This week’s episode of The Walking Dead largely consisted of Negan beating a dead horse for 90 minutes (nearly one-third of which was commercials). It was an episode that could’ve easily fit into the normal hour-long runtime and might have been much better for it. It essentially repeated the themes of the first and third episode — that Negan is a bad, bad man — in a new location, here Alexandria, where most of its citizens got their first taste of the series’ latest villain. It was more of the same.
Negan Wears Out His Welcome
I think Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a good actor. However, we are quickly learning that — as is the case with a lot of scene-stealing characters — Negan is better in shorter doses. He’s cartoonish almost to the point of absurdity, and while that might work as a form of sadistic comic relief, it begins to feel grating for viewers at a certain point. It’s overkill. The overemphasis on every third word, the teeth sucking, and some of the cringeworthy lines (“Easy peasy lemon squeezy!”) have grown stale. How many idle threats can he make? How many times can Rick prevent himself from killing Negan? How many times can Negan humiliate Rick or Daryl or Olivia (we finally know the pantry lady’s name!) before viewers at home throw their hands up in the air. “We get it! He’s a really bad guy! Can we move on now?”
Ezekiel was a huge success in the second episode because he presented a larger-than-life character who was a lot of fun. But by episode’s end, we got to know him as a human being. We got to know the person underneath the facade. We’ve spent the better part of three episodes with Negan now, and we don’t know him any better than we did when he was introduced to the series at the end of last season. He’s a bad-guy caricature. We don’t know his backstory. We don’t understand his real motivations. We know that he likes to bully and intimidate people, and if pressed, he’s willing to kill. But we don’t understand why at all.
I sincerely hope that at some point soon we find out that there is a deeper layer to Negan. I know he has a heartbreaking backstory in the comics, but on the TV series, he increasingly feels like a stock villain. There is absolutely nothing human about him, and his one-dimensionality increasingly contrasts poorly with the more developed characters on the series who have more gears than Negan’s hoo-ra sadism.
A really good villain is someone we root for just a little bit because we understand their motivations. There’s nothing about Negan to root for, and if he died in next week’s episode, the only heartbreak I would feel would be for Jeffrey Dean Morgan being out of a job.
Dwight Is Inconsistent
Meanwhile, Austin Amelio did a terrific job last week of providing some depth to the character of Dwight, who we began to understand as conflicted in his role as Negan’s lead henchman. He has an interesting and heartbreaking backstory. We understand why he puts on a big show. In this week’s episode, however, there was none of that tortured humanity. He went back to being the stock henchman, the bully taunting Rosita by pulling off her hat, pouring out her water, and never betraying that there’s something deeper pushing him. I did, however, appreciate the ultimate point of making Rosita fetch Daryl’s motorcycle. He is trying to get Daryl to crack and ally with Negan, and while that might serve Negan’s purposes, I also like to believe that Dwight is also trying to spare Daryl from more abuse.
Spencer’s Number Is Going To Get Punched (And So Is His Face)
There’s nothing to like about Spencer on The Walking Dead. There never has been. He’s a reckless, narcissistic, entitled, thin-skinned asshole. One of two things is destined to happen to Spencer: Either Rick is going to lose it and kill Spencer for putting the lives of others at risk again, or Spencer is going to abandon Alexandria and team up with Negan, and Negan is going to kill Spencer for being a whiny little snot. I think Spencer wants to be a Savior. I think he wants to do it because Rick doesn’t give him the respect he thinks he deserves. Guess what? Negan is not going to give him that respect, either. Negan will use Spencer for his intel, but the first time that Spencer insists upon better treatment because he feels he is “owed” it, Negan will show him exactly what he’s owed: A dinner date with Lucille.
Father Gabriel’s “Freaky Ass Smile”
Easily the best moment of the episode was Father Gabriel sneaking up behind Negan and asking if he’d like to pay his respects to Maggie. “Holy crap! You are creepy as sh*t, sneaking up on me wearing that collar with that freaky-ass smile.” Props to Father Gabriel, too, for wisely thinking ahead and assuming the worst: That the creepy as sh*t Negan would want to take Maggie back with him to the Savior compound and make her another one of his wives. Gabriel quickly had an empty grave dug, so that Negan would be under the impression that Maggie had died. It’s a great ploy by Father Gabriel, but I am going to hate to see it backfire when Negan realizes that Maggie is still alive.
FYI, this would also explain Maggie’s absences from The Walking Dead set earlier this year, which some took to believe that Maggie would die in the seventh-season premiere.
Michonne’s storyline felt somewhat tacked on, almost as an excuse to fill out the 90-minute runtime, get Danai Gurira some much needed screen time, and set up the moment when Rick would reveal the answer to the show’s long-dormant secret about the paternity of baby Judith. I have no problem with giving Gurira something to do, especially with Carol out in The Kingdom stealing Michonne’s storyline from the comics.
“Assload of Guns”
Essentially, the entire point of this episode was to strip Alexandria of its arsenal and further reduce them to underdog status. Alexandria has now hit the Lin-Manuel Miranda quadfecta: Outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned. In other words, with the anger of Rosita, Carl, and Michonne, and the bullet-making skills of Eugene, Alexandria has Negan right where they want him. They’re gonna make an all-night stand; they just need to save Daryl, their right-hand man.
— I really did think that Negan making Rick hang on to Lucille — the weapon that killed Abraham and Glenn — for most of the episode was a nice touch, and illustrated more about what a terrible person Negan is than all of the other threats combined.
— Stealing and then burning all of Alexandria’s mattresses at the end was also a really effective moment, much more effective in illustrating what kind of person Negan is than the mini soliloquies peppered throughout the episode. “I just slid my dick down your throat and you thanked me for it” is a completely unnecessary line because of the mattresses and because Negan made Rick hold Lucille.
— As this episode illustrated again, Andrew Lincoln is doing an exceptional job this season in showing how neutered Rick has become under Negan’s rule. Lincoln could get the point across without the writers belaboring it, however. In fact, it’s Lincoln’s strong performance that highlights by contrast just how one-dimensional Negan is.
— I think we’ve all had about enough of sad Daryl now. In fact, I think we’ve had enough of sad everyone now. It’s time to move on to the rebuilding stage. This series is in bad need of a win just to keep viewer morale from plummeting any further.