The Walking Dead S7E3 Review: “The Cell”
The Walking Dead universe again got bigger this week, this time introducing us to the Savior’s Sanctuary with an episode of the D’s: Daryl and Dwight. Both are men of few words. Both have difficulty connecting with others. Both love crossbows, motorcycles, and angel-wing vests (heck, even the same ones, because sharing is caring!). But let’s just get into it.
On Easy Street
The soundtrack this week was ramped up to 11 for irony. Opening on “Town Called Malice” by The Jam, we see Dwight going about his daily routine: watching old television shows, making delicious sandwiches, taking all the things he needs to make delicious sandwiches, and watching the town’s barricade of the dead. Not a terrible zombie apocalypse life, though he does appear quite lonely.
Next, we catch up with Daryl, our other lonely man, who has spent his time in Sanctuary locked in a (mostly) lightless cell (the lighting level changes during the episode when convenient). Here the second and more prolific song of the night kicks in: “East Street” by The Collapsable Hearts Club featuring Jim Bianco & Petra Haden. It was unclear at first whether the song was actually playing or just for us viewers, but, by the end, it seems like it must’ve been playing as a form of torture (it fades in and out near the cell, and Daryl seems to react to the tune several times). It seems Negan has taken a liking to Daryl and he wants to tame the wild man.
Negan looms large over the episode, popping in and out of scenes, chewing the scenery, and precipitating violence. His martial law and a cult of personality (they are all “Negan”) is what holds Sanctuary together. Unfortunately, there is also a cost. Dwight paid with his wife, his wife’s sister, and his face. But now he is more or less a good dog (recall Negan’s breakdown of Rick in episode 1 into a similar mold). Negan wants all of his people to be subservient pups: the betas to his alpha. And Dwight, he tells Daryl, is his best beta. Austin Amelio does a good job conveying the tempest going on inside of Dwight. The powerlessness, anger, and frustration. His wife gave herself to Negan to save his life. She also seemed to haunt the men in this episode, appearing in perfect hair and makeup, reminding Dwight of his failures and offering an empathetic prod at Daryl to submit and spare himself the torment.
But submit Daryl would not. He attempted to escape and was caught and beaten mercilessly. Dwight attempted to break him emotionally by tormenting him with music, including a final “Crying” by Roy Orbison, which seemed fitting for both broken men. Again, I think this song was actually playing and not just for our atmospheric benefit?
Norman Reedus must deserves a shout-out for his work this week. Early in the series, Daryl’s character was basically a red-neck crossbow killing machine with a chip on his shoulder. In the time since, the character (and maybe the actor?) have undergone a bit of a transformation, giving fear, weakness, and depth to the bitter little brother zombie-killer. We’re a long way from Merle, and that’s a good thing.
A Sanctuary for Negan
This week we learned about Dwight and why he 1) is loyal to Negan and 2) must hate Negan. It’s an interesting dynamic. The threat of violence to his ex-wife seems ever-present. Negan, ever-the-gloating-sadist, even offered her back to Dwight for one pleasant (and consensual, of course) sexual encounter. When Dwight refused, stone-faced, Negan doubted whether Dwight was truly tamed. Indeed.
There are other troubling signs for the Saviors as well. Dwight is sent out to pick up an escapee who would rather brave the wastes and face certain death than live another day in Sanctuary. After Dwight catches up to him, the man confesses that he would rather die than go back. Dwight tells him that, if he refuses to return, he will kill everyone the man knows in Sanctuary. The man submits but reminds Dwight that everything has already been taken from them as if Dwight doesn’t already know that (he was an escapee last season). Only then does Dwight shoot the man in the back, seeming to take perverse pleasure in it. Misery loves company.
“The Cell” gave us a musically-themed introduction to life in Negan’s Sanctuary. For a big ensemble show, The Walking Dead seems at its best when it focuses on the small stories, such as Morgan’s enlightenment through Kendo or Beth’s life in a hospital police-state. People can get lost in the shuffle (Jesus, anyone?), but The Walking Dead does a great job of creating dynamic heroes and villains. It’s a credit to the writers that I can see Daryl eventually breaking and joining the Saviors (at least temporarily). I could also see Dwight and Daryl finding common cause against Negan. Tonight we got a taste of why they might make those decisions.
Photos courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.