This week’s ominously named installment took us back in time to the immediate aftermath of Daryl’s escape and explored Eugene’s arrival at The Sanctuary. After weeks of watching Rick and friends trying to rally an army to fight The Saviors, this episode drew our focus behind enemy lines once again, and examined how Negan inspires not just obedience, but loyalty among his followers.
Following Daryl’s departure, Negan and co. returned to find Fat Joey’s body, and, in a darkly humorous touch, the mess where his face used to be was symbolised by the squished tomato contents of his discarded sandwich. RIP, Fat Joey. Given this discovery, you’d have been forgiven for expecting the newly captured Eugene to feel the blunt force of retribution pretty quickly, but Negan had other plans for the self-proclaimed genius. Eugene was manhandled by Savior Laura through the complex, trembling and flinching, but instead of being thrown into the dark cell which awaited Daryl, Eugene was shown to a comfortable room with all mod cons, and even a door which locked from the inside. The exchange between Eugene and Laura, with her offering to get him whatever food he wanted, was another step towards humanising the Saviors, most of whom have been fairly thuggish and nondescript up until now (with a few exceptions). While Laura was sarcastic and curt, she was also quick and funny, and this small scene was enough to alter our emotional response to her, and a subtle way of muddying the waters and changing our perception of the inevitable battle that’s coming.
What followed was one of this season’s finest episode, a careful and cleverly constructed study of the psychological games deployed by Negan and the Savior community, and an exploration of their effects on two of the show’s more interesting characters, Dwight and Eugene. Eugene, a self-confessed coward, started out cringing and terrified, but once he provided a solution to Negan’s problem of his perimeter guard walkers disintergrating (cover them in molten metal, apparently!) it became clear that the leader had plans for him. Eugene’s survival method has always been to dissociate. He avoids conflict, and constructs lies about himself to distance himself from reality. Although he’s shown some development in recent years due to the friendships he’s made, here we saw him seemingly revert to type. Rehashing the same lies he used to get Rosita and Abraham to drive him halfway across the USA, Eugene earnt himself a night of booze and video games with three of Negan’s harem, who he duly impressed with some showy chemistry experiments.
It wasn’t long before the women tried to involve Eugene in a plot to take out Negan, under the pretense of wanting a fatal sleeping draught for their suicidal friend. Eugene saw through their story and refused to help, readily agreeing to their accusations of cowardice. But Eugene seemed to undergo a change having won the trust of Negan’s wives, quickly asserting himself in the queue for supplies and even bullying other residents of The Sanctuary. Negan’s assertion that Eugene had nothing to fear anymore, even after witnessing an act of singular brutality (which we’ll come to later), appeared to be the salve his soul has been crying out for. His readiness to declare himself ‘Negan’ before the leader had even finished asking his question was a real sucker punch. There was something almost worshipful and adoring in the way Eugene spoke, like a man discovering God or falling in love at first sight, and this made his readiness to submit to the man who bashed his best friend’s brains out all the more chilling.
While Eugene was establishing himself in the Savior community, Dwight was dealing with the repercussions of Daryl’s escape. Having been left in charge of the prisoner, it was Dwight’s neck on the line, and Negan’s men dealt him a vicious beating before he was sent out to find ex-wife, Sherry, who had also run away, framing herself as an accessory to Daryl’s breakout. It was an odd decision to send Dwight after his estranged love, given that the pair had tried to flee before, and Dwight’s possession of the beer and pretzels they’d promised to share on meeting at their former abode, should they ever be separated, suggested he wasn’t planning to return to The Sanctuary. However, on finding a note from Sherry explaining she’d gone on alone, blaming herself for saving Dwight and allowing him to lose his goodness and humanity, Dwight returned to the compound, claiming to have killed Sherry. He planted a fragment from her letter in Doctor Carson’s office, essentially implicating him in the disappearances of both Daryl and Sherry.
Retribution for this perceived slight against Negan was swift and ultra-violent. While initially it seemed the Doctor was going to be scarred like Dwight for his alleged treachery, his actual fate was a lot worse as Negan had Carson falsely confess, believing he would be spared, and then burnt him alive in the furnace. It was a gamble that paid off for Dwight, although it remains to be seen whether Negan actually believed his story, or whether the poor doctor was merely an expendable chesspiece in his broader game. Perhaps his real motive was installing Eugene in Carson’s place, and thus cementing his faithfulness…
The combination of rewarding usefulness and loyalty and punishing dissent was underscored in this episode, and demonstrated how Negan has kept his power. While instilling terror in his subjects goes a long way towards keeping them compliant, it is the temporary removal of fear and discomfort, and the promise of status and life of ‘Easy Street’ (that damn song!) which really seals the deal.
The closing scene of Dwight and Eugene finally meeting on the lookout, overseeing the implementation of Eugene’s plan to metal plate the walkers, gave an indication that these two men will be instrumental in the coming war. Dwight’s need to protect Sherry at a terrible price, and Eugene’s apparent conformity demonstrated excellent survival skills as well as that creeping erosion of humanity which Sherry wrote of. It remains to be seen whether Eugene’s allegiance really has been bought for the price of a jar of pickles, or whether he’s playing a long game, but either way, “Hostiles and Calamities” was a compelling episode which functioned as both a character study and an exploration of the machinations of The Sanctuary.
Final Grade: B
+ There was some powerful symbolism in this episode. Eugene’s bedroom lock juxtaposed with Dwight’s busted door nicely illustrated how the illusion of safety can be easily removed and replaced with the violent norm.
+ Sherry’s fears for Dwight were a lovely echo of Carol’s words to Daryl last week. Here we have two women who have chosen to take themselves out of society to preserve their humanity.
+ Despite the overriding tone of horror, there were some great comic moments this week. Eugene’s nicknames from Laura, his spurning of home made crisps (seriously, what kind of monster doesn’t like fresh kettle chips?!) and his sweetly innocent fun with Negan’s wives were all much needed pinpricks in the darkness.
– It’s a small thing, but how was Eugene’s metal-coated zombie plan going to work? Sure they would just be unable to move and continue to rot inside the metal? It’s been bugging me. Answers on a postcard…or y’know…in the comments!
– Although the performances were fantastic all round, I find myself lacking the emotional connection I had with characters in earlier seasons. Maybe it’s the seven year itch, but I wanted to be more moved by Dwight and Sherry’s plight.
Extra Thought: Is Sherry going to become part of Rick’s army, or have we seen the last of her?
What did you think of this episode? Was it as solid as an armored walker, or as dodgy as Eugene’s haircut? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter!