The Film: 3.5/5
In spite of its grim tone and occasionally sluggish pacing, The Walking Dead has become a show which, thanks to solid ratings and enthusiastic fan support, is harder to kill than one of the millions of undead cannibals that plague its breathing human characters on a daily basis. As it prepares to begin its seventh season, the series based on Robert Kirkman’s long-running action-horror comic book continues to chug merrily along from graphically violent zombie encounter to high tension character encounter to fleeting moment of happiness before the next zombie attack.
The group of beleaguered survivors lead by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) have fought many battles and spilled their fair share of blood that once belonged to both the living and the zombified. Peace in their lives at this point has become a cosmic joke because around every corner there always lurks a threat, be it a hungry walker or a power-crazed psychopath with a heavily armed entourage in tow. The sixth season has our human heroes encountering soulless marauders, finding sympathetic fellow survivors, and running afoul of the worst that remains of the human race while trying to protect their new home base Alexandria. Nothing lasts forever, certainly in this world, and throughout the season Grimes and company hear a name repeated time and again…. Negan.
Who the hell is Negan, you might ask? We don’t meet the man himself until the final moments of the season finale, but the small army of merciless bandits and criminal scum he commands known ironically as the Saviors give the Grimes Gang much hell and consternation. Then there are those damn zombies – worse than cock-a-roaches, dude.
Every season The Walking Dead dispenses with a few expendable characters who the viewers have grown slightly fond of, delivers bucket loads of apocalyptic violence and gore, and brings its few relatable human characters who have so far luckily avoided becoming cannon fodder closer and closer to the brink of madness and fascism. Of course no matter what darkness our heroes might frequently dredge from the depths of their troubled souls, something far worse is always waiting for them when life starts to get a little too happy and content for them.
Having to accomplish its grand ambitions on a cable television budget is easier said than done for the show’s production staff, and more often than not is anything actually done. Dedicated members of The Walking Dead’s audience keep coming back to it every season despite the fact that nothing much of consequence seems to happen. Zombies attack, people die, survivors have hushed conversations while staring at one another pensively, peaceful settlements rise and fall, more zombies attack, rinse, repeat. Risk never appears to be the order of the day for this series; characters close to the hearts of the fans rarely come close to dying off regardless of how much we are teased, which only goes to show that for all the internal organs that get spilled or ripped from the characters in every episode, it’s the people working behind the scenes of The Walking Dead that have proven to possess no guts.
The series remains a solid crowd-pleaser for those crowds who love watching zombies get torn apart and riddled with bullets, while the acting continues to impress with a fair amount of emotional depth and consistency. Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yuen, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Chandler Riggs, Lauren Cohan, Lennie James, Michael Cudlitz, Seth Gilliam, and Josh McDermitt are the best the regular cast has to offer. The sixth season also features excellent guest turns from familiar faces Xander Berkeley (Terminator 2: Judgment Day), John Carroll Lynch (Zodiac), Alicia Witt (Dune), and Tovah Feldshuh (The Idolmaker) as Alexandria’s leader.
Although he doesn’t get to make his first full appearance until the finale’s last minutes, Jeffrey Dean Morgan completely owns the screen and the role of the unquestionably evil Negan, radiating dangerous charisma and lurking violence with his good ol’ grin and barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat Lucille. Taking roles that originated in comic books has long been a habit of Morgan’s as since 2009 he has appeared in films based on Watchmen, The Losers, and Jonah Hex and most recently played Bruce Wayne’s father in a flashback sequence that opened Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (oddly enough, Lauren Cohan played the mother of the future Dark Knight in that same scene!), but you cannot deny that the man doesn’t bring his A-game to the plate every time.
Greg Nicotero once again helms more episodes than any other director in the series’ bullpen, calling the shots on the season’s premiere and finale with a few shows in between, and his work is as energetic and equally invested in the drama as it is in the action and gore. Jennifer Chambers Lynch, daughter of David and director of Boxing Helena and Surveillance as well as the fifth season episode “Spend”, returns to direct the season’s tense and thrilling second episode “JSS” in which Alexandria is assaulted by the cold-blooded Wolves. The directors of the season’s remaining shows deliver reliably solid and consistent work as well, which is at this point in The Walking Dead’s run the best anyone could ask or hope for.
Each episode is presented in the 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and the high-definition cinematography – filmed in Super 16 on Arriflex 416 cameras and printed on both 16mm and 35mm film – looks fantastic on this Blu-ray. The 1080p resolution transfers boast naturalistic colors and texture and crisp details in every aspect of every scene, with a fine layer of grain present to give the series a pleasing cinematic appearance. As always, Anchor Bay backs up the stunning visuals with multi-layered English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio tracks that feature immersive ambient soundscapes and a staggering clarity in the dialogue that is never overwhelmed by the nauseating level of detail in the gorier scenes’ audio mixes. The sparse music scores are also granted enough room on the tracks to be enjoyed with balance and depth even when they have to fade into the background and let the action and character interaction take the spotlight. French Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtracks and English and Spanish subtitles have also been included.
Supplements on the first four discs are limited to audio commentaries on select episodes featuring members of the cast and crew: “First Time Again”, “Here’s Not Here”, “Start to Finish”, “No Way Out”, “Not Tomorrow Yet”, “The Same Boat”, and “Last Day on Earth”.
In keeping with past season collections of The Walking Dead, Anchor Bay has housed the bulk of the bonus features on the fifth and final disc in this set, starting off with the extended version of the season finale “Last Day on Earth” (66 minutes). Fans of the show who exploded with fury at the shortened introduction of Negan in the closing moments will be mighty happy to see his grand entrance finally presented in every second of its F-bomb-dropping glory.
In the “Featurettes” section you’ll find a wealth of behind-the-scenes material. “The Making of The Walking Dead” is a collection of sixteen short mini-docs with each devoted to the production of an episode. There is no Play All option for this feature. “In Memoriam” (10 minutes) pays tribute to the characters on the series who met with an untimely demise during the season. “601: Out of the Quarry” (8 minutes) examines the creation of a crucial action set-piece from the season opener. “Guts & Glory: The Death of Nicholas” (5 minutes) is devoted to the character’s noble, but gruesome, fate. “Strength in Bonds” (11 minutes) explores the relationships between the show’s main and supporting characters. “Negan: Someone to Fear” (5 minutes) finds the cast and crew discussing the season-long build-up to the introduction of the upcoming seventh season’s primary villain and how it compares to his counterpart in the comic book. Finally, “The Face of Death: Iconic Walkers of the Season” (4 minutes) takes a quick look at the most memorable zombies to kill and be killed this season.
None of these features go deeper than a surface-level overview of the production and character development, but there is enough on-set footage and cast/crew soundbites to please the series’ die-hard fan base.
Wrapping things up on this disc are a small set of deleted scenes from four episodes (9 minutes). The Blu-ray also comes with a Digital HD download code.
Fans of The Walking Dead certainly had a lot to complain about regarding the series’ sixth season, but at least it had little or nothing to do with the craft and dedication of its talented cast and crew and the solid hour of gory, intense apocalyptic horror entertainment they deliver with apparent ease every week. Anchor Bay Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of this season features the outstanding A/V quality and shallow but reasonably informative supplements that happily live up to the moderate standard established by previous season sets. The hardcore devoted should be quite satisfied.