Last week, we had a nice “feel-good” break from the hell-on-earth that has now become Rick’s world and were introduced to another major player from the comics, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), and his tiger, Shiva. We learn that Morgan and Carol are safe at The Kingdom — the very large community of survivors built by Ezekiel — and that Your Highness seems to fancy Carol as his Fair Maiden. You couldn’t help but laugh, which was nice because it made you almost forget about the horrors from the season premiere. Well, almost. This week, our sights turn to The Saviors’ compound called the Sanctuary where we learn primarily through Dwight (Austin Amelio) and Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) eyes the high price one must pay for security and protection.
LIFE IS BUT A TREAT WHEN YOU’RE ON EASY STREET
You’re on easy street.
And, it feels so sweet.
Life is but a treat when you’re on easy street.
We’ll bring out the good champagne.
Sitting pretty on the gravy train.
Life is but a treat when you’re on easy street
Very catchy, uplifting tune, don’t you think? If you’re like me, the song will be implanted in your brain, and it will drive you absolutely crazy, even for days after the episode has aired. Unfortunately, for our Daryl Dixon, there’s nothing happy or uplifting about it, and in fact, it’s used as an instrument of torture while he’s being held captive by the Saviors. To be honest, I am one of many who I’m sure is very upset with the guy for acting out and getting our beloved Glenn killed in the premiere 2 weeks ago. However, by the end of the hour and if you have but a single compassionate bone in your body, you won’t be able to help but feel sorry for the guy.
As we recall from that heart-wrenching premiere, Daryl is taken captive by the Saviors after Glenn is killed, and in this episode, we learn what Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean-Morgan) grand plan is for Mr. Dixon. Negan sees in Daryl a man who fears nothing, and that is something that he admires and respects. He fancies Daryl eventually becoming one of his top soldiers, but before that, Negan must break him, just like Rick. I think we all remember the “We are all Negan” phrase from last season, and in this episode, we learn that it means if you are asked your name, you always answer “Negan.” That is, to be part of the Saviors, you must give up all sense of self and become just a part of Negan’s collective. Forcing Daryl to submit to Negan’s authority is the goal, and so, Dwight is tasked with torturing Daryl — both physically and psychologically. A tiny cell with no light. Dog food sandwiches. Oh, and that fun song “Easy Street” (which we have learned is a very rare jingle by The Collapsable Hearts Club Feat. Jim Bianco and Petra Haden — you can find it here if you wish to be tortured even more! :-)) blaring over the speaker constantly, making it nearly impossible for Daryl to sleep.
The worse of the torture we see at the very beginning of the episode, where Daryl is stripped of virtually everything, including his dignity. He’s not even allowed clothes and is forced to lay naked on the concrete floor of his cell. On the upside, the fangirls do **finally** get a nude scene of their favorite character, but given that he’s also dirty, shaking, and broken down like a beaten dog, I’m not entirely sure this is what they had in mind. Regardless, every day Dwight brings those dog-food sandwiches, and every day Daryl wolfs them down like a ravenous dog. Then, every night the constant replay of “Easy Street” begins. For you and me, it would seem to be more than enough to make a person go mad.
But, then, Dwight throws Daryl a “bone” so to speak. He finally gives Daryl the Saviors’ standard-issue jumpsuit with a big orange “X” painted across the chest, but as we quickly learn, it’s not so much an act of kindness but one of necessity since Dwight has a little field trip planned for his prisoner. He takes Daryl outside to the courtyard and shows him the walker “fence.” Walkers are tied to the fence that surrounds the perimeter of Negan’s compound or impaled on stakes, thus providing the facility a certain level of protection. Up to this point, Daryl really didn’t know what Negan had planned for him. For all he knew, the Saviors were just playing with him, and Negan had no intention of keeping him alive. However, Dwight shoots down that theory and gives the Daryl the full 411.
You can be like them or be like me. Or them — Dwight
I ain’t never gonna kneel — Daryl
Yeah, I said that too — Dwight
Basically, Daryl can be defiant and end up working for Negan but as a dead man on the “fence.” Or, he can submit and go back to living a half-decent life, just like Dwight.
Even with what Daryl has said, Dwight still believes he has made substantial progress and is now ready for a little “test.” Another one of Negan’s top lieutenants, “Fat Joey,” is left in charge of Daryl and leaves his cell door unlocked. If that had been Dwight, Daryl may have seen through the trap, but this Joey strikes Daryl as someone who is just fat and stupid. So, he falls for the ruse, hook, line and sinker and makes a run for it — even after he runs into Dwight’s ex, Sherry (Christine Evangelista), and she warns him of the consequences if he’s caught. Of course, Daryl barely makes it outside to the courtyard before he’s surrounded by the Saviors as well as Negan. Needless to say, Negan is very disappointed in his little “protege,” and just like in the season 6 finale, Jeffrey Dean-Morgan steals the show once again with another one of Negan’s famous, spine-chilling monologues.
Are we pissing our pants yet?
Who are you? (Savior responds “Negan”)
See that. I am everywhere.
