Another glimpse at the machinations of The Saviors’ compound this week, this time through Carl’s remaining eye, and a tense and fascinating new development as he infiltrated Negan’s domain, only to find the sadistic leader wanted to get to know him a little better…
We last saw Carl hiding out in the back of a Savior-owned truck with Jesus (as you do), but while Jesus was on a reconnaissance mission, playing a long game, Carl had no plan other than ‘kill the man who murdered my friends and humiliated my Dad’. And although he managed to trick Jesus into leaving him alone in the vehicle, and to take down a couple of Negan’s people with an assault rifle, Carl was captured before he could harm a hair on the big man’s psychotic head.
Things looked pretty bleak for the would-be teen assassin, but for some reason, Negan has taken a shine to the boy. This episode largely focused on the burgeoning relationship between the two, with Negan flitting between intimidating, humiliating, and flattering the poor kid, and Carl clearly intrigued as to why he was even still alive. Negan’s motivation for sparing Carl are unclear. On the one hand, what better way to break Rick’s spirit than for Negan to work his way into the affections of his victim’s children? But given that Rick is already pretty cowed, frantically searching for enough supplies to appease The Saviors on their next visit, it seems like a waste of energy.
Negan’s declaration that ‘Lucille’ likes being sung to as much as she likes cracking skulls, and the reflection of that in the title of the episode, suggest there may be a grain of actual feeling there. Negan seemed to be showing off at points, trying to teach Carl life lessons at others, treating him almost like a son or little brother. While Carl has not always been the most sympathetic character, and Chandler Riggs‘ acting comes in for some stick, his weepy rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” (AKA the creepiest song ever written) was pretty heart-breaking, and Negan’s apology for mocking the kid’s appearance added a further layer of complexity to a character who has been fairly one-dimensional to date.
Carl’s presence at The Sanctuary also seemed to galvanise Daryl. Norman Reedus hasn’t had many lines of late, with his character having been turned into little more than a drone by Negan’s regime of torture and service. But he found his voice this week, even daring to question what Rick’s son was doing there, addressing Negan directly and getting a spell in solitary confinement for his troubles. But it seems Daryl has a friend within the complex, possibly in the form of Dwight’s ex, Sherry, and an escape might be on the cards…
Negan’s treatment of Sherry and the other ‘wives’ served as a reminder that for all his pontificating about being a leader for the new world, and rules being vital for rebuilding society, he is essentially a despot who enjoys tormenting others. His treatment of Olivia in Alexandria reinforced his belief that women are merely playthings, and while he took her slap with good humour, I suspect it will come back to bite her at some point. While he claims to admire people who show balls and are not afraid of him, this is the guy who went to extreme lengths to make sure Rick and Daryl understood who is boss. The scarification of a transgressor with an iron mirrored Dwight’s (and making him take the red hot metal out of the fire was a particularly twisted touch), and demonstrated Negan’s desire to maim any rival who takes female attention away from him. Their disfigurement once again suggests an almost biblical element of the punishment fitting the crime – an eye for an eye.
Speaking of The Good Book, there were rumblings of mutiny back in Alexandria, as Spencer expressed his disdain for Rick to Father Gabriel, who explained that while thoughts alone didn’t make him a sinner, they did make him a massive shit. I think my respect for Gabe increased a hundredfold this episode, even though I’m fairly sure the Bible says thoughts ARE as bad as deeds hence all the ‘poke out your own wandering eye’ stuff, so that makes him a terrible priest. Indeed, Spencer’s discovery of the gutted walker in the woods may well foreshadow some kind of retribution for his mind-treachery. And with Rosita strong-arming Eugene into making her bullets, and Michonne ambushing a Savior and demanding to be taken to Negan, unaware that he was back in Alexandria playing babysitter to Judith, the scene is set for an action-packed midseason finale.
Final Grade: B
+ It was good to see the various story strands starting to come together after what’s been a fairly fractured first half of the season. Some of the subplots could have been afforded more time in an extended episode though.
+ I liked the fact that this episode made me feel warm and protective towards Carl, a character I’ve struggled with in the past. It’s good that The Walking Dead isn’t afraid of complex or problematic characters, but we need something in each one to root for now and then.
+ Olivia’s slap may have been stupid – after all, Negan was prepared to kill her for a bookkeeping error last visit – but it sure was satisfying.
– These extended running times are causing pacing issues and making episodes seem a bit too drawn out for my liking.
– While it’s good that we are seeing more nuances to Negan’s unpredictable personality, I’m worried that the show is already overly-reliant on his presence, and the more screen time he gets, the less scary he becomes. Sometimes less is more.
– I’m finding it hard to get on board with Rosita. I need something to redeem her for me, because right now, I have nothing.
Extra Thought: What is Rick going to return to? Two dead kids, or a nightmarish version of Uncle Buck?
What did you think? Did this episode have you on the edge of your seat, or at the end of your rope? Sound off in the comments, or tell us on Twitter.