Maggie and Negan are heading to The Croat’s lair, but first they have to deal with an errant Ginny who has finally caught up with Negan. In an effort to stop her following them more, Negan tells her some home truths (and lies) that may make her hate him.
Negan also becomes aware of some uncomfortable truths closer to home and that Maggie may not have been honest with him about the reasons she’s dragged him to Manhattan. Will anyone get the resolution they want – in fact will anyone escape with their lives?
It appears that in a city that never sleeps, they are all about to get offers they cannot refuse…
The finale of Dead City – entitled Doma Smo, Croatian for ‘we are home‘ – is a curious beast and given that it’s a franchise that’s still all about zombies, that’s quite a statement. Yes, it’s entertaining enough, yet a lot of the decisions made here – in the sense of narrative, production and pace – don’t really make a lot of sense when you stop for a second to analyse them.
The introduction of The Dama in last week’s episode is also a double-edged, head-scratcher. The character herself is enigmatic and interesting (deliciously played by Ozark‘s Lisa Emery) to the extent you wished she’d been around earlier, but she was brought out of left-field as a never-mentioned-before Big Bad and now assumes the main antagonist role. That means immediately demoting The Croat (whom the series spent time and energy and backstory building up as an even worse version of Negan) to something of a whimpering distraction. They may have been a deliberate device to underline the fact that The Croat was, truthfully, a sub-standard, emotionally-crippled and inferior version of Negan who looked up to Negan for all the wrong reasons and this new set-up gives him all the more reason to be resentful going forward, but it still feels like an awkward handbrake turn and a possible detour for the series that feels like a last-minute decision. Also of note, Marshal Armstrong while not best-buddies with Negan, now seems to be an active ally. Their exchange of back-stories last week seems to have conveniently cleared the decks and yet it feels a bit rushed and hard to accept that the gruff lawman is suddenly shrugging and actively offering to let Negan go and escort Ginny to safety.
The fight between Maggie and Negan is one of those elements that the very first concept/pitch meeting must have included and was inevitable when you have two characters with so much remaining animosity, even if they’re being forced to work together – maybe especially so. There’s years of pent up rage and sooner or later that’s going to spill over and give the audience their own cathartic moment. But while one can understand some conflict (after all, Negan’s just worked out Maggie’s about to double-cross him) we get what appears to be high-stakes combat, up close and personal and armed-to-the-teeth and possibly to the death. Yet the show forgets its own narrative. Firstly, there’s the minor observation that we know it’s highly unlikely the show would kill either of its leads (because, hey, what high-profile dystopian drama and franchise would risk alienating their audience by doing that to one of the leads, right?) But more importantly, if Maggie does kill Negan – and it seems she’s trying really hard to do that given that she stabs him – then the very double-dealing that she’s been hiding all along, will be null and void and for nothing… The Croat is very likely to kill young Hershel just for grins and recrimination. The one thing she absolutely HAS to do after bringing him all the way here is keep him alive for delivery. Negan, of course, though betrayed, doesn’t actually want to hurt Maggie, he’s just disappointed in her. So, really, whatever intense action we get for a few minutes is always destined to dissipate.
Ginny, of course, finally gets to speak – albeit it only a few words. This too follows the old trope/arc of a mute person finding a way to communicate when it’s totally necessary and was always going to happen before season’s end. Maggie isn’t eager for her to tell Negan about recent events and Negan himself shuts her down with words deliberately hurtful in an attempt to make her leave and be away from the incoming dangers. He’s obviously mostly lying about Ginny being an ‘obligation’ and ‘debt’ rather than someone he cares about, but the fact that he tells her he’s the very guy who killed her father may or may not be true. It’s likely, though, that the events that follow, scupper any ideas Negan may have had about heading off to join his own wife and child now that he’s avoided the immediate wrath of the law.
The big question was always how self-contained the series was meant to be – after all, it was touted as a mini-series and limited series at various points. For most of Doma Smo, I felt like double-checking to make sure this was actually the last episode of the run and that I hadn’t somehow miscounted. News and confirmation of a second run came at this weekend’s San Diego Comic Con, but given the lack of firm ‘ending(s)‘ here for almost all the characters, clearly the production was always counting on a return. Admittedly, it leaves them in interesting places, many worthy of follow-up, but the pacing of Doma Smo seems far less urgent than you’d expect – full of lengthy and strained conversations between the more active moments. By the end, Maggie’s back with her people but decides she’s neglected her family in her pursuit of killing Negan, so seems to be contemplating neglecting her family again by possibly going back to Manhattan to ‘save’ him – though it’s hard to tell). Negan is morally trapped into going back to his old immoral ways in service to The Dama’s cause, aware that if he doesn’t use his particular set of skills on her behalf and turn Manhattan into a collective powerhouse, she will find and kill Hershel. Both Ginny and Hershel continue to simmer like the petulant kids they are (who have, yes, earned the right to be pissed off at the various adults, but come on… pull yourselves together!) More totally new characters are also suddenly introduced back in New Babylon, with Marshal Armstrong getting the feeling that he may be in trouble with his rather shadier superiors as they take particular note of the methane that was powering Manhattan.
The end is played out to make us want more, which we’ll now get, but the supporting structure to get here – essentially making this season a lengthy prologue – has consistently creaked and tilted towards its Escape from New York roots. It’s second season will have a lot to draw from and learn… but it will have to go beyond the basic ‘story pitch’ that this outing has often felt like and to a far more solid story if it wants to truly take Manhattan.
- Production Design / VFX8