The Walking Dead: The Sixth Season
US DVD: 23 Aug 2016
Come for the zombies, stay for the characters. That could certainly be the tagline for The Walking Dead, which has managed to break beyond its horror genre beginnings and become a show that simply asks this question: “If the world goes to hell tomorrow and everything breaks down, how will you behave?”
From the beginning, the series has explored various answers to that question, as a ragtag group of survivors led by former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes tries to find a place they can call home. They’ve lived in the woods, a prison, a suburban housing tract, and anywhere else they can find that will give them some respite from the hordes of undead, or what they call “walkers”. (Since no one ever says the word “zombie”, it’s easy to assume such a thing doesn’t exist in their world, which has allowed the characters to be unsure of what’s happening to them. After all, they don’t have Night of the Living Dead and a ton of other zombie movies, novels, and comic books to rely on as guides.)
As in Game of Thrones, most of the characters on The Walking Dead could die at any moment, save a handful who have been around since the first season. Many characters have joined Rick’s group only to die in a multitude of ways. Many of those deaths have been heartbreakingly tragic, and some have been brutally gut-wrenching, such as when domestic-violence-victim-turned-tough-as-nails-survivor Carol kills a young girl who is deemed too dangerous to keep around. That was the kind of scene the show is famous for, one that asks viewers to accept the reality that such actions might be necessary, should civilization collapse.
The sixth season opened with Rick and his group finding shelter in a walled suburban housing tract in Alexandria, Virginia. Of course, like every safe place the group finds on the show, the enclave soon came under attack by outside aggressors, and it was beset by conflict from within. They overcome those threats, albeit with the loss of a few more characters along the way, and they make contact with another seemingly benign community that is willing to trade with them.
As the season came to an end, though, Rick and his group had set out to finally wipe out a group known as the saviors by killing their leader, Negan, but he finds himself outwitted and he and his friends are captured. Negan, who had been discussed but not seen for much of the sixth season, finally emerges with a barbed wire covered baseball bat he calls “Lucille”, and he proceeds to attack a member of Rick’s group with it after a lengthy monologue that can be boiled down to, “I’m a bad ass and you’re going to do what I say.” Negan’s victim was left a mystery, though, to be cleared up at the beginning of the seventh season.
The series has a large fan base, and its creators have said that the comic books on which it’s based have given them enough material to keep going for several more years, but it will be interesting to see if the momentum eventually fades. Already the show has lapsed into a “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle in which the characters face a threat, see a few of their group die, and end up on the brink of losing all hope before rallying and emerging triumphant. Then they get a short break before the cycle repeats itself.
It would be preferable to see the series begin to set up its narrative end game sooner rather than later, so it can go out on top, much like such acclaimed series as Battlestar Galactica and The Sopranos did. (Admittedly, Battlestar Galactica came in for a rough landing.) It would be better for the show to determine its fate than to have the AMC network make that decision and leave the writers and producers scrambling to come up with a satisfying conclusion.
In the meantime, fans of the show have this five-disc Blu-ray set of the sixth season to tide them over. All of the episodes are presented here, including an extended version of the final one of the season, “Last Day on Earth”. The main difference between this version and the televised one is Negan’s liberal use of the “f-bomb”, along with some extra dialogue from him about his new world order. One gets the sense that actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan had a great time playing the role—there must have been much laughter on the set to release the tension from filming the scene.
This set also has some extra footage in the form of about nine minutes of deleted scenes from four episodes of the season. None of them reveal anything interesting, but they’re nice character moments that fans will appreciate.
Seven of the episodes, including “Last Day on Earth”, have audio commentaries from various writers, producers, directors, and actors on the show. Fans who are seeking every nugget of information they can uncover will want to pore through them. (Nope, no one reveals who Negan kills, but that cliffhanger is compared to the “Who shot JR?” phenomenon from Dallas, which, along with the final episode of MASH, was a cultural event that will never be repeated in today’s increasingly fractured pop culture landscape.)
The fifth disc in this set also contains a series of featurettes, starting with The Making of The Walking Dead, which is a series of short two-to-five-minute behind-the-scenes clips for all 16 episodes. Another featurette that lasts almost eight minutes takes a closer look at the season’s premiere episode, “Out of the Quarry”, and “Negan: Someone to Fear” features a discussion of the new heavy from the final episode.
In Memoriam, which lasts about ten minutes, takes a look at the characters who died during the season, and one of them, Nicholas, gets his own five-minute featurette too. It’s an interesting decision, but it seems that it was likely made because that character went on a journey from someone who didn’t know how to cope in the outside world when dealing with walkers to a guy who decided to finally be a hero, with tragic results.
The final two featurettes are “Strength in Bonds”, which talks about why Rick’s group continues to stay together through so many ups and downs, and “The Face of Death: Iconic Walkers of the Season”, which details the different types of walkers, such as the “Wrightson walker”. Comic book fans will immediately understand that reference.