The Walking Dead
“The Big Scary U”
November 19, 2017
We begin with a flashback-shadowing of Father Formerly Worthless praying, asking God that his death have purpose. Oh, you’re going to die, Father G, and it will probably have a purpose, but not necessarily the one you envision.
At the Sanctuary, Simon brings Mayor McCoward some sorghum pancakes …
… and assures him that deciding to tattle on Maggie, et al was the right decision.
Simon then brings Mayor McCoward to a Savior board meeting, where Mayor McCoward tries to make his case for the Saviors sparing the lives of most of Hilltop, arguing that he doesn’t like to kill people any more than Negan does. But Negan is like, “I’m going to stop you right there, because I like killing people — I like killing the right people at the right time — because blah blah blah greater good or something.” Negan questions if Mayor McCoward even has any real power in Hilltop anymore, suggesting instead that he is a “thin-dicked politician threading the needle with his thin dick.” Which is quite an image! One that is going to require brain bleach after the week we’ve been through!
Simon assures Mayor McCoward that he believes him, and that Plan A is to back Mayor McCoward up with massive Savior force to put the fear into the residents of Hilltop; Plan B is to kill everyone in Hilltop if they refuse to submit so as to teach the other colonies a lesson. Negan, however, firmly rejects this: PEOPLE ARE A RESOURCE, DAMMIT, YOU CAN’T JUST GO KILLING THEM ALL WILLYNILLY COME ON.
And that’s when Team Rick arrives in their art cars, shooting up the joint.
Fast forward to Negan and Father Gabe tucked away in their little OH GOD WE’RE GONNA DIE trailer. Negan tackles Father Gabriel and snatches his gun away from him, but doesn’t kill him despite the fact that it would be just so easy. Instead, Negan helps Father Gabriel to his feet and the two chat about what kind of assholes both Rick and Negan are.
No argument here.
Negan then wonders about Father Gabriel saving Mayor McCoward, and Father Gabriel explains that he fears a “fruitless” death: maybe the point of his existence was to save Mayor McCoward. Or maybe, it was to be here in this moment to take Negan’s confession.
Negan insists he doesn’t have anything to confess before immediately going into a whole thing about how he, like Father Gabriel, just wants to help people through difficult times, to help them through their weaknesses. Negan hints at his life before the apocalypse: helping kids, “showing them the way” so that they don’t become assholes. And that’s what he did with the Sanctuary: he took it over from a weaker man, and now he makes his people stronger.
Father Gabriel is going to be his next special project: together they are going to find Father G’s “special purpose,” he’s going to make Father Gabriel stronger. Father Gabriel keeps pressing Negan to confess, but Negan insists there is nothing to confess. He only killed people who needed killing, and as for the people Father Gabriel says he treats like “slaves,” Negan politely disagrees: it’s an economy, some win, some lose, but no one is going hungry.
OK OK BUT WHAT ABOUT THE WIVES?
Negan, quieter now, protests that all of the wives freely make their choice. Father Gabriel, realizing that he has found Negan’s weak spot, asks if there was a first wife. And when Negan becomes introspective, Father G goes and ruins the moment by lunging for the gun. Negan smacks him back and Father Gabriel retreats to the one room in the trailer, locking himself inside.
Through the door, Negan insists to Father Gabriel that the most important resource they have is each other, and suggests that Father G work with him. Father Gabriel then makes his own confession, telling Negan about the hilarious time he locked his entire congregation out of the church leaving them to be eaten alive by hordes of zombies.
And in response, Negan finally makes his own confession. There was a first Mrs. Negan, whom he lied to and screwed around on, and she became sick during the apocalypse. But when she died, he couldn’t bring himself to put her down. That was his moment of weakness.
Father Gabriel emerges from the room, and Negan returns to him his gun, but not before punching him in the face because there has not been a single person who has met Father Gabriel who hasn’t wanted to punch him in the face. For real though. Negan then explains the plan: having improbably pulled a walker into the trailer, the two of them are going to use the entrails trick to sneak out into the herd and into the Sanctuary. And it mostly works! Until for some reason it doesn’t, and Negan has to drag Father Gabriel to safety.
While all of this is happening, inside the Sanctuary, the Saviors are FREAKING OUT about Negan maybe probably being dead and immediately start turning against one another. After all, That One Guy points out, the timing of the attack, during the board meeting when all the outpost bosses would be in one place, is awfully suspicious. And the Saviors have a likely suspect in mind: Dr. Mullet. However, Dwight is like, “HEY, INSTEAD OF WORRYING ABOUT ALL THAT, LET’S AGREE ON A DISTRACTION LIKE WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO ABOUT THE WORKERS WHO ARE GOING TO HAVE A LOT OF QUESTIONS AND ARE GOING TO GROW RESTLESS BECAUSE WE DEFINITELY SHOULDN’T TURN ON EACH OTHER WHEN WE HAVE OTHER AS OF THE MOMENT IMAGINED PROBLEMS, RIGHT, GUYS?”
Later, Dr. Mullet swings by Dwight’s room to thank him for sticking up for him and Dwight is like, “IT WAS NOTHING DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT WE’RE TOTALLY COOL IT DEFINITELY WASN’T ME WHO IS THE MOLE HEY LEAVE MY CHESS SET ALONE THE PAINT ON IT IS NOT DRY AND THAT WILL CERTAINLY NOT BE A CLUE LATER OK BYE NOW.”
