The Walking Dead Review (7×11): Into the Fire

I still watch The Walking Dead.

I told myself a few times I was going to stop. I couldn’t. Season 6 was a mess, and full of manipulative fake-outs and contrived storytelling. The season 7 premiere was pure nihilism. Just senseless violence and torture porn. It was awful. In the following episodes — up until the midseason finale — the plot slowed to an infuriating crawl. I had very low expectations when the show returned a few weeks ago.

And you know what? I’ve enjoyed the second half so far. Especially the latest episode. Much of this has to do with the change in tone. The show doesn’t seem to be taking itself as seriously anymore. That’s how it has to be at this point. We’re in a universe with a cartoon character like Negan, a medieval king with a pet tiger, and a community of people living inside heaps of trash. The show is so off the rails, and it is finally embracing it (for now)…

This week’s episode is titled “Hostiles and Calamities” and focuses entirely on the Saviors. Specifically, it explores Dwight and new arrival Eugene. The narrative examines both characters in contrast to one another, shedding more light on the ebb and flow of status under Negan. There’s a clever bit of misdirection in the very beginning, as a terrified Eugene is shown to his cell… which turns out to be a room of luxury. He’s offered a meal — anything he wants (except Lobster) — and is relieved by the realization of his new status and life on “Easy Street”. Meanwhile Dwight is beaten down and thrown into a cell after Daryl and Sherry are discovered to be missing.

However, Dwight doesn’t stay down for long. He quickly pledges his allegiance to Negan and sets out to find his ex-wife. Before doing so he gets patched up by Dr. Carson, who tells Dwight that he “gets it”. In this case, “it” refers to the knowledge of how to navigate Negan’s system. It requires an ability to prioritize loyalty over morality. But things aren’t as cut and dry as they seem with Dwight. During his search he finds a note left by Sherry, letting him know that she has run away. She writes that Dwight has “become everything you didn’t want to be, and it’s my fault”. It’s a powerful scene, and one in which Dwight struggles with the realization that she has left for good. He still carries around a used cigarette covered in her lipstick, as well as his wedding ring. When he returns home, he claims to have found and killed Sherry. He then frames the doctor for aiding in Daryl’s escape. Negan later throws Carson into the furnace, emphasizing his trust in Dwight. (The doctor was apparently expendable, since Eugene is now part of the group and has a PhD. I guess in the zombie apocalypse, it CAN hurt to have too many doctors?) Dwight is loyal to Negan insofar as he can keep the person he loves safe. This is a dangerous move. If Sherry decides to return, or his hunted down by other Saviors, it will be Dwight’s head on the chopping block.

As for Eugene, his confidence and sense of security grows immensely. He uses his status of power to cut in line and take more than his share of supplies. He even agrees to manufacture a poisonous pill for one of Negan’s depressed wives to use on herself. This may seem like a drastic shift in character for the once-trembling, cowardice mullet man. But really it’s all a facade. It’s a survival tactic, not unlike when he lied to Rick’s group about having a cure for the zombie virus. His newfound bravado falls apart when he’s made to witness Carson being burned alive. He returns to his room, now unwilling to hand over the pills that he realizes are going to be used on Negan. He has a chance to take down the man who killed his closest friend… but he won’t do it. Negan is no longer the enemy. He is a means of safety. In the end Eugene pledges “I am utterly, completely, stone-cold Negan… I just needed to meet you to properly know.”

Overall this was a smart episode with an insightful look into a previously underutilized character in Eugene. I’m optimistic about this show for the first time in a while. I hope it stays on its current path.

———————–

Observations:

  • A terrified Eugene spills his guts to Negan out in the field. On the fence nearby, a walker’s insides fall out and onto the ground. This show has never been subtle, but this was a glorious moment.
  • With all the beer, pretzels, and pickles in this episode, I was really in the mood for a snack by the end of it. Of course, this was hampered a bit by the aforementioned walker guts.
  • Eugene slowly nodding along to Easy Street on the stereo was a hilarious touch.
  • “I am, indeed, a smarty-pants.”
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