And, this was your one shot to prove to me that that fundamental fact was sinking in.
And you failed.
Which sucks because your life was about to get so much cooler.
Now, Dwight gave you some options.
I don’t think you get it yet, so I’m gonna break it down for you.
You have 3 choices. One, you wind up on the spike and you work for me as a dead man.
Two, you get out of your cell and work for points, but you’re gonna wish you were dead.
Or, three, you work for me, you get yourself a brand new pair of shoes, and you live like a King.
Well, screw it….
At this point, Negan raises Lucille and proceeds to swing at Daryl but stopping just inches short of his skull (I swear I can still hear the worldwide gasp and shriek from all the Daryl fangirls!). Daryl doesn’t flinch — not even a little — which impresses the shit out of Negan. Had this been anyone else besides Daryl, I’m not so sure Negan would not have continued to swing the bat, but as we have seen, Negan has a code. He may be a psychopath, but he also admires courage and bravery, which is also why I suspect he’s not very impressed with Alexandria’s spineless leader, Rick Grimes. So, ultimately, he spares Daryl’s life and settles on just letting his men use him as a punching bag.
Back at Daryl’s cell, Dwight brings him his daily dog-food sandwich and makes one last-ditch effort to bring Daryl around. Even though Dwight’s job is to break Daryl and mold him into one of Negan’s minions, you can’t help but think he may actually care about the guy. The last thing Dwight wants to see is Daryl on a spike outside along the fence, and he really does try to help him.
You got your friend killed. I got Tina killed. Don’t pretend you don’t know the score — Dwight to Daryl
Then, Dwight plays his final card, his “ace-in-the-hole” so to speak. He throws the Polariod of Glenn’s crushed skull into Daryl’s cell, puts on the tear-jerker tune “Crying” by Roy Orbison, and then, just waits. Of course, I’m sure Daryl is already feeling incredibly guilty, and with all of this up in his face now, he immediately cracks. Man oh man. The poor guy collapses on the floor sobbing, and once Dwight hears Daryl’s cries, he walks away thinking his mission has finally been accomplished.
But, has it? Not so fast. Daryl has one more meeting with Negan towards the end of the episode, and let’s just say it doesn’t go quite as Dwight had hoped or planned. Stay tuned.
THE SANCTUARY, ALL THE AMENITIES OF HOME — BUT WITH A PRICE
Besides the very painful Daryl torture scenes, we also get a glimpse of how things operate at Negan’s compound, which is dubbed The Sanctuary. They have food, protection, electricity, but also that very creepy walker “fence” that surrounds the compound. For the past 6 seasons, we have seen the horrors on the outside through the eyes of our beloved characters, and so, the prospect of being sheltered from all of that, to actually be able to sleep at night without the fear of having your face eaten off I’m sure is quite enticing. But, what is the cost?
A good deal of this episode explores this fundamental question, primarily through Dwight as he struggles with his decision to forfeit so much in order to remain at The Sanctuary. To this end, it’s almost like Dwight feels the need to continually brainwash himself into believing that both he and his (ex-)wife, Sherry, are better off back with the Saviors, and this is perfectly exemplified in the beautifully-written opening sequence. As I had mentioned, Daryl is a new prisoner and is being fed dog-food sandwiches, and so, Dwight sees this as an opportunity to remind himself of the good life he supposedly has. He has his own room, with a bed and a television. He gets to watch “Who’s The Boss?” (the irony of that is hilarious since there’s absolutely no question of “who’s the boss” at The Sanctuary) and drink whisky in the evenings. And, the best part is a wonderful scene of Dwight and his quest for the perfect egg sandwich. Because of his status as one of Negan’s top soldiers, he basically goes around and just takes what he needs for the sandwich. A loaf of bread. Mustard. Dill pickles. A tomato. A head of lettuce. And, the eggs, of course. He then sits down and relishes his delicious meal, while I’m sure imagining Daryl cowering in his cell with his daily dog-food on bread. I personally think these scenes are great because they make perfectly clear what Dwight **has** to do to make himself believe his life is good. Deep inside, I’m sure Dwight knows that behind the gardens, the chicken farm, the bread kitchen is a hell on earth and not much better than the outside, but to keep his sanity, he has to go through exercises like this. It’s the only way for the mind to survive and for him to remain sane.
But, as they say, life is cruel, and so, reality ends up snapping Dwight out of it. We see this happen for the first time when Dwight takes notice of a particular walker on the “fence” while he’s eating his sandwich. The walker is on a spike and can barely stand. It struggles back up only to collapse again on the ground. What does it mean, and why does it seem to trouble Dwight so much? Could it be that Dwight sees a lot of himself in that walker? So tired of bending and bowing to Negan that he can barely bring himself to his feet anymore? Perhaps. Or, there could be another explanation, once we learn about the walkers who make up the fence. The story behind the walkers in the fence has already been hinted at in Negan’s little “speech” to Daryl, but it is driven home with a tough decision Dwight has to make.
