It was the moment we’ve all be waiting for/dreading, as Negan and his band of Saviors arrived at the gates of Alexandria this week, armed and ready to claim their tributes. And what an entrance for the villain of the moment, as he stood, casting an unmistakable silhouette, Lucille in hand, whistling Beethoven and reciting nursery rhymes…just in case you were in any doubt who the Big Bad Wolf is in this scenario. Spencer nearly felt the bite of barbed wire-wrapped wood when he failed to recognise his new master, and kept Negan waiting outside the compound, but Rick showed up and diffused the situation while the residents of Alexandria stood by in helpless but barely-disguised fury.
We know it’s not yet been a week since the deaths of Glenn and Abraham, and that that the Saviors turned up early in another twisted power play, and while we may not have seen the individual reactions of the various Alexandria residents to the news of the murders, the ripples of anger and fear were clearly played out over the course of this extended episode. Enid’s grief was painfully apparent in her pleading with one of Savior’s to be allowed to keep the green balloons she and Glenn had used to signal their return.
The main focus of this episode was the dynamic between Rick and Negan, and it made for compelling viewing. Handing Rick Lucille to hold the moment he entered Alexandria, Negan continued his psychological warfare against the once indomitable Rick. The extreme violence in the season premiere has been enough to sustain the tension throughout the following weeks without having to kill or maim anyone else onscreen, and at this point, Negan doesn’t even have to be holding his weapon to instill fear. We’re constantly on high alert, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Making Rick carry the bat which killed his friends, knowing he was itching to use it but wouldn’t, was a powerful illustration of just how resigned Rick has become. Negan himself made a direct comparison between the heavily bearded Rick Grimes on Deanna’s video camera and the subdued creature he has become.
Taking Daryl to Alexandria to parade him, silent and bruised, in front of his pals was another stroke of evil genius. While Norman Reedus didn’t have a single line, the heart-breaking looks between he and Andrew Lincoln spoke volumes and demonstrated just how fully both actors inhabit these roles. And while it’s been said that Jeffrey Dean Morgan is playing Negan with a little too much relish at times, I’d argue that his character needs some moments of levity to avoid becoming an archetypal bogeyman. If you find yourself laughing at his quips, it makes the memory of what he’s done even more disturbing. His menacing of Rick was far from pantomime villain, the lascivious nature of his taunts reminding us that not only would he make good on his promise to make Rick cut bits off Daryl but he’d probably take great pleasure in doing so.
Resistance came in the form of Carl, whose sense of injustice was inflamed by the Saviors trying to take more than half of their supplies. His pulling a gun on one of Negan’s men resulted in the confiscation of all the guns in Alexandria, and almost cost Olivia her life when two handguns were found to be missing from the armory. Rick finally found these concealed in Spencer’s house (phew) and Olivia was spared. Meanwhile, Spencer was out on a supply run with Rosita, who had also been tasked with recovering Daryl’s bike for Dwight. When she encountered a bunch of walkers who were actually dead Saviors, she managed to salvage a gun from one of them. With Rick having made Michonne hand over a hunting rifle which wasn’t on the books to try and gain some brownie points, Rosita’s weapon is the only firearm left in Alexandria. Her taking a bullet casing to Eugene at the end of the episode suggested she’s not ready to take Abraham’s death and Rick’s supplication lying down.
The residents of Alexandria didn’t give up everything though. Thanks to Father Gabriel’s quick thinking, Maggie is now presumed dead, and so safe from Negan’s lustful clutches – at least for the time being. But while Gabriel was weirdly optimistic, Rick and his people were left in a pretty dark place. The pile of mattresses, pilfered and then burnt by the roadside out of pure spite seemed symbolic of the loss of any sense of safety and comfort these people had found as a community. Rick’s admission that Judith isn’t his biological daughter gave some insight into his frame of mind. These people are not his blood but he will do whatever it takes to keep them alive, even if that means compliance. But with dissent brewing, it might not be too long before his hand is forced.
Final Grade: B+
+ Call me a wrongun but I could watch Negan being all up in Rick’s grill all day long. You could have cut the air between them with a knife. Fantastic performances from both men.
+ Negan calling Father Gabriel ‘creepy as shit’ made me laugh out loud. Come on. We were all thinking it.
+ Rosita got a lovely bit of sass in when she told Dwight she found a bunch of his dead friends on her run. Someone hand that girl a mic to drop.
– While I think we needed the change of pace after the season premiere, I don’t think this episode needed to be extended. It felt like it should have ended with Negan’s departure.
– I like that the show is trying to do something different this season, but the stories feel a little fragmented at the moment. It would be good to move around a bit more so we don’t forget what the various parties are doing.
– I’m enjoying JDM’s work as Negan a lot, and while I get that he no longer needs to commit acts of violence to be a scary mofo, given how much he enjoys it, it seemed a bit of a stretch that no one got hurt during his visit.
Extra Thought: Since Daryl has been locked away at the Savior’s compound, does he now believe Maggie is dead? Or does he know his friends well enough to understand their scam? Or maybe he’s just totally dissociated at this point…
What did you think? Was this episode a slow burning treat, or were your trigger fingers itchy for some more action? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter.