Be warned! This review will cover aspects of the episode. Spoilers will lurk like groaning walkers..
Daryl fans might be thrilled to see him naked, but trapped in a cell and fed dog food by Dwight? That’s probably beyond even the 50 Shades fantasies one or two of them might have harboured. It’s part of the opening, where we’re introduced to life with the Saviours, as Dwight enjoys episodes of Who’s The Boss and steals food from others while poor Mr. Dixon is slowly psychologically broken down in his dank quarters. Yep, if you thought last week was a return to a balanced Walking Dead, the reprise of Negan and co. meant a plunge back into true darkness. At least to begin with.
It did offer Norman Reeds a chance to go to an even lonelier, more dangerous place than he usually explores, and he pulled it off admirably. Beaten down, but still with a defiant glint in his eye. Even when he’s being shoved against a fence and threatened with a future as Walker-bait or as one himself. “Just do it”, he’s told by Sherry (Christine Evangelista) – is he at a Nike facility or under Negan’s care? Talking of, it’s an interesting exploration of a how a seemingly cruel and ruthless dictator like Negan can retain control of his people through force of personality, and violence blended with what he can offer. It helps, of course, that he and his people are living through an apocalypse. And it remains a mostly one-note burst of tension and terror Chez Negan: the producers may not be able to kill Daryl, but they seem committed to pushing him to a new limit.
It’s not often that the series choose to focus away from the core group for so many episodes; and while it’s trying to add some shading to Negan and his group – and to show his Saviours compound as compared to King Ezekiel’s from last week – it doesn’t completely work, since even with the likes of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Austin Amelio (Dwight) acting up a storm, we’re still left feeling like we’ve seen it before. At least Dwight has some added depth to him, with the clear tragedy of what happened after he and Sherry rebelled and then brought back to Negan. It’ll hopefully be more interesting when we see some other side of Negan – maybe dig into his backstory or see how he reacts when the cards truly aren’t in his favour. And there surely are only so many scenes to be mined from Negan grandstanding and talking about how Lucille – his bat, in case you forgot, which you can’t do because he keeps talking about the damned thing – demands punishment in every situation.
Elsewhere, we see Dwight sent out to bring back Gordon (Michael Scialabba), another former Saviour who has decided to flee. He presents the point of view that even with everything Negan has to offer and enforce, it’s not worth it. He’d rather die than go back. As for Daryl, he finds out the hard way when he refuses to bow to Negan’s will – and fans of Mr. Dixon will at least be happy to see him stay strong.
As for Rick and co? We don’t see them at all this week, so we can only guess at what they’re planning. Hopefully nothing too ridiculous or badly planned. Wait… It’s our group. So… probably.
It was very nearly as dark as episode one, but at least The Cell offered some rays of hope. Daryl isn’t pulverised for standing up to Negan and Dwight’s torment shows that there is only so far that Negan can push even his staunchest supporters. Still, the show remains in a very low-key, less-than-satisfying form; while raising the stakes for our heroes and putting them in jeopardy they don’t easily escape is a good thing, the threat just comes across as a rehash of earlier plot lines. We’re not asking for miracles, just a different way to explore the constant misery.
Read this season’s previews reviews below…
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC in the States and Mondays at 9pm on Fox.