A much needed shift of focus this week, as we finally got to see what went down between Negan and Father Gabe in that walker-surrounded trailer, and things got heated in The Sanctuary, as some of the Saviors discussed what to do in the event of their leader’s death.
The last few weeks have centered on the minutiae of the battle, and long, drawn out, often confusing shoot-outs between largely faceless henchmen. “The Big Scary U” took us back to those neglected characters we’re emotionally invested or at least interested in, and was a much stronger installment for it. The first scene between Negan and Gabriel held my attention in a way the show hasn’t since for a long time. Having established they’d have a better chance of escaping if they worked together, Negan and the priest formed an uneasy alliance. Negan had Gabe surrender his weapon, but while we may have been expecting another execution, what we actually got was a demonstration of how a mixture of fear tactics and charisma have enabled Negan to rule The Sanctuary so effectively.
Gabriel, convinced he could lead the leather-clad psycho into the light, insisted they had been forced together by unseen forces, so that the priest might hear Negan’s confession. Negan, however, was adamant he had nothing to confess, and explained how The Saviors would be fighting amongst themselves in his absence. Eventually, he gave Gabriel a few scraps of information about his former life, just enough to make him seem human. We learnt that he used to work with kids, which was both hilarious and worrying, and that he cheated on his first and legal wife, and failed to ‘put her down’ when the apocalypse started.
In turn, Gabriel revealed his greatest sin – locking his parishioners out of the church and leaving them to the mercy of the walkers – levelling the two men somewhat on the morality scale. While we’ve seen some of the complexities that lie beneath Negan’s dick-obsessed, bat-swinging bravado previously, when he was playing twisted mentor to Carl, for example, Gabriel hasn’t really been given the same forensic treatment in the years since he was introduced, so his soul-baring is probably a good indication that he’s not long for this world. The Walking Dead has a history of shoe-horning in backstory and emotional development just before a character dies, presumably to make us care more when they bite it. Might be time for last rites for the good father…
Meanwhile at The Sanctuary, things were breaking down in Negan’s absence. We got to see a bit of Gregory snivelling and wheedling at Simon after being run out of Hilltop, and the moment when Rick’s army struck from the enemy perspective. While there was an element of tension and jeopardy surrounding Eugene and Dwight and the question of who’d leaked information to Team Rick, mostly the workers’ revolt, and Simon’s bid for power served to confirm Negan’s belief that his brand of rule was actually saving a motley crew from their own worst instincts. Simon proved to be more chilling and unhinged than even the man he grudgingly bows to. Sure, Negan takes sadistic pleasure in violence but, he claimed, he only ever kills to make a strategic point. It’s interesting that even in the midst of chaos and potential mutiny, Negan’s people immediately came to heel when he strolled back into the compound, covered in zombie guts, and had Gabriel sent to the hole.
Conversely, no one on Team Rick seems to have entered into the war with clear directives. We’ve already seen Jesus and Morgan come to blows over the fate of some captured worker Saviors, and this week it was Rick and Daryl’s turn to get into fisticuffs. Daryl seems to have lost his nurturing side of late and turned into a total nihilist, ready to blow a hole in The Sanctuary and let the walkers take out any survivors, despite Rick’s insistence that the women and children of the workers should be allowed to live. Clearly his experience with baby Gracie has given him pause for thought.
But the strangest thing about the Rick and Daryl showdown was that it resulted in the truck containing the pilfered Sanctuary supplies and machine guns being blown up. So essentially, in a few minutes, everything that’s happened in the previous weeks was rendered largely pointless. All the sacrifices made in pursuit of the guns, meaningless. I’m guessing this is to avoid Team Rick having a huge advantage at some point in the future, but REALLY?! All we’ve heard about since forever ago is those fudging guns, and now they’re ashes because Rick and Daryl had a Barney. Well then.
This episode left us with a couple of juicy tidbits which made me curious to know what happens next – a feeling that’s been woefully lack from my viewing experience so far this year. First off was Rick spotting the helicopter on his solo walk back to The Kingdom. What could it mean? Is this proof of life from other communities or could it belong to one of the existing factions? Second was Gabe’s sudden mystery illness and his insistence that Eugene help him get Maggie’s doctor out of The Sanctuary. Is he bit? Has he picked up a new strain of sickness from the zombie guts? Whose side is he even on now? Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long to get some answers.
Final Grade: C
+ It was great to see Jeffrey Dean Morgan finally allowed to give some light and shade to Negan.
+ Steven Ogg’s portrayal of Simon toying with Gregory was the creepiest and most sinister thing we’ve seen for a long time.
+ The revolt at The Sanctuary thew up some interesting questions about different power structures and types of leadership which haven’t ever been satisfactorily explored. Hopefully there will be more good stuff around this in the future.
– While Negan was given a chance to shine here, we need to talk about the dick obsession. Obviously there are network restrictions on the language he can use, but pretty much everything that comes out of that guy’s mouth is penis-related. It can be used effectively and horribly, such as when Negan, after an act of desecration at Alexandria, whispered menacingly to Rick that he’d ‘just slid my dick down your throat and you thanked me for it’. But the dialogue here was playground snicker level at best, and undermined his threat.
– The success of the more intimate, character-driven scenes actually highlighted one of the main issues with this show – too many characters for the narrative to properly serve.
– Poor Daryl’s character has been done a huge injustice of late. I’m pretty sure someone who felt as instrumental in the deaths of his friends by Savior hands as Daryl wouldn’t be so careless with hard-won spoils of battle.
Extra Thought: Eugene seems to be onto Dwight as a mole, but will he turn him in to Negan or team up with him to bring the Saviors down from the inside?
What did you think? Leave your confessions in the comments section, or over on Twitter!