Later, Simon shuts off the power for reasons, and the workers are like, “OH HELLLLLLLLL NO,” and march up the stairs to demand to know what is going on and where Negan is and when their AC is going to be back. As tempers rise, That Lady Savior ends up shooting a worker, which is when Negan and Father Gabriel appear, covered in gore. “HI GUYS, IT’S ME! I’M BACK! I’m going to go take a shower and eat a sandwich and I’m going to need you to gently put my new best friend in a cell for me and in the meantime could you not shoot the workers? OK THNX,” says Negan.
Later, the Saviors return to the conference room to resume their board meeting. There, they show Negan that a satchel of the guns Team Rick used against them was from their own armory — and Dr. Mullet notices a spot of paint on the bag that happens to match the chess set that he conveniently spotted earlier in Dwight’s room.
After the meeting, Negan has a chat with Dr. Mullet where he tasks him with figuring out who the mole is, or else. Else being that Negan will bash his head in, which in his Negan-y way, he posits as a positive. Better than suffering with the riff-raff, right? So Dr. Mullet swings by Father Gabriel’s cell, but OH NOES, Father Gabriel is very sick with the fever and the shaking and Dr. Mullet is all, “HALP! GET ME A REAL DOCTOR!”
And while all of this was going on, Rick and Daryl are dealing with that truck they hijacked. After killing the driver — R.I.P. Driver — Rick and Daryl begin digging around in their new treasures, and Daryl finds a stash of dynamite. “COOL,” says Daryl who wants to go blow up some Saviors. When Rick suggests that they maybe hold off on the blowing people up business, he and Daryl have a slap fight. Fight fight fight, and Rick throws the dynamite back towards the truck where it promptly blows itself and the rest of the weapons cache up.
When Rick’s truck refuses to start, Daryl’s like, “TOO BAD, SO SAD, LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE WALKING, ASSHOLE.” And he does, the two men heading off in opposite directions for symbolisms.
Finally, a helicopter flies over a non-plussed Rick — DUDE, IT WAS A HELICOPTER, AND YOU’RE JUST LIKE, “~shrug~”? HOW MANY HELICOPTERS ARE THERE IN THE APOCALYPSE FOR YOU TO BE SO NONCHALANT ABOUT A GOD DAMNED HELICOPTER FLYING OVERHEAD?– who soon arrives at the trash heap to talk to the trash people.
So I have been sitting here for longer than I want to admit trying to figure out what to say about this episode and what I can say is that it was the best episode of the season so far. But don’t get too excited, because that is a really low bar this year.
For years, those of us who do not read the comics have been promised this charismatic Big Bad, Neagn, whom the comic readers seem to worship as less of a villain than a misunderstood anti-hero. But aside from one interesting exchange with Carl, all we’ve really received from Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan are one-dimensional cartoon villain antics. As we head towards some sort of eventual conclusion to the “All Out War,” Negan requires some fleshing out or the final conflict between Rick and Negan will be meaningless: who cares if Rick kills or grants mercy to a one-dimensional cartoon villain — there is only a story if Negan is actually plausibly human and at least a little sympathetic.
And so with this episode, the writers finally decided to try to humanize Negan by making him more complex than even his closest advisors anticipated. By shutting down Simon’s suggestion that they massacre the Hilltop community; by saving Father Gabriel and then confessing to Gabriel his darkest, most shameful moment; and by showing genuine — and as it turns out warranted, REGINA — concern for the safety and well-being of his people, the writers are trying to paint Negan as less of a bad guy than just a different flavor of leader. Sure, he rules through violence and fear, but in the end, he’s doing so because he’s looking out for his people, right? How different are he and Rick after all? (Very. Very different. But that’s a whole other discussion for another time.)
The thing I am here to complain about is not that they are trying to slip a little moral equivalence into this Negan v. Rick debate and that at the crux of the matter the writers are suggesting that Rick is maybe, probably, if you really think about it, just as bad a person as the man who with a baseball bat bashed in the head of an innocent man in front of his pregnant wife. I’m not going to complain about that at the moment because I like a complicated villain as much as anyone, and I’m happy they have finally gotten around to making Negan slightly more interesting.
No, my problem is that the writers crammed most of Negan’s humanizing into one heavy-handed episode. Why, for instance, couldn’t we have been given a board meeting scene like the one in this episode at some point last season to help establish that Negan’s ruthlessness is actually a part of an entire philosophy — a philosophy that may or may not be morally defensible, but at least is thought out?
For my money, the look into the Saviors’ organization and how they conduct themselves was far more enlightening and humanizing to Negan than even the confession scene with Father Gabriel. Why couldn’t we have spent more time last season getting to know these adversaries and what they actually believe in and how they actually conduct themselves, rather than spending half of the season watching Rick mope? Spending more time in the Saviors’ world would have accomplished a couple of things: it would have leavened one relentlessly dreary ass season, but also, it would have made Rick’s decision to go to war with the Saviors still an understandable but a much more morally complicated choice for the audience.
It’s almost as if the writers don’t quite trust the audience to handle a little cognitive dissonance because they think we’re dumb or something. But that can’t be it, right? That certainly can’t be it.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC on Sundays at 8/9 p.m.