Could it be that I just watched a Negan-centric episode of The Walking Dead that wasn’t terrible?
It’s true! I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes a bit when I saw that tonight’s episode was going to be about Negan and the Saviors. Last season, though there were a few exceptions (particularly the episode where Eugene was first taken to the Sanctuary), the Savior episodes were my least favorite. But tonight’s episode was actually pretty good.
That doesn’t mean that it was great, of course. To be honest, I’m not totally sure that you could ever have a truly great Savior episode. Whenever I watch the Saviors, I always find myself thinking about The Others on Lost. One reason why the Others were such a fascinating group was because they weren’t just one-dimensional villains. Whenever one of the Others would say something like, “We’re the good guys,” you could actually see their point. There’s never been that type of ambiguity when it comes to the Saviors. Negan is an asshole. He has chosen to surround himself with other assholes. They were all probably assholes before the zombie apocalypse and they’ll continue to be assholes until Sanctuary is eventually overrun by walkers.
With all that in mind though, this was still a pretty good episode. If nothing else, this episode made it a little bit clearer why people started following Negan in the first place. Even when Negan was trapped in the trailer with Father Gabriel, he did not allow himself to show any fear. Instead, he was actually able to persuade Gabriel to make a run with him for the Sanctuary. Even his confession to Gabriel about his first wife mostly served to reveal that Negan is a master manipulator. He shared just enough to keep Gabriel intrigued. After spending almost all of previous season bellowing, Jeffrey Dean Morgan dialed things back just enough to make Negan interesting again. For that matter, tonight’s episode finally gave Seth Gilliam to show what he’s capable of when he’s actually given a decent line or two.
In the trailer, Negan told Gabriel that the Saviors would undoubtedly end up killing each other if they thought he was dead. That may have sounded arrogant at the time but it quickly turned out that Negan was correct. I think that’s also going to be the Saviors’s downfall. By literally setting himself up as the strongest man in the Sanctuary, Negan has also ensured that the Saviors are lost without his presence and direction. While all of his lieutenants may go out of their way to imitate Negan’s style, none of them have his leadership skills. It doesn’t matter how much Simon and Regina insist otherwise. They may say “I am Negan,” but everyone know that they’re not. That said, Negan’s sudden appearance after everyone had assumed he was dead will probably leave him in an even more powerful position. All messiahs return from the dead and Negan even returned with a man of God!
As for the rest of the episode, I didn’t really get the whole point of Rick/Darryl fight. (It did, of course, remind us of the difference between Rick and Negan. Rick forgave Darryl, something Negan would view as being a sign of weakness.) Josh McDermitt is obviously having a blast as Eugene. Eugene may be a traitor but McDermitt’s performance still makes me smile every week. And then there was weaselly Gregory, of course. I think we’re all ready to see a bunch of walkers pounce on Gregory.
As I watched tonight’s episode, I found myself making a few more predictions about the rest of season 8:
- There’s no way that Gabriel is still going to be alive at the end of this season. He is so being set up for martyrdom.
- If they get Dr. Carter back to Hilltop, does that mean that Maggie will finally have her baby?
- Judging from the flashback/flashforward structure of this season (and the fact that they’re going to have to explain why Carl no longer looks like he’s 13 years old), I’m going to guess that there will be a considerable time jump between season 8 and season 9. Either that or Zombie Carl’s going to show at some point soon…
As always, we’ll see what happens!