It’s rare for FFF to stray in to television land but when this weeks Season 6 finale of The Walking Dead delivered this generations ‘Who Shot JR?’ moment, as zombie enthusiasts we couldn’t help but join the post show ruckus. And a ruckus there was. No sooner had new villain Negan knocked one out the park, forums, discussions boards and social media started to simmer with the discontent of keyboard warriors.
To be fair to the legion of angry Dead-Heads, there was some justification for their rage. Throughout Season 6 the expectation had been built that a key character would be killed. When it was announced that Negan would be making his debut in the season’s final episode, it was clear that whoever the character was they’d be meeting the blunt end of ‘Lucille’, Negan’s weapon of choice, a barbed wire wrapped baseball bat. This was how Negan was introduced in The Walking Dead comic and it remains the most infamous issue to date.
The shows lead Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes) stated he felt sick when he read the script for the episode in question “Last Day On Earth”. Other cast members were equally appalled, alleging they threw scripts and struggled to sleep. Teaser trailers ran introducing Lucille, advertising posters lined up potential victims, AMC stoked the fires of anticipation. But when the moment arrived and Negan swung for the fences, we switched to the point-of-view of the bats recipient, blood ran down the camera lens, the screen faded to black and the credits rolled. Cue a collective “What the fuck?” from the 14.9million viewers who tuned in across America.
So were the cast lying when they talked about the season finale? Was it all a cheap ploy to raise viewing figures? The post show hoopla prompted a press teleconference with shows head writer Scott Gimple. When asked whether the cast knew the identity of Negan’s target, Gimple was elusive “I can’t let you behind the curtain on that one. The spoilery-ness is just way way way too intense. I would say … I’m so afraid to open my mouth on this one. There are far too many landmines there to traverse”. Judging by this reaction, the cast were indeed aware of who got killed.
Gimple confirmed that some fan disgruntlement was expected, “I think if you have something in a story that can be criticized in some direction, it will be criticized … people in some ways now almost feel like it’s their duty to let their opinions be known”, Gimple also stated that the non-reveal was part of the grand plan. The rationalisation given was that Negan’s introduction was the culmination of Rick’s story in Season 6, the build up of his arrogance in being able to tackle any threat and the destruction of that overconfidence with the arrival of the Saviours and their leader. Who Negan killed didn’t really matter in this context. The victim’s identity will be the catalyst for the Season 7 story.
Gimple wasn’t asked why, if this was their decision, they allowed the promotion for season 6 to imply we’d see a key character killed off. Fans are left to assume it was the shrewd hand of marketing at play. What was different for the "Who Shot JR” generation though was patience; audience manipulation or not, no one seemed to mind having to wait for things thirty years ago. Unfortunately, this current generation are a lot less patient and a lot more must-have-everything-now. Fans have thus begun dissecting the last ten minutes of “Last Day On Earth” desperate for clues. The ultra self-entitled have even started a petition, demanding that the shows producers AMC reveal who got the bat.
In the post episode fallout, many over looked the brilliance of Jeffery Dean Morgan’s entrance. The Walking Dead hasn’t seen a villain this charismatic before, and not even David Morrissey’s fantastic Governor arrived with this much impact. During his brief ten minutes Morgan sauntered and orated with an irresistible mix of dark humour and menace (the full-on sweary version has been reserved for the DVD release this summer), a superiority that comes from knowing that, without exception, you are the biggest baddest dog on the block. Some fans bemoaned Morgan’s slight build, which likely stemmed from the actor losing weight for work elsewhere, but in the shadowy clearing in to which Negan emerged it didn’t really notice that much.
Brilliant entrance aside, fans have to wait half a year to find out whose head got caved in. Whilst fans are worrying that Season 7 will commence with a number of flashback episodes and AMC won’t divulge the victim until a few episodes in, Gimple has hinted that this won’t be the case and the premiere episode will reveal all, “I’ve known for awhile what is in [the season 7 premiere]. Presenting what occurs, to show what happened in full force, is the beginning of the next story. But to the showing of [the beating]… It’s an incredible work of gore by [comic artist] Charlie Adlard in the book. How we show that on TV? I’m certain we’ll be pushing some boundaries with it”.
Still, the wait hasn’t stopped the amateur detectives getting to work, and part of the fun over the next six months will be solving the riddle. When asked whether fans could work it out from what was shown on screen Gimple stated “I believe there is no way. There are a couple of things in there that might help people, possibly limit the amount of people who are vulnerable. But I would rather people not go down that route because I truly don’t think there is a way to puzzle it out definitively … I’ve seen it again and again. If you put very smart people together, I don’t know if we’re talking about the collective unconsciousness or something … Granted it might be one comment among 1000 comments. Luckily there will be a lot of theories floating around. I hope it doesn’t become the dominant one”
The trouble for Gimple in all of the above assertions is that, after the misrepresentations of the Season 6 promotion, fans don’t know whether they can trust Gimple and AMC anymore. So to help those who want to be one in one-thousand, like a game of reverse Cluedo we’ve examined the evidence, drawn diagrams, interviewed witnesses and beaten numerous people to death down the local woods. Our findings and victim likelihood (10/10 being a dead cert, 0/10 being more chance of me winning the lottery) are set out below; you can read, you can laugh, you can disagree …hell, you’ll all be doing that.
