Last episode, The Walking Dead helped ease our Lucille-induced trauma with a healthy dose of humor, optimism, and a pet tiger.
This week, we dive back into the depths of despair to check on Daryl, who was taken hostage at the end of the season premiere by Negan and the Saviors.
By the way if you want the full effect of the episode while reading this review, go ahead and play the following track on repeat. Just don’t mention my name in your suicide letter.
The episode opens with Dwight living out his daily life inside The Sanctuary, which appears to primarily consist of making disgusting sandwiches. He also watches reruns of Who’s the Boss? on VHS, whittles his own chess pieces, and has access to alcohol. Considering the governmental abyss this country might sink into after Tuesday, his life doesn’t sound half bad…if you can look past the residents fighting with each other and the nearby prisoner/walker pens.
Speaking of prisoners, Daryl has his very own cell, which seems nice until you see how they’re treating him. In addition to the dog food sandwiches (which I would still rather eat than the crap Dwight was making), he’s forced to listen to the obscure, maniacally peppy pop song linked above. If crystal meth was legal, that’s the song they would use in its commercials.
Also, how the heck is Dwight only able to find 80’s sitcoms on VHS, but somehow have access to such obscure music? Also, if he really wanted to torture Daryl, this would have been the way to go.
Dwight tries to convince Daryl to agree to be a part of Team Sanctuary, but Daryl is predictably not about that life. Dwight responds by playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’ and shutting it off right before the guitar solo.
I was kidding about that last part, but you know that would have made Daryl completely lose it.
When Dwight takes Daryl to the infirmary to get his wounds looked at, his life is revealed to be a lot more hellish than we first realized. For starters, he walks in on his wife Sherry (remember her?) being examined by a doctor. It’s clear that things between them aren’t good, particularly when the doc discusses her attempts at becoming pregnant with another man (who it’s easy to infer is Negan).
Before she leaves, she warns Daryl to do whatever the people at the Sanctuary say, which I’m sure he took to heart.
Later, we see that relations between Negan and Dwight are (understandably) strained; while offering him cushy jobs and his pick of concubines, the bat-wielding psychopath also needles him about not being with Sherry anymore and makes fun of him for getting his genitals chomped by Eugene last season.
Before the conversation can get anymore awkward (if that was even possible), an alert is sounded that Gordon (one of the Sanctuary people) has gone rogue and is fleeing the compound. Dwight eagerly volunteers to leave Negan’s presence and track Gordon down.
This is where things get really slow. Aside from Dwight being attacked by walkers falling off an overpass (which was kind of cool), this portion of the episode could be summed up thusly:
Dwight: You have to go back.
Gordon: No, I don’t.
Dwight: Yes, you do.
Gordon: No, I don’t.
This goes on for a while. Dwight eventually ends the debate by threatening to kill everyone Gordon has ever spoken to (?) along with digging up the body of Gordon’s wife and feeding it to crows.
Good lord, Dwight. That’s pretty dark, but also terribly inefficient. I highly doubt that you’d be allowed to go in and start capping anyone who might have spoken to Gordon. Also, as sick as the wife thing was, this is a world with undead abominations walking around. I don’t think Gordon would be all that broken up about his wife’s remains being disturbed by this point.
But I digress. Instead of calling Dwight’s bluff, Gordon gives up and starts walking back toward town. Dwight gets a weird look on his face and shoots Gordon anyway in an act that I think we’re supposed to interpret as mercy.
The Not-So-Great Escape
Daryl tries to escape. As he’s leaving, Sherry randomly shows up. This becomes a theme with her, by the way. She just happens to show up whenever a character needs to have a brief moment of existential crisis.
In this instance, she warns Daryl not to escape because he’ll get his ass kicked. Daryl ignores her warning, gets caught, and gets his ass kicked.
Right before the big beat down, Negan gives Daryl a big speech about how much better his life could be if he stopped having independent thoughts and feelings. He also tries to take a swing at Daryl’s head with Lucille, causing most of the The Walking Dead’s female audience to simultaneously scream at the television.
I might have screamed, too. Don’t judge.
Later, Sherry visits Daryl’s cell (nice to see they let her wander around the complex) and tells him that he was right a long time ago when he said that “She’d be sorry” for taking his stuff because her life royally sucks now.
On his way to resume torturing Daryl, Dwight runs into Sherry in a stairwell (Sherry is everywhere). They share a cigarette. Dwight asks if he (Negan) is good to her. She lies and says yes. Dwight makes a pathetically unconvincing argument that their lives are okay since they’re not dead. She pretends to agree.
Later, Dwight tries once again to convince Daryl to become part of Negan’s army. When he refuses, Dwight hits him with a devastating one-two punch:
1. A Polaroid of Glenn’s bashed in head.
2. A change in music to Roy Orbinson’s mournful “Crying.”
Dwight walks away. Daryl starts to cry.
Beaten Over the Head (with exposition)
Dwight takes Daryl out of his cell and brings him to Negan, who proceeds to give what feels like an hour-long speech about his history with Dwight, how he ended up with Sherry as his wife, how/why Dwight has that nasty scar, and how things work at The Sanctuary.
All things we had mostly inferred by this point.
Look, I really like Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal of Negan, but watching him go over plot points inside of a comfortable looking office isn’t exactly the climatic moment I think any of us were hoping for.
When it’s all said and one, Daryl still refuses to bend the knee. As Dwight takes him back to his cell, Daryl says he now understands why Dwight stole from him way back in the first half of Season Six… hence why he can’t ever serve a man like Negan.
Dwight locks Daryl up, goes outside, and gazes at a zombified Gordon. I think we’re supposed to feel bad for Dwight here, but all I could think about was how Dwight walked all that way back to the Sanctuary with his undead ex-friend shuffling after him.
Is it Good?
Eh, kind of.
The episode gets some bonus points for originality, particularly how they looped us into Daryl’s psychological torture. It also helped established Negan as even more of a despicable and terrifying threat. In almost any other circumstance, seeing people bow down to a guy armed with only a barb-wired baseball bat would be ridiculous. This episode made it seem not only plausible, but also a very necessary part of surviving within Negan’s sphere of influence.
But between the long stretches of exposition and the extra commercials (you had to have noticed that, too), this episode felt incredibly decompressed. I also think that the show’s writers can give the audience a little more credit. When we’re not complaining about how you ended a season only to complain even louder about starting the next one with the exact level of violence we were clamoring for, we do a pretty good job picking up on things.
When Negan was explaining his history with Dwight to Daryl, I half expected him to wheel in a white board and start drawing a timeline. While some of the information was new, most of it was already well established or strongly implied.
Let’s hope that next week, Negan does a little less exposition dumping and more fear mongering.