“I wear a leather jacket, I have Lucille, and my nut sack is made of steel.”
This season of The Walking Dead has pretty much been one long movie/action set-piece. And that’s fine because most of the individual elements work wonderfully. We’ve had our action episodes (the pilot still being the standout) and we’ve had our character episodes (last week’s Ezekiel episode being one of the best in a long time). What we’ve not had, however, is our much-anticipated Negan episode. And that’s a real shame because Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance as Negan is one of the best things in the entire show right now. This week rectifies this with an episode almost completely revolving around the big man, and in the process giving us one of the best episodes of the show in a long time.
Last week’s Rick plotline saw him and Daryl chasing down a couple of Saviors who were armed with a gun which moments before cut down almost every single one of the Kingdom-ers. Rick ran the car off the road and that’s where this episode finds them, as they sift through the wreckage and corpses. But upon finding some intact explosives our boys have a conflict of opinion. Ever the psychopath, Daryl suggests using them to clear out the Saviour compound. That’s weeks of torture at the hands of the Saviors talking though, as Rick rightly points out that there’s a whole lot of people in the Savior base who don’t deserve to die. It might be the old Officer Friendly speaking but Rick is undoubtedly right. His murderous ways have been on the decline recently and the discovery of the baby in the Morales episode has been a turning point for him. Daryl’s gone the other way though, culminating in a fist fight between the two of them this episode. It’s hard to watch these long-time bro’s punching each other in the face but it’s a welcome bit of development between the two. Hopefully it won’t take the same route the Shane/Rick conflict did, I don’t know if Rick’s sanity would be up to murdering another BFF.
The main plotline this episode takes place ar the Savior compound though, as we see the events of the pilot episode replayed through the eyes of Negan and his lieutenants. The scenes around the meeting table are some of the very best the show has done, especially in regards to its villains. Negan shouting down Simon’s idea of mass murdering the Hilltop is not only scary (rarely has Negan seemed so threatening) but it’s also one of the episodes first signs that Negan isn’t the monster he’s cracked up to be. His anger at Simon is because Negan is wholeheartedly against killing on such a large scale. He genuinely believes that the Saviours are saving people. His later conversations with Gabriel in the crumbling cabin emphasise this too, revealing that a lot of what we know about Negan is a character he plays. We get a bit of backstory for Negan too, as he reveals details about his life pre-apocalypse. Comic readers will be aware of the exact details but the show gives us just enough to hopefully make even his diehard detractors feel a pinch of sympathy for him. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is fantastic in the role also, bringing the wonderfully crude comic book character to life, with or without the comic’s inventive use of the f-word.
Seth Gilliam is fantastic in the episode also. Father Gabriel definitely wins the shows ‘Most Improved Character’ award. Upon his introduction I don’t think many people would have cared if he lived or died but now, as he’s curled up in a sickly mess in one of the Saviour cells, I really don’t want him to go. His using near death to get a confession out of Negan was a neat touch, as was the begrudging friendship forming between the both of them. Whether Negan plans to use Gabe as a bargaining chip as he did Sasha remains to be seen, but either way, I think the Father has other plans.
Next week sees everyone’s favourite characters back in the show; the Trash People! All kidding aside, it is a pretty bold plan Rick’s got. Going into the base of known enemies (enemies who have shot him I might add) and… what? Showing them the pictures of Negan’s defeated men to convince them to join the Alexandrians perhaps? Whatever his plan I intrigued to see him pull it off. Join us next week for The King, The Widow, and Rick (oxford comma entirely my own).