Rick Grimes –
You can pretty much rename The Walking Dead the “Rick Grimes Road Trip”. This is Rick’s show and it’s his story. The only way he’s dying is in the final episode (although don’t put it past AMC to drag the show on even after Andrew Lincoln says “No more”). If Negan kills Rick it will be the greatest twist in television history, though guaranteed a not very welcome one. However, there is slight rumour that Carl is growing up to take over from Rick, which would fit in with Lincoln’s comments that he is growing tired of decamping his family to the States every year for filming.
Rick Likelihood - 1/10
Carl Grimes –
In the comics Carl plays a large role in the ongoing Negan saga, as the Saviours leader tries to cosy up to Rick’s son in an attempt to drive a wedge between the two. AMC have strayed away from the comic plot before, but never that extensively. Killing Carl would be a massive departure. Looking at the Negan scene, he states “Anybody says anything, cut out the boys other eye and feed it to his father, then we’ll begin”. Fans took this as confirmation that Carl and Rick are safe, but there’s no reason Negan wouldn’t torture the boy before killing either of them. Countering that, Negan refers to Carl as “the future serial killer” perhaps indicating he sees a future for the teenager. But in an ominous foreshadowing the first reference to Negan in the show came in an earlier Season 6 episode where Jesus described the moment Negan first laid down the law for Hilltop “He made a lot of demands, even more threats. And he killed one of us, Rory. He was 16 years old. They beat him to death right in front of us. Said we needed to understand, right off the bat”
Most worryingly of all a freeze frame of the moment Negan raises Lucille reveals a familiar shadow cast upon him; recognise the hat?
Carl Likelihood – 2/10
Daryl Dixon –
As with Lincoln, actor Norman Reedus has mentioned some dissatisfaction with the role of Daryl Dixon, both with the writing for the character and the amount of time spent shooting the show. The Daryl character not appearing in the comics also presents a challenge for writers as to how he fits in to the plot. Daryl is by some distance the shows most popular character and killing him off would cause civil unrest amongst the fan community (the “If They Kill Daryl We Riot” t-shirts have being doing the rounds for some time). The character also sells shed loads of merchandise making AMC a ton of money. It seems unlikely that AMC would kill their cash-cow. In addition, during Season 6’s penultimate episode Daryl is shot in the shoulder, left bleeding as he takes his place in Negan’s line-up. It seems unlikely that Negan would beat on an already injured man. But then, perhaps he wants direct revenge on the man who took a rocket launcher to a group of his Saviours.
Daryl Likelihood – 3/10
Also high in the popularity stakes is Danai Gurira’s Michonne, the samurai sword wielding grump who along with Daryl has become Rick’s right hand ‘man’ and second in command. Out of the blue though, she became more than that, becoming Rick’s love interest as well. Given the lack of chemistry between the pair before this it was a bit of a jolt and a plot twist that wasn’t particularly well written. Despite this, it seems unlikely that the writers would kill off two of Rick’s potential partners in such a short space of time, having already offed Jessie midway during Season 6. The pattern for killing a character in The Walking Dead, and most other TV shows, usually sees said character involved in a lot of scenes and story developments in the run up to their death. Other than shacking up with Rick, Michonne had very few moments during Season 6. She should live to fight another day.
Michonne Likelihood – 2/10
Sasha Williams –
Despite being an utter bastard, in the comics Negan does have his limits. One of them is not killing women. If AMC are sticking with this moral code the female contingent of Negan’s line-up should be safe. It would also be a stretch for AMC to get away with a man beating a woman to death with a baseball bat in graphic detail; zombie ghouls yes, man on woman physical violence probably not. Gimple has said they are looking to push boundaries with the death scene but this is likely to be a boundary too far. Still, if a female character is going to get it, Sasha could well be in the firing line. She’s had a decent character arc from Tyreese’s sidekick sister to genuine badass and now the love interest for Abraham. Her character also had some moments towards the end of Season 6, discussing possible children of her own with her new man Abe. And with no Sasha in the comic, the question of what to do with her might end at Negan’s feet.
Sasha Likelihood – 5/10
Rosita Espinosa –
Almost the forgotten character, other than being Abraham’s bit on the side for two seasons Rosita has been almost exclusively in the background. Now that Abe has cast her aside for a new beau, there’s almost nothing left for Rosita to do. By contrast, in the comics her character has a long story arc, including bizarrely a relationship with former voyeur Eugene. If this is going to be replicated on screen her story has only just begun and has a lot of mileage ahead of it. Of those in the line-up she is the most minor character and unless AMC and Gimple really were lying about the introduction of Lucille being shocking, it would be anti-climactic for a second tier character like Rosita to be killed.
