Be warned! This review will cover aspects of the episode. Spoilers will lurk like groaning walkers.
Okay Walking Dead... time to deliver. After weeks of taunting us with the Saviours and the promise of Negan, one of the most iconic villains from the comic book, we finally get to meet the man (played here by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his baseball bat Lucille. Do they live up to the hype? Let's see...
Long – looong – before we get to Mr. N and his grand entrance (because this episode, like this half-season before it, keeps up the teasing for a good while), Last Day On Earth opens... somewhere. It's dark, there are round holes in the wall where spotlights stream in, but we can't see much and there is whistling in the air.
We keep occasionally revisiting that view throughout the episode, but next cut to Morgan, who finds a lone horse. After sweet-talking the animal, he rides off to continue his search for Carol. Also on her tail is the Saviour Roman (Stuart Greer) who survived her clash with them last week. He's injured but determined.
We then cut between several scenes, including a man running desperately away from some of Roman's Saviour pals. That's interspersed with various scenes at Alexandria: Carl refusing to let Enid accompany the people who are loading up the RV to take Maggie to see the doctor in Hilltop about her troubled pregnancy and those who are going on the mission. He eventually locks her in a closet and heads to the RV. Abe, Sasha and Eugene – who gives an amusing speech about why he should go – also get in, as does Aaron. Father Gabriel and Spencer, meanwhile, are staying behind to help guard Alexandria. They've got it all set up in case there's a problem. Spencer wonders if they should try to make a deal if the Saviours show up, but Rick goes all action movie star, saying, "tell them to wait for me. I got a deal for 'em." Tough words, mate, given how badly you lot often fare in these season finales. The RV peels out and we cut to cred.... Nope, we're still going.
Morgan finds Carol crouched and shivering in the doorway of a disused library, and checks her for injuries. By probably no coincidence at all, it's the place that the Saviours just finished raiding, and they've dragged the man we met earlier away to a road. A mustachioed Saviour, whose name we do not learn, so we're calling him Porno Tache (Steven Ogg), tells the luckless fellow that they have to make an example of him. They stand in the road, clearly waiting for someone. And who might be on their way in an RV? Oh... Credits!
Talking of the RV, our heroes are making progress and Rick's trying to comfort Maggie. “As long as it’s all of us, we can do anything,” he says, which, while it's comforting, isn't always true. Morgan is tending to Carol's wound in the library building, which is empty save for the sound of a walker lurking outside. He – Morgan, not the walker – wants her to come back to Alexandria so they can tend to her injury properly, but she refuses.
Rick and the gang face the first of what turns out to be several roadblocks this week. As it happens, it's Porno Tache's gang and their captive. There is the usual exchange of bravado between him and Rick and both of them win a prize for mentioning the episode's title in their veiled threats. But it ends quietly with the RV backing up and taking a different route.
After a quick trip back to that dark, confusing space, we're in the RV, which is stopped while Team Rick considers their next move. Carl wants to know why Aaron didn't stay at Alexandria. "I owe her," he says of Maggie. "I owe them," Carl replies, meaning, one assumes, the Saviours for what they've done to his friends.
Carol and Morgan are still arguing over Carol coming back. She rattles off her spiel about not caring for people so you don't have to kill for them, but Morgan's not buying it. Carol points a gun at him to get her argument across more clearly, but lowers it. She's no stomach for killing anyone, especially not someone she seems to care for.
As he drives the RV on its new path, Abe is dropping the least subtle hint in history to Sasha that he'd like to have kids with her. She smiles. We wonder whether this means one or both of them will be meeting their maker by the end of the episode. But there's no time for more baby talk, because the road ahead is blocked by another, larger group of Saviours. Carl wants to take them on, but Rick decides it's not worth it. They'll find another way. One of the Saviours fires at the RV as it leaves, which seems like a waste of bullets.
Morgan takes a look outside to check on the walker and finds one strung up, presumably the hung man the Saviours talked about when they were confronting their victim earlier. He climbs a tower to stab the walk... hanger, and then cuts him down. When he gets back into the library, Carol is gone. He heads out on the horse to find her again.
It's roadblock time again for those in the RV as they find a line of walkers chained together in the road. Aaron notices that one of the walkers has two of Michonne’s dreadlocks stapled to it, and Sasha sees Daryl’s crossbow bolts embedded through another walker’s chest. Saviors fire at them from the woods before Rick cuts the chain, letting the walkers loose, our heroes scatter and return fire before heading back to the RV to drive away. If they had a GPS, it would be sick and tired of all the course correcting. But even as they speed away in a new direction, they eventually come to an even bigger obstacle with yet more Saviours. They're clearly herding Rick's group in a specific direction.
Roman the Saviour finally catches up with Carol after she's tangled with a walker whose face was disgustingly melty. You know, even compared to other zombies. He tackles and beats her, then holds her own gun on her. He shoots her in the arm and announces his intention to watch her die.
