Negan’s past is finally explored in this latest season eight episode. Alex Rose reviews…
The Walking Dead’s fifth episode of the season continued with the All Out War storyline, showing what had happened to Negan and Gabriel after they got trapped in a cabin in the first episode, picked up where we left off with Rick and Daryl and revealing the discourse that quickly developed between Negan’s henchmen when he wasn’t there.
As with the previous episode, The Big Scary U opened with a scene set before the conflict had begun, this time Father Gabriel saying that he did not fear death, but praying for his life to have a purpose as he fears a fruitless death. Gabriel is a character that has come a long way since his introduction, and his genuine desire now to make himself useful and do something good makes me glad he’s on Rick’s side.
We then cut to the top Saviour henchmen and Negan in the midst of their meeting, before it got interrupted by Rick and co. outside. To see Negan actually engaging in group discussion and talking strategy re: the rebellion, was really interesting, and I’d definitely like to see more of Negan in leadership action like this rather than acting like a child and swinging his bat around (though admittedly there was still some bat swinging in the meeting). Also present was Gregory, the traitorous former leader of the Hilltop, having gone to the Saviours to tell them about the uprising when it was already afoot. He and Saviour Simon made a funny pair as Simon reassured him he’d done the right thing, and Gregory did his best to keep it together in front of Negan.
Skipping ahead to where the first episode of the season ended, we then caught up with Negan and Gabriel trapped in a cabin, surrounded by the dead. Instead of terrorizing the priest, however, Negan simply talked to him, and the two engaged in conversation while hoping some of the Saviours may come to rescue their leader. Negan began by telling Gabriel, “your friend Rick’s an asshole,” and to my utter delight Gabriel responded simply with “you’re an asshole,” my thoughts exactly. I found that to be a very satisfying moment. Interestingly enough, Negan readily admitted to this, before launching into an explanation of his philosophy of leadership. He said how though he may have killed Abraham and Glenn, Rick was the one who got them killed.
At one point, Gabriel attempted to grab his gun back from Negan, presumably so he could shoot him, but the attempt failed and ended up with Gabe locking himself in a small cupboard or bathroom or something, with Negan on the other side of the door. I thought this was some really neat imagery, given Gabriel’s insistence that he’d ended up trapped with Negan in the first place in order to take his confession, which in the end he gave. Speaking through the door just as one would give confession in a church, Negan revealed his first wife had been a real wife, one he had cheated on when she was sick and who he was incapable of “putting down” once she died and turned. For a few moments during this confession we saw the first instance of true, genuine emotion on the face of the Saviour’s leader.
Negan’s “confession” wasn’t all that much, the bare minimum of detail that leaves a lot still to be answered in my opinion, but actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan is to be commended for his performance here. The conflicted emotion on Negan’s face while talking about first wife was in a way the most expressive Negan has been so far, and would love to see more exploration of his character depth, now that we know he actually has some. I still think that Negan needs to refrain from talking about dicks so much; it makes the dialogue seem clunky and awkward and makes the villain seem more like an obnoxious teen every time the writers insist on throwing another penis-related line in.
But despite that, I think that this episode by far contained the best Negan dialogue we’ve seen up until now. Seeing the way he perceives his way of leading was fascinating – it almost seems like he genuinely believes he’s doing the right thing to save the most lives. It’s a shame it’s an oppressive dictatorship he wants to run because his strategic thinking and ruthlessness could do some real good, if he weren’t so determined to rule with an iron fist. He claims that all he wants is for people to work with him but really he just wants to be in charge, with no room for dissent, and despite the efficiency of that strategy, it still makes him the baddie and I’m still not forgiving him for killing Glenn.
Anyway, after taking Negan’s confession, Gabriel emerged to rejoin him so they could escape the cabin together. One solid punch to Gabe’s face later, which was admittedly quite funny, the unlikely pair were companionably making their way through the horde with the aid of the old Guts trick.
Meanwhile, Rick and Daryl were retrieving weapon supplies from the truck they chased down last episode, but all did not go smoothly as Daryl was intent on blowing a hole in the Sanctuary to let the walkers in and have that end the conflict, regardless of the lives of the workers that might be lost in the process. He clashed and physically fought with Rick, who’s increasingly showing more thought and compassion, whereas Daryl now seems to have little to no regard for innocent life. The fan favourite seems consumed by his drive to see Negan vanquished, probably because of his guilt over his actions resulting in Glenn’s murder. Fans are happy that Daryl is once again getting a little more attention and dialogue, but it’s hard to see his character going in any clear direction after this.
Despite the two leading men’s little round of fisticuffsl, Rick and Daryl are still friends at the end of the day. Daryl’s plan to blow open the Sanctuary went out the window when Rick threw the bag of explosives over to the overturned truck, which then combusted, distracting the two from their fight and leaving them both with expressions the like of which might be seen on children that had just been told off. Also, there was a great little callback to season one of the show with Rick’s line to Daryl, “chokeholds are illegal, asshole,” something that Daryl himself once said after Rick’s old partner Shane put him in one.
Daryl then zoomed away, leaving Rick to carry out the remainder of their plan, which apparently involves going to see the Junkyard crew. Why? I suppose we’ll find out next week. Also unusual and highly exciting is the fact that on his way over there Rick saw a helicopter fly overhead – something we’ve seen before in the show, but previously resulting in a crash whereas this one didn’t. Is the chopper a sign that there may still be some form of government or military organisation going on amidst all this mess, or does it just belong to one of the surviving groups? Either way, I can’t wait to find out.
With Negan absent from the Sanctuary, his deputies began to squabble. There were of course the pressing issues to deal with of who was in charge, what to do about the rations, power, and unhappy workers, and of course finding out who was the rat who’d set them up in the first place. Despite my disdain for him at first, Dwight has actually grown on me a lot, and I’m increasingly worried for him. Someone’s head is definitely on the chopping block here, and with smart old Eugene having worked out Dwight’s the culprit, it remains to be seen whether Eugene will spill the beans.
Things were starting to look like they were about to fall apart until a familiar whistling floated down the corridor, and workers and deputies alike kneeled as Negan returned alive, covered in walker guts and accompanied by Gabriel. This was the first time the whole whistling and kneeling thing has really resonated with me as a little awe-inspiring, and it’s clear that even Gabriel could see the truth that despite being a colossal asshole, Negan brought order and organisation to his people.
The episode ended with Gabriel locked in the familiar unpleasant cubby hole that many new arrivals to the Sanctuary are welcomed with. Eugene attempted to bring him a few things to make him more comfortable but discovered that Gabriel had gotten sick, presumably from his proximity to the guts. Sweating and shaking, Gabriel told Eugene that the doctor at the Sanctuary had to be gotten out of there, as he was Maggie’s doctor.
This was a rather anticlimactic ending to such a dynamic episode, I must admit, but it suggested that we’d be getting more Maggie action soon, which I am more than ready for. In conclusion, this episode was another good’un, somewhat reminiscent in style of earlier seasons, and featuring strong acting performances by all. This is the first time I think Negan may have been my favourite character in an episode, and I hope to see more like it in the future.
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