The concept of a “mid-season finale” has traditionally been helpful for “The Walking Dead,” a show primarily made up of eight-episode arcs. Each mid-season finale since the third season has featured a game-changing moment; while the third season left us wondering whether Darryl (Norman Reedus, “Sky”) or Merle (Michael Rooker, “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”) would survive their battle to the death, the fourth and fifth mid-season finales killed off main characters and scattered the show’s characters to the wind, with no destination in sight.

As this season began to unfold, it quickly became clear that the entire half-season would take place over a compressed time rate, only a few days. That was an appealing idea, especially because it would allow the show to tell a self-contained arc with a greater sense of immediacy. Unfortunately, there’s hardly any urgency to be found in “Start to Finish,” the show’s weakest mid-season finale yet. There’s no real cliffhanger in the end; the story simply stops in the middle of what it’s doing, letting us wonder for a couple months what the outcome of the current big zombie battle will be. As a structural experiment, the time compression of the sixth season has failed, resulting in a four-episode stretch of boring episodes without even a finale to coax the season back to life.

The episode either delays or entirely eschews all the big outcomes viewers were waiting for: a fatal confrontation between Carl (Chandler Riggs, “Mercy”) and Ron (Austin Abrams, “Paper Towns”), the emotional reunion of Glenn (Steven Yeun, “I Origins”) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan, “The Vampire Diaries”), the reveal of the identity of the person pleading for help over the radio and the arrival of Darryl, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green, “Once Upon A Time”) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz, “Southland”). Most notably, though, the massive zombie attack, instead of delivering a surge of action and high stakes, is presented as a minor background nuisance throughout the episode.

The episode, at least, isn’t as bad as the season’s worst installment, “Now.” There are interesting threads here. Deanna’s (Tovah Feldshuh, “Holocaust”) death is appropriately heroic as she finally musters up the courage to fight back against the walkers, and her final conversation with Michonne (Danai Gurira, “Mother of George”) hopefully promises a bigger role for the latter after a half-season that has largely ignored her. Carol (Melissa McBride, “The Reconstruction of William Zero”) and Morgan (Lennie James, “Low Winter Sun”), the most compelling characters of the show, have a fun fight based on their disagreement over whether to keep their murderous prisoner alive.

Still, even these two theoretically compelling subplots are marred by old issues and new frustrating developments. Deanna’s death doesn’t have nearly as much impact as it would last season, since she has spent most of this season in a dull PTSD-induced stupor, staring blankly at the walkers threatening to kill her and repeatedly being saved by Rick (Andrew Lincoln, “Love Actually”). And while Carol and Morgan’s fight would typically be fascinating, it feels petty amid a massive zombie attack. Their fight also ends in a painfully predictable manner, with the prisoner escaping. This development in particular is frustrating because it proves Carol right in her merciless attitude toward prisoners. “The Walking Dead” is a show too often bogged down by pessimism and ruthlessness, which is why Morgan’s optimistic no-killing policy is so refreshing this season. A character being justifiably merciful for a change would give the show a necessary shock to the system, but the prisoner proving Morgan wrong only serves as another unnecessary reminder that the only way to survive is by being merciless.

The rest of the episode features boring scenes of little consequence. Tara (Alanna Masterson, “Men at Work”), Eugene (Josh McDermitt, “Retired at 35”) and Rosita (Christian Serratos, “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide”) hide from the zombies for a while, then break out and fail to save Denise (Merritt Wever, “Nurse Jackie”) from being abducted by the escaped prisoner. There’s also a fight between Carl and Ron, foreshadowed by last episode’s falsely intense cliffhanger. If there was ever a real risk of Ron killing Carl, this fight could be thrilling, but the pacing of the scene is listless and obligatory, as if everyone involved knows both annoying kids are going to make it out alive. Besides, in the wake of the kerfuffle with Glenn surviving, the odds are against the main character’s son dying anytime soon.

Though the sixth season of “The Walking Dead” started strong and featured some standout episodes, the past four have seen it backsliding into stagnancy, recalling the weak early seasons. Hopefully the upcoming second half of the season will use the comics’ deep well of story for some more consistently fun episodes. But if the mid-season finale is any indicator, there’s a long way to go to rebuild.

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