Darkness. (No parents!) Then we're back with Rick and the RV brigade. He's still trying to convince Maggie all will be well. She believes in him. Silly rabbit.
Roman is still towering over Carol, who seems ready to die. But he just shoots her in the leg. He walks away from her even as she begs him to finish her off, but then Morgan appears and tells Roman to put the gun down. He won't, so Morgan – Mr. "it's so wrong to kill" – shoots him. As Morgan tends to Carol, two men walk up – one on a horse – wearing American football armour, but looking for all the world like knights of old. They offer help, which Morgan accepts.
Rick and co. have stopped again, this time because a giant stack of logs is in their way. What it indicates to Abe is that they're neck deep up shit creek with their mouths open, which is your colourful Abe metaphor of the week. As the Saviours hang the victim we met earlier from a nearby bridge, the logs burst into flame and Rick tells everyone to get back in the RV. Rick's increasingly desperate team consider their options – the Saviours are ahead and probably behind. But Eugene has a theory... their enemies don't know how many people are in the vehicle at any one time. So at nightfall, new plan: he'll drive the RV and distract the Saviours while Rick, Aaron, Abe, Sasha and Carl take Maggie on a stretcher on foot. Before they part, Eugene gives Rick the instructions on how to make bullets and he and Abe share a moment and a hug. Yet again with the foreshadowing of potential death, people? Come on...
It's a good plan, a perfectly wonderful plan with just one tiny drawback. Turns out the Saviours are ahead of the game yet again. After walking for some distance, the gang suddenly finds themselves in a clearing. Bright lights click on and the Saviours' patented whistling (at least we think it's patented; there probably isn't a patent office open... or surviving) kicks into a high-pitched cacophony. And... Oh yes, our heroes are surrounded. Porno Tache, who clearly seems to be a high-ranking Saviour, welcomes them to "where you're going." They're relieved of their weaponry, and Daryl, Michonne and the others are unloaded from where they'd been imprisoned, explaining the weird dark scenes, even as a desperate Rick offers to deal. But the time for talking is done. "Time to listen."
That's for us in the audience too, as we're about to listen to Negan finally arrive and give his opening speech. It's (naturally, given that even with its looser restrictions, AMC is still on US regular cable TV and not, say, HBO) not quite as sweary as his comic book entrance, but there is mention of pants being pissed. We won't transcribe Negan's whole, rambling speech, but it boils down to: Rick and the rest work for him now. They have to give him half their shit. Oh, and because they killed some of his men, someone has to be punished. Brandishing Lucille, the bat wrapped in barbed wire, Negan strolls along the line of our heroes, who have all been brought to their knees, even Maggie (which seems mean to do to a pregnant woman in distress). “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe,” he begins, pointing Lucille down the line of survivors. “And you… are… it,” he finishes, pointing at someone. Negan warns the group not to move or say anything. “You can breathe, you can blink, you can cry,” he says, raising the bat. “Hell, you’re all going to be doing that.” And with that, he brings the bat crashing down on... someone. Again and again and again... blood splatters the camera and we fade to black without learning who, the screams of the others ringing in our ears.
Was it all worth the wait? Well, Jeffrey Dean Morgan he of Grey's Anatomy's Denny, Daddy Winchester on Supernatural, The Comedian in Watchmen, Batman V Superman's Thomas Wayne and a gazillion other genre roles certainly delivers on Negan's blend of down-home charm and utter, chilling menace. He's given one of the better entrances the show has permitted its villains, and chows down on the role with his typical gusto.
And show-runner Scott M. Gimple, co-writer Matthew Negrete, with fellow exec/zombie expert Greg Nicotero directing, certainly want to keep us guessing. There are all those bonding moments during the episode that lead you to wonder who might die (at least until we learn which one of the cast has taken a role in another series). And the fake-out in the final line-up where Glenn tries to interject to stop Negan threatening Maggie and you wonder if the creative team is going down the full comic book route, where – spoiler alert – Glenn gets it in the noggin from Negan and Lucille. But frustratingly, we're left guessing. Good cliffhanger, but still somehow an annoying ending to the season. Especially as it makes it look like the writers hadn't decided who would die themselves and wanted to leave it open so they could hash it out over the summer.
The whole arc of this extended episode has been frustration – for our heroes trying to get Maggie some medical care, for us wondering when ol' Negan will finally show. And the detours with Carol and Morgan feel like they'd have been better used earlier in the season so that the finale could be a straight run towards the inevitable introduction of our new big bad.
On the positive side, there are some haunting images to be found, including the hanging walker and the flaming logs. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan was predictably great. Otherwise? The usual mixture of occasionally fun but often unsatisfying imbalance, which seems par for the course with the show right now. And that's it for season six!
In the UK, The Walking Dead airs Mondays at 9pm on Fox.
Who the hell is Negan, anyway? Read our definitive guide to the character in the comics.