Rosita Likelihood – 2/10
Abraham Ford –
“I’ve only got one more day ‘til retirement” is pretty much what Abraham has been saying for the last few episodes, the television equivalent of the old cop whose about to meet a sticky end via the new drug dealer in town. Abe’s life seems complete, or as complete as its going to be in a zombie apocalypse. He’s had a lot of moments during Season 6, which saw him beat his maniacal addiction to kicking walker ass, make his peace with Eugene, and find a new lady to settle down with. During “Last Day On Earth” he even found time to voice his feelings on having children in this new world, all backed by the halo of a Georgia sunset. It all points towards Abe heading for a fall. When he found himself on his knees in front of Negan he was the only one not to back down and knelt up tall with his chin sticking out defiantly. Negan states “I’m not building a garden” and by the looks of it he likes to recruit powerful men; but is Abraham just too much of a threat having a military background (the reason he was seen wearing a military officers uniform during the first confrontation with the Saviours?) and as the biggest, toughest member of Team Rick? Having died in the comic via the death AMC gave to Denise in the show, it appears Abe is now on borrowed time. Negan also mentioned “Catch a tiger by its toe”. With that impressive tiger orange moustache and hairdo, there’s a good chance Abraham is on the menu. And who else would take a baseball bat blow to the head ‘like a champ’.
Abraham Likelihood – 8/10
As the first gay character in The Walking Dead and the head recruiter for Alexandria it seemed Aaron was set to become one of the more interesting new additions to the cast. But as Season 6 wore on actor Ross Marquand became more and more side-lined. In the comic Aaron has struggled on and is still fighting now, despite the death of his partner Eric. It therefore seems likely there is a lot of Aaron’s story still to tell. However, as the character close enough to being a main cast member but near enough to the second tier characters that no one would mind too much if he were killed, Aaron looks like a good bet for a beating.
The potential for a skull cracking increased further this week when a behind-the-scenes photo appeared online showing what looked like a kneeling Aaron dummy with a split head. Another red herring or a genuine leak?
Aaron Likelihood – 7/10
Eugene Porter –
Like his buddy Abraham, Eugene has had a fairly full character journey in The Walking Dead. From potential saviour, to fraud, and back to hero again, Eugene cemented his redemption by sacrificing himself and the RV during “Last Day On Earth”. His continued presence in the show was rendered needless by handing over the recipe for bullets to Rick, and he even had a tearful reconciliation and farewell with Abraham before hitting the road. As a stand-up comedian Josh McDermitt is one of the most popular actors on set, which may have prompted the dismay amongst his cast-mates when they read of his demise. Having had time to question him after nabbing the RV, Negan may have also sized Eugene up as a fairly weak member in his band of potential new recruits. All round, things don’t bode well for the mullet sporting former high school teacher.
Eugene Likelihood – 8/10
Glenn Rhee –
Poor Glenn. Even before the Season 6 midpoint dumpster miracle, Steve Yeun’s character wasn’t the most popular with some fans. After his improbable escape and dumpster salvation thanks to AMC’s cheeky mid-season-break switcheroo, The Walking Dead’s goody-two-shoes slipped even further down the popularity stakes. But other than Rick and Carl, no character has appeared in more episodes. He’s one of the few characters that doesn’t make stupid decisions (though like the rest of Negan’s line up, why did everyone chose to leave Alexandria when it had already been attacked a number of times) and with a baby on the way he’s about to join Rick as the only other father on the show. A couple of significant facts loom large over Glenn’s head though. In the comic it was Glenn who was beaten to death by Negan. There has been so much marketing around who the victim might be, and the previous Glenn-death-fake-out tried to draw Steven Yeun out of the firing line, one wonders whether AMC are trying too hard to point the finger away from Glenn. In addition, when Rick’s group stormed the Saviours hideout it was Glenn who discovered the Polaroids of Lucille previous victims on the wall in all their gory glory.
Glenn Likelihood – 9/10
Maggie Greene –
In the comic with Glenn dead, Maggie raises their son alone and becomes one of the leaders in the group, an authority figure to rival Rick. With Negan apparently against beating women, and with Beth and Herschel Greene already killed, it’s likely that Maggie’s television journey will continue as well. However, as an interesting reversal on the comic, it would be a neat twist if Negan turned his bat on Glenn’s lady instead of Glenn himself. He hinted at putting Maggie out of her misery during the final moments of “Last Day On Earth” and seeing Glenn’s pained reaction to this threat, he just might be malicious enough to follow through.
Maggie Likelihood – 4/10