For the past couple of weeks, we have been gifted with 2 fantastic “feel-good” episodes of The Walking Dead with Rick pretty much back to his old self and everyone starting to come together to take out a common enemy — the Saviors and their charismatic leader, Negan (Jeffrey Dean-Morgan). Unfortunately, that little honeymoon is over as we return this week to the darker side of the series, with Negan showing a newbie the ropes of life at The Sanctuary but also demonstrating the harsh consequences of betrayal to those responsible for Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) escape.
WITH NEGAN, IT’S SIMPLE — YOU LIE, YOU DIE
One of the main storylines in the episode is the fallout resulting from Daryl’s escape, with it beginning with the discovery of Fat Joey’s brutally-beaten body in the courtyard of the Sanctuary. Even though we heard Negan giving Fat Joey’s eulogy in the mid-season premiere, I really liked how they backtracked so that the viewers could see firsthand the events immediately following the murder and Daryl’s subsequent escape. Dwight (Austin Amelio) finally shows up at the scene, and when he notices a bike missing, you can tell from the look on his face that he knows. He races to Daryl’s cell, and sure enough, his biggest fears are confirmed — Daryl is gone, and more than likely, he’s the one who killed Fat Joe. Dwight then returns to his apartment, and that’s when he finds the “Go Now” post-it. He doesn’t say anything, but with the way he continues staring at the note, you are led to believe that he may recognize the hand-writing. However, this is all interrupted with a very familiar knock at his door.
It’s Negan, and boy, is the man pissed. As we also find out, Dwight’s ex-wife, Sherry, is missing as well, and needless to say, Negan is beyond livid. Because Daryl was essentially Dwight’s responsibility, Negan’s first action is to have the living daylights beaten out of him by a half-dozen Saviors and then, have him locked in Daryl’s old cell.
Good morning, sunshine. Is it just as cozy as you remember? — Negan to Dwight
Of course, I think most of us could have predicted what happens next. Dwight was in charge of breaking Daryl, and now, he’s missing. Dwight’s ex, Sherry, is also missing. It doesn’t take much for Negan to connect the dots and arrive at the conclusion that Dwighty-boy might have been involved. Also, let us not forget that Dwight has plenty of reasons to rebel against Negan, as Negan points out himself. Hell, if I were Negan, I’d be pointing the finger at Dwight too. Negan eventually lets Dwight out but gives him the task of locating Sherry. Dwight says he knows where she probably went, and it is pretty clear that Negan is still skeptical. So, when he returns from his search, Dwight knows full-well he had better have something for Negan, or he’s likely to take the fall for the entire thing.
As it turns out, Dwight is telling the truth when he says he knows where Sherry would likely go, but unfortunately, when he gets there, she’s long gone. Apparently, it’s the house where Dwight AKA “D” and Sherry lived in pre-apocalyptic times, and they had an agreement that if they ever got separated, they would meet back there — and bring beer and pretzels (which Dwight does. Ahhhhh). However, this time, no Sherry, and all she leaves him is a note. I hope you have the tissues ready because it’s a real tear-jerker.
D- We always said that if we got separated I should come back here and wait for you. You’d show up with beer and pretzels. You remember that? I know. You probably don’t. You always said that when we started dating you forgot to tell me you had a shitty memory. You used to get so frustrated by it. Knowing you wouldn’t remember those good days. Those special days. I felt bad for you. I remember there was so much you wanted to hold onto and then it’d be gone. But you’re lucky you don’t remember things, D. I wish I could wait for you now, but I don’t know if you would come with me or take me back or kill me. You didn’t want to live in that world and I made you. I did what I did because I didn’t want you to die. But now you’ve killed and become everything you didn’t want to be and it’s my fault. You were better than me. Most people are. I let Daryl go because he reminded you of who you used to be. And I wanted to let you forget. I don’t think I’m going to make it out here. But you’re wrong. Being there isn’t better than being dead. It’s worse. I hope you realize that. I hope you get away. I hope you remember the good days. Even just one of them. But I don’t think you will. I don’t think you’ll ever read this. I loved who you were. I’m sorry I made you into who you are. Goodbye. -Honey
If you’re crying now, well, you’re not the only one because the letter leaves Dwight bawling like a baby too. I think most of us agree that Dwight is both a coward and an asshole. Betraying Daryl and stealing his bike. Killing Denise Cloyd. Standing by while all of these horrors happen at the Sanctuary and doing absolutely nothing. However, this scene reminds us that no matter how calloused Dwight has become, he was — and still is — a human being with feelings and emotion, and Austin Amelio completely nailed it. Kudos and plaudits to you, dude! Ultimately, Dwight leaves the beer and pretzels and puts Sherry’s wedding rings that she leaves for D in a cigarette pack that contains his own wedding band. That act alone says that he refuses to let go, that he’s still hoping for a reunion with his beloved someday, somehow.
