's climactic escape ends mid-scene. Sure, this is only a pause before the show picks up again in February, but it feels emblematic of this year as a whole. Decompressed storytelling can work well, but it needs some payoff and it doesn't feel like there's been enough this year.
There's also a nagging suspicion over where this is all heading. Most fans know that there's a big new villain on the way – if you weren't certain of that before then the episode's post-credits sting with Darryl's group makes it more-than-clear – but it feels like we're in a holding pattern until he-who-must-not-be-named actually shows up.
I don't want to seem too down on the show. Earlier in the season “JSS” proved that The Walking Dead was still capable of knocking out classic episodes. But it's hard to escape the sense that the show is faltering. Let's hope that this is just a temporary wobble and that it will be back on form next year...
|Michael E. Satrazemis
|The One Where
|Walkers flood through the gap in Alexandria's eastern defences and Rick falls back on an old plan