The Walking Dead continues its strong run of episodes in the back eight of the seventh season, moving the action away from The Hilltop and The Kingdom and into the Saviors’ compound, where Eugene has been taken “prisoner.” In this case, “prisoner” somewhat mischaracterizes Dwight’s situation: He’s a hostage, but there are plenty of reasons by the end of the episode to think that he may not be a totally unwilling one.
The episode, “Hostiles and Calamaties,” is another departure from the comic book, but a well executed one. With Rick finding some success in building alliances with The Hilltop and the Hipster Junkyard Gang, this week’s episode represents something of a setback for Alexandria in that they may have lost an ally. However, it looks like the setback may benefit Eugene in the short term, because within the Savior compound, he’s afforded a much better life than the one he had in Alexandria. He gets all the pickles he wants, all the supplies he could need, more respect than he ever got in Alexandria, and his own room, complete with a video-game system.
Eugene is living the life, and all he had to do in exchange was to pledge his loyalty to Negan, a matter that came easy to our mulleted friend, who has always been a coward. Eugene quickly gave into his fear and switched alliances; when Negan tossed the doctor into a crematorium, any thought of defiance probably quickly vanished from Eugene’s mind. He also passed up an easy opportunity to kill Negan by spiking his drink with poison, a plan hatched by Negan’s “wives.” It’s hard to know for sure if he demurred because he’s afraid that it might backfire and he’ll end up tossed into the fire himself, or if Eugene honestly believes that Negan doesn’t deserve to die.
That question is the most intriguing of the episode, which resurrected a theme that surfaces periodically on The Walking Dead: Who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys? Or is it all just a matter of perspective? To the viewer who has been following Rick and Co. for seven years, Negan is an obvious villain. He killed Glenn and Abraham. He rules by fear. He takes from others. He steals wives from his own men. Some of Negan’s actions are obviously morally wrong, but Eugene is right to suggest that it would be hypocritical to vilify Negan based solely on the fact that he killed a few Alexandrians. Rick and company killed 30 of Negan’s men, many of them in their sleep. At the time, those men did not even pose a threat to Rick. Hell, they didn’t even know about Alexandria yet. It was preemptive murder as a form of potential self defense.
Meanwhile, whatever one wants to say about Negan, he’s managed to keep his community not only alive, but thriving. They do not want for anything, save for their own freedom. Negan is running a fairly successful communist community ruled over by a ruthless dictator. Everyone has a job — a purpose — and everyone is afforded a decent life considering the circumstances. All they have to offer in exchange is their unconditional loyalty to Negan. Given the fact that the world is overrun with undead monsters, it’s not a bad deal for most. In some ways, Negan is playing a character — just like Ezekiel — designed to protect his people. In this case, that character just happens to be a sociopath.
Where it gets particularly dicey and where Negan unquestionably separates himself from Rick and Ezekiel, however, is with Negan’s wives, who not only have to pledge their loyalty to Negan but offer themselves sexually to him. He says he doesn’t have sex with anyone who is unwilling, but given the situation — he controls the fate of their former husband and boyfriends — the sex is obviously offered under duress. It’s rape.
Alexandrians are willing to do a lot — including commit murder — to protect themselves and their community, but neither Rick nor Daryl nor anyone else in Alexandria would force someone to have sex with them, even if it was part of a show of force necessary to keep up the charade and maintain the safety of the community.
That brings us to Dwight, who understands firsthand the difference between Rick and Negan, Alexandria and the Saviors. Dwight does bad things, but his intentions are good — he does it to keep his wife, Sherry, alive. Sherry also does bad things to keep Dwight alive, but she reached a point where she could no longer do it. That point arrived when she met Daryl, who reminded her of who Dwight was before he gave himself up to Negan (which makes the casting of Austin Amelio, who resembles Norman Reedus, all the more perfect). Sherry is the one who sprung Daryl from his prison cell, and afterwards, she fled. Negan tasked Dwight with tracking her down and, in one of the series’ most effective sequences, we captured a glimpse of who Dwight was before Negan. He was a loving, devoted husband, and only a loving, devoted husband would sacrifice himself the way Dwight has for someone he loves as much as he loves Sherry. With Dwight, too, it’s all a matter of perspective, and once we understood fully the motivations behind his actions, we gained a great deal of sympathy for the character.