“Let me put this to you all as clearly as I can. I’m not in chare any more. Negan is.”
It was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in The Walking Dead this week, as Negan took the opportunity to make his first visit to his new conquest – Alexandria. Last week we saw how these goods collections go from the Saviors’ point of view; now we got to see it from the perspective of their victims. And understandably, nobody seemed to welcome their new bat-wielding overlord.
It was a slow episode, but one which bristled with tension as the Alexandrians reluctantly acquiesced to the will of perma-smiling loon and his ever-present baseball bat Lucille. Jeffrey Dean Morgan ate up the screen as ever, but it was the slow-burning resentment of the Alexandrians that made this a compelling watch. If the first episode of the season established anything, it’s that where Negan is concerned, no horror is off the table.
So despite a resentful acquiescence from the Alexandrians, the tension in this ep was palpable – could they get through a visit from Negan without at least one horrific death? As it turned out, yes, though it was a close run thing. Along the way, the Alexandrians got some more character development – in particular Rosita, who surely deserves some after three seasons.
It may have taken the death of Abraham to spark it, but finally Christian Serratos has some meaty material to play with as an actor, and she seized the opportunity. Of all the Alexandrians, Rosita probably has the most reason to hate Negan (well, after Rick and the mysteriously absent Maggie anyway). Any goodwill Dwight may have garnered from the viewer last week was quickly spent with his bullying of her almost the second he came through the gates.
Thereafter, it was revealing of her relationship with the gutless Spencer that she barely even talked to him as they went to retrieve Daryl’s bike at Dwight’s request. Spencer, for his part, was pushed by the stress to reveal who he really thought was responsible for their present woes – Rick, of course. And admittedly, he had a point. Rick’s arrival was the catalyst that caused the death of literally everyone in his family. It’s natural to look for somebody to blame, but Spencer’s already-established selfishness and weakness pretty much excluded any possibility of sympathy. It was, after all, he who hid the gun that nearly caused Olivia’s demise.
Rick, for his part, seemed thoroughly cowed, trying his best to deal with the situation with no further loss of life. And it was the ultimate, obvious humiliation that Negan made him carry Lucille for the duration of their visit. Andrew Lincoln, who’s developed the character nicely from a decent man to a ruthless survivor, managed to convince that he could be so completely beaten – and yet I wonder about Rick.
Negan’s a precise judge of character; it would take an excellent performance to convince him of submission. And yet I suspect that’s exactly what Rick’s doing. And in order to work, while he’s planning the next move, the Alexandrians have to be as convinced as anyone else. The danger being, of course, that if/when he finally reveals his plan to get out from under Negan’s thumb, nobody will be prepared to trust him any more.
Certainly it looks like that might be the case with Michonne, whose nascent relationship with the Fearless Leader looks to be on the rocks now she’s seen the extent of his obedience to Negan. And even Carl may be sceptical after his little display of defiance was talked down by his father; though somehow I doubt even his teen angst is enough to sway his faith in Rick.
As it turned out, Negan left with everything he wanted, and nobody died. It didn’t feel like a victory though, and nor was it meant to be – this ep was a demonstration of what the Alexandrians’ new life was to be, and it wasn’t pretty. The final indignity, Michonne’s discovery that the Saviors had just dumped their purloined furniture and burned it, was obviously meant to be a message that was meant to be found – you’re ours now.
Negan may be a schoolyard bully, but this new world allows him to be a demagogue – and yet, you have to wonder whether he’s the ultimate destination of Rick’s previous character journey. As comics creator Robert Kirkman has remarked, if we’d been following Negan rather than Rick since the start of things, we might even be thinking of him as the “hero”.
Gore of the week
A fairly gore-free episode this week, focussing on character tension as it did. Yet there was still some impressive Walker face-slicing from the ever-capable Negan, with the aid of Lucille and later a handily-purloined candlestick.
So, yes, a slow episode but by no means a dull one, with the ever-present threat of Negan’s explosive unpredictability hanging heavy throughout. Moreover, it was important to establish what, for the Alexandrians, life under Negan will be like. This ep having done that with some economy, and the previous one having shown us the cracks in the Saviors’ solidarity, I’m guessing the season is going to start showing us the beginnings of a rebellion. I think it’s going to take a while though – Negan is even more formidable than the Governor, and less batshit crazy. I doubt our heroes are going to get out of this without a few more casualties.