The big downside from all of this is because Sherry is gone, he’s now having to return to the Sanctuary empty-handed, which is the one thing he knows he cannot do and expect to live. Dwight isn’t stupid and knows full well that unless he thinks fast, the blame will likely come down on him. So, Dwighty-boy saves his own ass, points the finger at someone completely innocent, resulting in that person getting perhaps the harshest punishment Negan has handed down to date. Dwight’s “escape goat” turns out to be Dr. Carson, which is probably the most innocent person in all of the Sanctuary. Dwight claims he found Sherry as a walker, killed her, and then, planted a part of Sherry’s letter in Dr. Carson’s office. Everyone is gathered around the furnace, and at first, it looks like we’re going to have another horrific face-ironing scene just like the one with Mark earlier in the season. But, nope, what actually happens is far worse. Negan tells Dr. Carson that he’s going to iron his face unless he comes clean and confesses what he did. So, Dr. Carson, who by now is utterly terrified, believes Negan and confesses to something that we know he did not do. In return, Negan lunges Dr. Carson face-first into the furnace, burning him to death, while the rest of the Saviors gasp in horror. It is so shocking that even a few of Negan’s wives get up and leave.
As some of you know, Negan is my favorite character, both in the comics as well as the television series. Yes, he’s terrible, but he’s also a very intelligent and complex character that usually makes me laugh even more than Eugene. However, I must say that what Negan did to Dr. Carson in tonight’s episode is, as Negan might say himself, just fucking stupid. I mean, Dr. Carson is the Sanctuary’s ONLY doctor. Holy crap! I thought it was very impulsive, and Negan obviously let his emotions get the best of him. And, that is disappointing because Negan is much smarter than this. Regardless, Negan is in a very bad position because now, he has to find a replacement for Dr. Carson, and pretty damn fast. Once I thought about all of this, a big feeling of dread came over me because we all know of 1 other doctor still in play in the various communities. You having that same”Oh crap!” moment too?! Yep, you should!
EUGENE, A TRAITOR? OR SIMPLY A MASTER MANIPULATOR?
Also picking up from the mid-season finale when Eugene (Josh McDermitt) was taken after Rosita’s (Christian Serratos) half-baked attempt at taking out Negan, a good deal of the episode depicts Eugene adjusting to life at the Sanctuary — and, I must say he’s doing quite well. When he first arrives, he’s, of course, terrified, crying, and about to piss his pants, but instead of being beaten, tortured or whatever other horrific act he expected to happen, he is instead taken to his nice, spacious apartment by the Savior Laura (the same Savior who came onto Spencer at Alexandria and lashed out at Eugene for watching). The fridge is stocked with beer, wine, eggs, and fresh vegetables, there’s plenty of books, and there’s even a videogaming system. Even better, he’s told he can have anything he wants to eat every night for dinner. Well, not exactly **anything**.
Can I have lobster? — Eugene
No, you can’t have lobster. What in the hell do you think this is? — Savior Laura
Ultimately, he settles for spaghetti and tomato sauce. Oh, yes, it’s Spaghetti Day everyday for Eugene going forward! Oh, and the best part — there’s also a boombox in his apartment, and can you take a guess what comes on when Eugene hits the “play” button? Yep, the tune that caused many a Walking Dead fan to nearly pull his hair out, “Easy Street”! Only difference is with his head bobbing up and down, Eugene actually seems to like it. Yes, only Eugene Porter would end up digging the song that was meant to torture prisoners!
Laura then takes Eugene on a tour of the Sanctuary and provides him with the basic rules. The good news is, as we all suspected from that top-shelf apartment, Eugene’s not even in the same league as Daryl was in and isn’t on the point system. As Laura pointed out, “You’re one of us now, not them. They eat shit, we eat good. You want something, you take it, haircut.” The next stop is meeting Negan for an impromptu “job interview.”
There he is. Man of the hour! Come on over here, big fellow! — Negan to Eugene
Negan talks about how he’s got this really cool fence of walkers protecting the compound, but the problem is after a while, the walkers eventually disintegrate, with the lower half breaking away leaving only the torsos and a big pile of disgusting walker goo below. So, here is Eugene’s first “test” — come up with a solution for fixing this problem. Does Eugene pass? Oh, yes, Eugene comes up with a brilliant idea, leaving Negan thoroughly impressed and dubbing Eugene “Mr. Smartie Pants” AKA the “Chief Engineer” of the Sanctuary. For those not familiar with the comics, the Sanctuary was a former smelter plant pre-apocalypse, and the number of furnaces on the premises should have alluded to that. That being said, Eugene’s solution is pretty simple. Given the large amount of scrap metal in the vicinity, what they can do is melt it down and pour it on the walkers’ lower extremities. Maybe even pour some on their hands to keep them adhered to the fence. Heck, Eugene even suggests using the molten metal to protect the walkers’ heads from “hostiles and calamities” (thus the title of the episode), which impresses Negan even more.
