After a season and a half of bad dick jokes, brutal murder, and excessive monologuing with very little in the way of meaningful character development (like we saw last week for Ezekiel, in “Some Guy”), The Walking Dead finally delivered a glimpse behind Negan’s Iron Curtain this week … and how much you liked it probably depends on how much you’ve enjoyed the show’s interpretation of the character to date.
If you’re on my team, the team that views Negan as a silly, sadistic buffoon who is utterly unenjoyable to watch, then your opinion probably didn’t change with his heavenly confessions to Father Gabriel in “The Big Scary U.” He admitted to having a wife he actually sort of loved once, sure, but he also made easily half a dozen bad dick jokes, bragged about killing everybody’s favourite dead boyfriend Glenn, and failed to murder Eugene (this would be the only thing that could turn the character around for me at this moment, tbqh).
However, “The Big Scary U” did convey for the first time ever why so many Saviours — the proletariat class especially — remain loyal to Negan, even when a seemingly much better option like Rick Grimes comes along. Because just as Negan explained to Gabriel that he inspires loyalty by inspiring fear and killing the “right” people instead of the most people (people are a resource, he repeated throughout the episode), Rick experienced the downside of not being a tyrannical dictator when he and Daryl couldn’t agree on how to win the war after losing the Kingdom.
It’s difficult to be brave even when you’ve survived the apocalypse, and some folks would rather clean the undies and wash the dishes of a vicious, bat-wielding psychopath and sleep in a warm bed than try their luck fighting alongside Rick Grimes. It’s bleak, and it still doesn’t explain why all of Negan’s friends, sans Dwight, act like cartoonish caricatures of real people, but whatever. It was eye-opening to see just how strong a hold Negan has over his people in times of crisis, because previous episodes at the Sanctuary made it seem like everyone wanted him dead.
Instead of beginning the episode where Negan left off at the end of the season premiere — in that trailer surrounded by zombies, with Gabriel — it began in the moments before Rick’s attack. Negan’s inner circle were meeting to discuss the Gregory Situation (Simon believed he still had influence at Hilltop; Negan rightfully did not) and what they would do if Gregory’s plan to exile his unruly people didn’t work out (Simon thought they should murder all of them; Negan — rightfully? — thought just Rick, Maggie, and “King Assface” would do).
At this point Rick’s army came a-knockin’, and we flashed forward to Negan and Gabriel in the trailer. The Man of God insisted, despite all logic and reason, that his ill-fated rescue of Gregory had a purpose — he was trapped there to take Negan’s final confession.
The men went back-and-forth about this for a while while the horde swarmed outside — Gabriel asked Negan about his wives; Negan threatened to jerk off in front of Gabriel — and Negan, slowly but surely, confessed.
Not to his sins, exactly — Negan doesn’t see killing people like Glenn and Abraham as sinful. He sees it as a means to “save” a larger majority, offer them physical safety, and create a new, post-apocalyptic economy with himself and his friends as the new one-percent. (So he’s still a dick, but a dick with a moral code he actually thinks is helpful, I guess.)
Gabriel still wanted some tea, though, so he refused to help Negan bust out of the trailer until he confessed something juicy. The tea was lukewarm at best — Negan revealed he had a wife “before all this” that he’d loved but cheated on; and when the apocalypse came, he refused to let go of her even though she was already dying of an unnamed ailment — but it was enough to appease Gabriel’s odd, fruitless effort to cleanse Negan’s soul. So the two men covered themselves in zombie guts and escaped, but not before Negan pointedly asked if any of Gabe’s people had ever gotten sick from doing so – let’s call this “Chekhov’s Foreshadow-y Zombie Guts Conversation.”
Meanwhile, the leaders of both sides of the All-Out War argued over what to do next. Negan’s inner circle fought over how to get themselves and their workers out of the walker-surrounded Sanctuary without A) getting too many people killed or B) starting a class war, while also wondering how Rick Grimes happened to know that all of Negan’s satellite leaders were gathered at the Sanctuary at the moment of attack.
They smelled a rat, with Eugene as their most likely suspect, but as time went on, supplies dwindled, and workers griped about the power going out, they had bigger fish to fry. Dwight somehow smuggled one of the Saviours’ guns to the worker class, which one of them used to launch the world’s shortest-ever rebellion. (Presumably, Dwight’s plan was to create chaos and escape.)
Negan and Gabriel arrived to crush the workers’ whole Les Mis thing, with Negan making it clear, again, that people are a resource and he can’t have his murdering each other during times of crisis. He also noticed that the stolen gun was one of his, meaning that whoever handed it to the workers would definitely be the next “right person” to die.
Eugene clearly sussed out that this person was Dwight — and what happened next might end up being the beginning of the show’s attempt to redeem this messy, infinitely unlikable character.
Negan reminded Eugene that if he didn’t use his Smart Brain to figure out a plan that would safely get the Saviours out of their Sanctuary prison, all of them would starve. The obvious “Eugene Move” here would be to tattle on Dwight to remain in Negan’s good graces, but even the series’ biggest coward is smart enough to know that, thanks to their dire circumstances, snitching won’t help a thing … especially since Dwight is the only one in Negan’s crew who isn’t terrifying.
So Eugene stayed silent, and when Negan sent him off to check on his prisoner of war Father Gabriel, mullet-head walked straight into his redemption storyline. The good priest was deathly ill with what we can only assume is Zombie-Guts-Itis; an illness we heard about for the first time ever, after eight years of doing the zombie guts thing on this show, a few scenes earlier.
Eugene said he’d run for Dr. Carson #2, but Gabriel insisted that Dr. Carson #2 was Maggie’s doctor. Smuggling him back to Hilltop was Gabriel’s greater purpose in life; delivering him to Maggie would finally grant him the forgiveness he’s searched for since abandoning his parishioners years ago. (One could argue that he’s really asking Eugene to do the grunt of the delivering, here, but whatever. I’m just glad for Gabriel that he didn’t have to die listening to Negan talk.)
And since The Walking Dead learned on Twitter after Tara’s solo-episode that the fans hate episodes that don’t have any Rick and Daryl, Rick and Daryl sparred on the side of the road after stealing the Saviours’ arsenal last week. They found the dude whose car Rick ran off the road, and as the man died he told them all of the Kingdom had too besides Ezekiel, Jerry, and the “short-haired psycho lady.”
Losing their second-best army (sorry, Hilltoppers, but it’s true) convinced Daryl that blowing up the Sanctuary to let the horde in was the right move, but Rick didn’t want to risk killing or radicalising the Sanctuary’s workers in the process. Daryl doesn’t take orders from Rick like the Saviours do from Negan, though, so he vowed to end the Sanctuary on his own, and quickly found himself in a savage fist-fight with his best friend.
It ended quickly when Rick blew up the car with the Saviours’ dynamite; leaving Daryl without the tools to blow up the Sanctuary after all. The men made amends in that unspoken macho way that men like them do, with Daryl heading back home on his motorcycle and Rick opting to walk towards his “last play.” We don’t know what this “last play” is, but a Scavenger lookout spotted him on the road, so hopefully it involves murdering literally all of them because who even has the time.
So after one brutal week for the good guys, it seems like things are back on track in Rick’s All-Out War. Negan is alive, and so are a handful of his best fighters, but between Dwight, Eugene, and the grumbling workers, Negan could get taken out from the inside before Rick even gets to take a swing at him. It’s all about who truly is the better leader, now, which we’ll presumably find out over the next three weeks.
In the meantime, did I mention that Rick saw a helicopter?
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