In its ultimate chapter titled ‘Rest In Peace,’ The Walking Dead, a long-running saga, aimed to give closure to the ever-evolving narrative of its universe. And no, I’m not referring to the evolving walkers themselves, but rather, to the show’s attempt to infuse deeper thematic meaning and narrative fulfillment into its recent storyline, which had been lacking. When this series started more than a decade ago, it delved into the exploration of what is lost when the familiar world collapses. The tragedy wasn’t just about the millions of lives lost to the zombie apocalypse; it also delved into the moral descent of those who survived. It’s almost become a running joke to say that “the walking dead” in the title refers to the humans as much as the zombies.
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In particular, the show painted a grim yet compelling picture of how Rick (Andrew Lincoln) gradually transformed into a broken and ruthless character. For all his efforts to create a world where people could find community and look out for one another, there were moments where he succumbed to his own darker instincts. It was a rather pessimistic portrayal of how desperation could shape individuals. However, in this final season, the show attempted to introduce a glimmer of hope by offering a glimpse of a better future.
To truly understand how this closing chapter comes together, it’s not just about dissecting the plot; it’s about examining the underlying themes. Beyond the return of familiar faces and the inevitable character deaths, what did this series finale ultimately aim to convey? To delve into this, we’ll need to discuss some heavy spoilers. So, if you haven’t watched the finale yet and intend to do so, bookmark this page and return when you’re ready.
How Did ‘The Walking Dead’ End?
In a literal sense, the final showdown that had been brewing was between the well-known characters and the oppressive Pamela (Laila Robins), who had maintained an iron grip on the Commonwealth. However, the way this conflict unfolds within the plot turns out to be less captivating than the broader message it conveys about the world. The initial plan devised by Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to snipe Pamela from a distance was reminiscent of what The Walking Dead might have done in its earlier seasons without much thought. However, the story takes an interesting turn when Daryl (Norman Reedus) steps in with a speech that, although somewhat rushed, still holds significant weight. He bluntly tells Pamela that “you built this place to mimic the old world, and that was the problem.” Then, he opens the gates to rescue the people trapped outside. Everyone is saved, and despite Pamela’s attempts to let the walkers devour her, she gets arrested. Interestingly, it’s Maggie who shoots a walker to protect Pamela rather than to kill her. The rest of the group successfully eliminates the remaining walkers, securing the community.
Young Judith manages to survive her gunshot wound from a previous episode, but Rosita gets bitten during a walker altercation. She locates her daughter and shares a “perfect” dinner with friends before she passes away. Towards the very end of the episode, Rick and Michonne make their entrance. Both of them are alone, searching for their families and writing letters while yearning for their missing loved ones. This conclusion feels more like a setup for their upcoming spin-off show than a comprehensive resolution of any lingering storylines from The Walking Dead.
The Friends We Made Along The Way
While they did face some significant losses, the overall tone is one of hope as we fast-forward a year into the future. Ezekiel (Khary Payton) now leads the Commonwealth, and the Hilltop community is thriving. Daryl even remarks to Carol (Melissa McBride) that the outside world has become quieter, and the threat from zombies has significantly diminished. However, it’s important to note that the three upcoming spinoffs may alter this peaceful picture. Nevertheless, at least for the moment, our beloved characters seem to have found a lasting sense of peace. It’s almost as if, after enduring so much conflict and bloodshed that had become unsustainable, they discovered an alternative way of life. The show had been exploring the idea of its characters coming to terms with the violence that had dominated their lives, and this ending is its attempt to drive that point home. Ezekiel even delivers a brief yet direct speech, promising a brighter future under his leadership. Even the visuals become more vibrant and fairytale-like than ever before, with lush green landscapes that practically leap off the screen. It’s all part of how the story emphasizes sentimentality over suffering, right down to Judith telling Daryl that he deserves a happy ending too before he rides off on his motorcycle into the unknown. As he leaves the old world behind, a few walkers linger, but he pays them no mind and keeps moving forward.
After delving deeper into darkness over eleven seasons, this ending represents The Walking Dead’s attempt to conclude on a positive note, albeit in a somewhat clumsy fashion. Strangely, it reminded me of another series on the same network, although they couldn’t be more different in genre. In its final season, Better Call Saul embarked on a more honest exploration of legacy, one filled with hope yet haunted by melancholy. Of course, it’s a more nuanced character study compared to the spectacle-driven nature of The Walking Dead. However, both final seasons aimed to reinvent themselves boldly as they approached their respective conclusions. One succeeded in a more profound and meaningful way, while the other, unfortunately, fell somewhat short, especially since its future spinoffs appear poised to undo much of what it attempted to wrap up. For what it’s worth, The Walking Dead’s effort to conclude on a hopeful note wasn’t inherently flawed in theory, and it could have worked had it received more focused attention. Nevertheless, credit must be given for the attempt. The key factor lies in how effectively the ending executes what it had set out to achieve, and in this respect, it may have come too late to leave a lasting impact.