“You mowed down two of my men with a machine gun, I want something in return for that. Sing me a song.”
Another week, another tense but leisurely look at one of the post-apocalyptic communities in this week’s The Walking Dead. Following on from episode 3, this week saw a return to the Savior HQ, the Sanctuary, as the ever-genial Negan welcomed his most recent subject – Carl Grimes. I’d been wondering if the show would adapt this aspect of the comic, which sees Carl and Negan building a twisted Clarice Starling/Hannibal Lecter bond, and I’m glad it has. It just had to find a different way of getting Rick’s obstreperous son there, as his place was taken in the season opener by Daryl.
Not a bad ep overall, but it did have a feel of having been here before. It’s not just that we had a look at the inner workings of the Saviors back in ep3, it also seems this season is getting a little formulaic in approach. Each week, the eps (none bad in and of themselves) have shown us a different community, usually in a tense standoff with the Saviors. The intention is clear – ultimately, they’ll ally themselves to stand up to Negan. But having ep after ep effectively doing the same thing has led to a very slow paced first half of the season, after that storming opener.
That aside, each ep has done well in developing the characters, and moving them to the necessary places for the struggle to come. This week it was very much Carl’s turn, and Chandler Riggs was his usual surly self; which isn’t a slight on the actor, that’s the character he’s playing. Riggs also managed to convey the necessary apprehension when dealing with school-bully-writ-large Negan. The moment of him reluctantly removing his eye patch and crying at the humiliation actually showed us a glimpse of Negan’s conscience for the first time – the merest of glimpses, mind.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan ate up the screen as ever, but I have to note that Negan, at this stage, is something of a one note character. Yes, he’s terrifyingly unpredictable, yes, he’s a megalomaniac, and yes, he’s capable of wince-making brutality. It’s just that, for now, that’s about all there is to him. He’s a formidable force, but more of a plot driver than an actual character. Of course, you could say the same about any number of villains, it’s just that The Walking Dead has previously fleshed them out quite well.
We are starting to see some glimpses of his twisted moral code; he has a weird kind of chivalry which makes him abhor sexual assault on women, even though he has no compunction about using other ways to persuade them (eg Dwight’s wife). And his treatment of Carl shows that, however brutal he may be, he won’t easily harm a child he has a grudging respect for.
At least for now. The nastiest scene this week had nothing to do with Walker-chomping or head-squelching; it showed us just how Dwight got that really nasty burn scar, with the aid of an old-fashioned, superheated iron. No wonder Negan’s subjects spend so much time kneeling to him.
In a slight change to the recent formula, we did get at least some glimpses of the guys from Alexandria too. Out on various supply runs (for their new overlord), we caught up with Rick and Aaron in one party, and Spencer and Gabriel in another. There wasn’t really much to Rick and Aaron’s subplot, but Spencer and Gabriel’s short screen time made the most of both characters. We already knew that Spencer is a self-pitying incompetent who chooses to blame others for his own (many) shortcomings, but it was a cheerworthy moment when Gabriel informed him that his dislike of Rick was tantamount to being “a tremendous shit”. You pray to God with that nasty mouth, Father?
Eugene was also making an uncharacteristic stand for himself, in the face of the vengeful Rosita pouring scorn on him to force him into making bullets for her. It was a nice turnaround from their previous relationship, where we saw him perving over her and Abraham having sex – he did what she wanted, but rightly took her to task for what she’d said about him. It’s fun to see Eugene developing as a character, and Josh McDermitt manages to keep him just this side of the line from being a caricature.
Gore of the week
Yes, we did get to see Michonne engaging in the standard Walker head-slicing in the cold open:
But the most unpleasant moment had to be the aforementioned iron branding of the hapless Savior Mark:
So yes, on its own a pretty good ep, giving us some great character dynamics. Of all the two-hander scenes, it was the Carl/Negan ones that really impressed, with superb performances from both Chandler Riggs and Jeffrey Dean Morgan that at least begin to give this year’s villain some depth.
And yet, as I said, the almost formulaic style of this half season of eps (while none was worse than average in itself) has the cumulative effect of making a rather slow overall narrative. Contrast that with the mix of drama and action that formed the first half of the previous season – showrunner Scott Gimple should possibly have considered more mixing up of the various communities and characters within each ep. Next up is the mid-season finale, and I must say I haven’t felt any buildup of momentum towards the usual climax.