One of the Saviors — actually someone Dwight may have called his “friend” — makes a run for it, and Dwight is tasked to track him down and bring him back to The Sanctuary. Dwight finally locates the guy, and apparently he was so desperate to get away that he just took off on foot. Dwight is ready to haul him back to the compound, but the man makes clear that he’s not returning under any circumstances; so, Dwight has no choice but to threaten to shoot him. However, to Dwight’s amazement, the man says he doesn’t care and that killing him would be better than going back to that hell hole. It takes a lot of arm-bending — including a low blow of threatening to dig up the man’s dead wife and feeding her to the crows — but Dwight finally convinces the guy to go back. But, then — whether as an act of mercy or something else — Dwight takes his gun and shoots the man in the back. The next time we see this man is at the very end of the episode. Dwight recognizes him as a walker in the fence, and he has that same look on his face as he did in the opening scene. Could it be a sorrowful look, one of pity for the man and wishing things had turned out differently? Or, could it be one of envy? While the man may be on the walker fence, at least he’s dead and now at peace, which is more than I think we can say for Dwight.
While Dwight may have spent a good deal of the episode arguing with himself about whether he has a good life, is “happy,” and if remaining at Negan’s side is the right thing to do, I think the defining moment that really answers these questions are the scenes with his now ex-wife, Sherry. Partly from Sherry and also in part from Negan, we discover exactly what happened with Dwight, Sherry and her sister, Tina, that prompted them to flee The Sanctuary and ultimately cross paths with Daryl in the season 6 episode “Always Accountable.” Back then, Dwight, Sherry and Tina all worked for “points,” but because Tina needed medication, that required more and they fell behind. So, Negan offered to marry Tina — to take care of her “in sickness and in health” as he put it — but she said “she’d think about it.” It was then that Dwight hatched the plot to steal all the meds and take off with Sherry and Tina. We pretty much know the rest — well, except for what happened after Dwight and Sherry stole Daryl’s bike.
As it turns out, Dwight convinced Sherry to go back. He was convinced they’d end up dead otherwise and that it was the right thing to do. So, they returned to The Sanctuary, and Dwight begged Negan for his forgiveness. Sherry then pleaded with Negan not to kill Dwight and offered herself as his wife if he would spare him. Being that Sherry was “super-hot” just like her “super-hot” sister, Tina, Negan agreed but Dwight still “got the iron” to make an example out of him. And, so, here they are today.
We learn all of this from Negan when he meets with Daryl again at the end of the episode. But, even after this story and how Dwight still managed to rise to the top, Daryl won’t succumb to Negan’s authority, and Dwight is forced to escort Daryl back to his cell once again, very frustrated and very pissed off. However, Daryl does say something to Dwight in these final scenes that I think is very telling and highlights a very fundamental difference between these 2 men.
I get it, why you did it. You were thinking of someone else. That’s why I can’t — Daryl to Dwight
In other words, the reason why Dwight decided to come back and why he remains loyal to Negan I think can be summed up in one word — Sherry. Even though she’s now part of what appears to be Negan’s “harem,” (and was damn close to being preggers with the man’s kid!) as long as she’s alive and as long as she appears to be well-cared for, Dwight will do whatever Negan says. In contrast, Daryl has no one, which is exactly why Negan has 0% chance of ever being able to break him.
The general theme of the episode is basically what would you do, what would you give up to survive and to feel safe. The Sanctuary provides a safe haven, with food, water, and protection from the horrors on the outside, and Negan, while his methods may be questionable, seems to do a very good job keeping it that way. But, what is the cost? Negan insists that everyone bow to him and call themselves “Negan.” So, the cost is basically your **identity**. People like Dwight and Sherry and the rest of the Saviors have pretty much thrown in the towel and believe the benefits definitely outweigh the alternative.
This episode is a very dense hour of television and does a very good job of painting a clear picture of what The Sanctuary is, how it operates, and how Negan runs it. This is in contrast to the Governor/Woodbury storyline back in season 3, where the pace was much slower and it took multiple episodes to get these very basic questions answered. The result was it felt like the season and overall plot were dragging, which ended up being a major complaint of both the fans and the critics. With this episode — and with the overall introduction of Negan and the Saviors — it seems this complaint had been heard by the writers loud and clear and has definitely been corrected.
Besides this, the cast performances in this episode are utterly phenomenal. Of course, Jeffrey Dean-Morgan continues to do an impeccable job as Negan, and I full expect this to be the case in every episode he’s in going forward. However, even so, the real MVP in this episode is Norman Reedus. Wow. Wow. Wow. For those who have read my past reviews, you know that Norman Reedus — and the Daryl Dixon character, in general — I don’t count as one of my favorites. However, we saw tonight a side of Daryl that had, for the most part, remained hidden up until now. A vulnerable side, one of raw emotion, and I must admit that Norman Reedus hit it out of the park. Unless you’re not human and from another planet, you had to be brought to tears when Dwight gave Daryl the Polaroid of Glenn’s lifeless body, and that means Norman did his job. Trust me when I say these scenes will go down as some of the most memorable of the series and ones that fans will be buzzing about for a long time to come.
The Walking Dead airs on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
Critic Grade — A
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com