God Damn! If that ain’t the coolest thing I’ve heard in my life! Not only is that practical, it’s just bad-ass! Look at you, Dr. Smartie Pants — Negan to Eugene
Eugene definitely seems to enjoy his elevated status at the Sanctuary (and takes advantage of it perhaps a little too much) and especially likes how Negan actually seems to respect him. As Eugene walks away, you may notice a faint smile appearing on his face. That is one of many times Eugene smiles throughout the episode.
As a reward for doing so well on his “test,” Negan says he’ll send 2 of his wives over to Eugene’s apartment. No sex, of course, but some dinner, drinks and good conversation. This is where things get hairy, and Eugene comes close to getting himself into serious trouble. At first, everything starts out great. Frankie, Tonya and Amber are the girls sent by Negan, and even though technically they aren’t there by their own free will, they don’t seem to mind the escape from Negan. They become particularly interested in Eugene after Tonya jokingly asks him whether he’s one of those smart guys who can make a bomb out of bleach and a toothpick, and Eugene hints that he might be. “Seriously?” asks Tonya. Yep, seriously.
Eugene even gives the girls a demonstration, puts on a hell of a pyrotechnic show, and needless to say, the girls are more than a little impressed. Once they see that Eugene is as smart as he advertises, that is when their true motives are made known. According to Frankie and Tonya, Amber can’t take it anymore at the Sanctuary and being one of Negan’s wives and wants to end it. So, they ask Eugene if he’s able to make her some pills to commit suicide. Well, at first, Eugene is very reluctant, of course, but after some persuading, he eventually agrees. Well, that’s until he witnesses what Negan does to Dr. Carson and also sees Tonya getting up and leaving out of disgust. It finally dawns on him — the pills aren’t for Amber but for **Negan**. No one can be 100% sure why Eugene backs out of trying to kill the man who’s the mortal enemy of his family back home in Alexandria. Scared that Negan would survive and he’ll end up like Dr. Carson? Given that Eugene is still a coward more often than not, I’d say that’s a very good possibility. Or, could Eugene be enjoying his new life at the Sanctuary a little too much, so much so that he’d protect a monster like Negan?
That big question is one that will be asked over and over again going forward for the rest of the season. Will Eugene sell out and go to the dark side for a really cool job and the respect of the mad-man who brutally murdered perhaps his only friend? Keep in mind that Eugene is a master manipulator and liar, and also remember that he rattled off the same bullshit — the whole “fight fire with fire” thing etc. etc. — to Negan that he spilled to Glenn, Maggie, and the rest of Rick’s group when they were in that RV on their way to Washington D.C. in season 5. He was playing everyone back then, and we can only hope he’s back to his old tricks all over again with Negan.
First of all, I will be straight-up here. There’s going to be **lots** of people — probably even a good many of them critics like myself — who are really going to hate on this episode. For many, Negan has become like an open wound, and everytime he shows up, it’s like pouring salt onto that wound for these people. But, the reality is this is a very good episode, and just as good as the first 2 episodes of the back half of season 7. Look, I realize this series is about Rick Grimes and his group of survivors, but that doesn’t mean every episode has to be focused on them. And, it certainly doesn’t mean that any episode that doesn’t feature Rick’s group and gives everyone a warm-and-fuzzy is a bad episode. If you think every week is going to be a rose garden and just skips over the harsh truth that has become our heroes’ reality, you’re living in a bubble. Things don’t work that way. Just take a look at the current political environment in the United States and who our President is and you’ll see that tyrants just like Negan still manage to come into power. Bottom line — calling an episode that features the said tyrant a bad episode doesn’t make it true.
This episode, as much as it pains the fans, was needed. Daryl escaped, and every last one of us should have known that they would have to wrap up that arc, and it should have been obvious someone would ultimately pay the price. And, of course, there had to be follow-up of Eugene being taken by Negan and his settling into life at the Sanctuary. The episode came at the perfect time, and while some may classify it as “dark” and depressing, the interjection of Eugene’s off-the-wall comments and famous one-liners were just hilarious and lightened the entire situation. I tell you, Josh McDermitt is a comedic genius and whoever cast him deserves a gold star. In my opinion, Josh carried the episode, and without a doubt, made for one of his character’s finest moments.
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