Warning: The Walking Dead TV series and comic-book spoilers will be found below.
For Brandon, the outcome in this week’s The Walking Dead, “What It Always Is,” is the same as in the comics: In the end, he is killed by Negan. How Negan arrives at the decision to kill Brandon, however, is different in a way that actually makes the television version of Negan a better, more complex and complicated character than the one in Kirkman’s source material. It’s worth a brief comparison between the two Brandons to illustrate what a brilliant departure Angela Kang makes here with regard to the character.
In the comics, Brandon is the son of Tammy Rose, whose head — as on the TV series — is placed on a pike by Alpha. He’s furious with The Whisperers for killing his mother, and he’s angry at Rick Grimes for not exacting revenge. He releases Negan basically so that he’ll go after Alpha and provoke a war with the Whisperers, which will leave both Rick and Alpha dead. Negan kills Brandon because he’s obnoxious and annoying — as he is on the TV series — but also, because that’s his plan, too, and he wants to own it. The death of Brandon in the comics is more senseless. Negan kills him mostly because he just doesn’t like Brandon.
In this week’s episode of The Walking Dead television series, Negan kills Brandon, but he’s driven by a different motivation, one that makes all the difference for this iteration of the character. Here, Brandon is the son of a former member of the Sanctuary, and he releases Negan because he wants to revive The Sanctuary and become a Savior like his father. He steals Lucille and Negan’s leather jacket from Alexandria and gives them to Negan thinking that Negan will immediately go out, find a new facility, and restart the Sanctuary with Brandon as his right-hand man. This rubs Negan in the exact wrong way. Old Negan would have just told Brandon to screw off, and if he didn’t, Negan wouldn’t have thought twice about killing him.
This new version of Negan, however, has evolved from the man he used to be. He’s taken some lessons from Alexandria, and he’s formed real bonds with kids like Lydia and Judith. So, he doesn’t kill Brandon because he’s obnoxious, nor because Negan resists becoming the man he used to be, although that is true, too. He tells Brandon to get lost. In fact, he demands it.
However, Brandon thinks he’s being tested, so he goes out and he kills the mother and son that Negan had just saved from zombies. “It’s a test,” Brandon tells Negan after bashing in the brains of the mother and son with a crowbar. “You wanted to make sure that I had the balls to do what had to be done.”
It was not a test. In fact, midway through Brandon’s “I am Negan” exclamation, Negan takes a rock and bashes Brandon’s head in. He doesn’t do it because Brandon is obnoxious or annoying. He doesn’t even do it because he’s trying to get away from Brandon. He does it for the same reason that Carol shot Lizzie. It’s because Brandon is clearly a lost cause. He’s too far gone. He’s lost his humanity, and he’s dangerous to innocent people. That’s why Negan kills him, but in doing so, it also awakens a part of the old Negan. His motivations are more altruistic — and we’ll get into that in future episodes — but the ruthlessness and brutality has returned. He just knows who better to channel it against. After he spends some time with The Whisperers, he’s probably going to start understanding where true evil lies. Even the old Negan had a code. Alpha and Beta do not. It’s going to make for an interesting dynamic, as two villains are pitted against each other, but one will probably come out on the other side as an anti-villain.
The news this week, however, isn’t as good for Ezekiel, who we learn has a fairly progressive case of thyroid cancer. He seems to have already resigned to his fate, although he cannot bring himself to let Carol know that he’s dying. Ezekiel’s storyline, however, provides an opportunity for Siddiq, who in this episode doesn’t think anything can be done to save Ezekiel. But maybe there is. Ezekiel notes that the recovery rate for thyroid cancer is high with the right treatments, but such treatments do no exist in the apocalypse. That may not be true if Siddiq can perform surgery on Ezekiel and save his life. Ultimately, it might be how Siddiq pulls out of this PTSD-funk, and if he is a mole under duress from Alpha, it might go a long way toward redeeming him.
The other storyline was something of a head scratcher. It turns out that Kelly and Magna were stealing and hoarding supplies from The Hilltop just in case things went sideways and because they don’t quite trust their community yet. Daryl and Connie find out, but because Daryl is clearly smitten with Connie, he helps them cover it up, though he does make them return the supplies. The incident also continues to drive a wedge in between Yumiko and Magna, who admits to Yumiko that she was guilty of the crime that Yumiko defended her against pre-apocalypse. Magna killed a man who had hurt her cousin, and Yumiko continues to treat Magna like a criminal, even though — in the apocalypse — both have killed several people. It presents an interesting debate for The Walking Dead: Are crimes committed pre-apocalypse worse than those created after? I think the answer to that is obvious. Magna, however, would not agree.
— I appreciate what Negan was trying to do in comforting the little kid, but teaching him how to “nut tap” is super inappropriate. That whole scene was really uncomfortable. On the other hand, it was consistent with the behavior of some middle-school coaches.
— The Daryl/Connie ship is the best romance on The Walking Dead since the early days of Maggie and Glenn. They are adorable. It’s funny. They are two of the most confident characters on the show, and yet around each other, they turn into nervous puddles of insecurity. Also, I realize this is all fan service, but thank you for this fan service, Angela Kang!
— The fake-out in the cold open with Kelly, however, was weird. How did she escape the zombie? Why did the show tease us into thinking she was about to get killed if they wouldn’t even show us how she escaped?
— We haven’t really seen someone fully surface as the leader of The Hilltop in the wake of Tara’s death, but with Ezekiel falling back, it’s starting to look like Yumiko will ultimately fill that position.
— Next week’s episode sees Carol and Daryl unite again, plus Eugene reconnects with the woman on the radio.