Warning: Spoiler Alert!
Turn back now if you haven’t seen this week’s episode of The Walking Dead.
So I guess Carl is Negan’s apprentice now (and I mean that in the Star Wars sense). What we saw take shape this week was basically the missing Obi Won (Rick) and the present Vader (Negan) vying to influence Carl. Heck, by the end of the episode Negan was holding Judith on his lap, sitting on Rick’s porch, and had Rick’s son by his side. Oh, and he was mulling over Carl’s suggestion that he should kill them both. Who’s the real dark side influence?
Negan is not a rapist. Neither does he beat or harm his wives. TWD goes out of its way to establish both of these points. Still, the implications are clear that his many “wives” are not willing participants, so what’s that really worth? Negan still terrorizes these women by threatening/hot ironing their loved ones. It reinforces the notion of Negan = bad, but undermines what TWD seems to be trying to establish: that Negan is definitely bad, but not in the stereotypical rapist/wife-beater way. Except that he is. It just seems like a lot of effort in an attempt at faux-complexity for their main villain.
It would be more interesting if Negan really was good to his wives. He’s a dictator, sure, and very alpha-male against other males, but not a bad husband or bad to women. Eh, never mind, he’s just awful I guess.
Watching Negan constantly praise Carl as a rad-eyed badass was pretty fun. He kept testing Carl and then acting legitimately disappointed when the boy showed his cracks. He wants Carl to be the one-eyed badass who picks up a cool-looking gun and goes one-man army on the big bad. Negan respects those guts, though he probably should listen to Carl and just kill him and Rick.
The conflict of alpha-male domination vs. removing rivals was on full display this week, because Negan doesn’t really have a good answer to Carl’s question. Why shouldn’t he kill Rick, Carl, and Daryl? The answer seems to be because he wants them to be good beta males who get him stuff. Except Carl’s point is that they will never be his loyal soldiers. I think Daryl might be, given enough time and isolation, but Rick and Carl are too strong.
I found myself thinking Negan should take Carl up on his offer, though he seems pretty isolated right now in Alexandria without his army. Why shouldn’t Carl, or Rosita or Michonne for that matter, just end him? With his force of personality, it does seem like the snake might die without its head. Maybe they just don’t know that yet. They need the intelligence from Carl/Daryl.
B Stories Back Where They Belong
TWD was back on form this week splitting their time between multiple groups and stories. Unlike last week, this gave the small stories the appropriate amount of space to be told. Rosita berated Eugene into making her a bullet, and Rick and Aaron found a well-guarded hoard. Michonne was still out on her big expedition killing walkers with awesome style and executing secret plans.
Gabriel and Spencer were also featured in a side-plot I labeled: The Undesirables. I was hoping they would be killed by Saviors, walkers, animals… a meteor… whatever, but Gabriel actually stuck up for Rick, so points for him. Of course, he is the false prophet who is always wrong, so look out, Rick, I think capitulating to Negan might’ve been a bad choice!
Spencer actually proved his worth as a Latin-reading stash-finder, uncovering several well-hidden caches. I’m sure his Latin-reading skills will come in handy again in the Apocalypse (this reminded me of a table-topping GM move catering to one characters’ random skill points allocated two years ago and not yet used once). I guess he hates Rick’s leadership style of capitulating to Negan and plans to show him up by… capitulating to Negan better. Hey, whatever, if Spencer is good for anything it’s being a turd. Keep on sucking, Spencer!
This week was a vast improvement over last week’s big misstep. We were back among familiar characters and the conflicts that we are invested in. Negan seems to be in a bit of a vulnerable position alone (or mostly alone) among Rick’s people in Alexandria, but maybe it’s a show of his current strength? We’ll just have to see how Rick feels when he gets back to find Negan comfortably taking over his home life.
Final note: did this episode warrant a 1.5 hour super-size? No, not really. TWD is just becoming a 90 minute show!
Photos courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.