Josh Jackson and Jim Vorel review each week’s episode of The Walking Dead in a series of letters
Despite a couple of maddening character moments, “The Big Scary U” felt like The Governor-era Walking Dead we loved. Who knew that we needed Negan and Gabriel locked in a trailer to peel away some of the cartoonishness of this season’s Big Bad? Negan got to be his cool, confident monologuer but with a touch of humanity.
Still, Gabriel just needs to shoot that son of a bitch.
To be fair, if any of Rick’s gang was going to be unable to “kill the right people,” as Negan might have put it, it was going to be Gabriel. Deciding that one story about being unfaithful to his wife was enough for total absolution, Gabriel can’t bring himself to end the man who bashed his friends’ heads in.
We also got to see that the workers at the Sanctuary consider themselves as more than slaves. Nagan’s ability to lead isn’t just through intimidation, but by keeping his people safe and fed. He’s still an evil psychopath, but this episode gave him a little of depth that had been missing for a year and a half.
The other frustrating character was Daryl. We’ve seen Dark Daryl for a while this season, but there’s been no sign that he was ready to mutiny and go potentially kill a bunch of innocent people. The fight pretty good, except for Daryl punching the dirt, but the whole thing just felt out of character for Rick’s most loyal lieutenant.
The glimpse into The Sanctuary is well-timed, as you don’t want the villains to be faceless pure evil as the war comes to a climax. You have Simon trying to hold things together in Negan’s absence, Regina solving her problems with violence, Gavin at least trying not to be overly cruel, Dwight betraying the Saviors, and Eugene trying to decide what to do about Dwight. And now Negan is back.
I don’t know if Gabriel was bit by walkers, but Negan at least teased the idea that rubbing zombie guts all over you might not be the most hygienic move.
What did you think of the episode? Weak? Strong? Or like all of us, according to Negan, a combination of both?
Tonight had some excellent moments, but also some frustrating ones—a typical Walking Dead mixed bag. Like you, I was taken by surprise by some long-awaited characterization for Negan other than the grandstanding, pompous baseball enthusiast we’ve come to know. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Shane’s oft-repeated criticisms of Negan from last season, complaining that he always seemed two-dimensional because he was never presented as an actual human being. His conversations with Gabriel in this episode were as close as he’s ever come on that front, and I think it certainly has a positive effect on his character as a whole. As we used to say of The Governor, Negan also has a rationale that makes him see himself as the hero of his own story. He sees his purpose in life as “making people strong” by making them suffer—basically an “iron sharpens iron” type of theory. And as I’ve maintained in previous discussions of Negan, the guy is a pretty solid leader of men and master of logistics, whose primary goal is simply that people play by his rules. If you do what he says and fit into his society, life among The Saviors honestly isn’t too appalling.
But my oh my, Father Gabriel tonight. He’s not usually the kind of character who does anything that overtly creeps me out, but his delivery of the line “I think I’m here to take your confession” was so delightfully unhinged that it legitimately gave me the heebie jeebies. I half expected him to just chew Negan’s face off after saying something like that. Perhaps he’ll still get the chance, as I can’t imagine why else he would be so sick and sweat-soaked by episode’s end, except for the fact that he was somehow bitten or scratched during the action sequence we didn’t get to see. Semi-related: I very much enjoyed the look on Gabriel’s face when hearing the blasphemy of “Thank God for you, Negan” from one of the workers.
This episode was a good reminder of how the show can still be interesting when it gets more quiet. We were exposed to some exercises in uninteresting excess earlier in this season, in a series of episodes that entirely tried to prop themselves up via incoherently edited action sequences, and it just didn’t work at all. Episodes like “The Big Scary U,” on the other hand, remind us that even something like Savior politicking and hushed conversations in The Sanctuary can be made more interesting than gratuitous action when they’re in service of fleshing out some of our minor characters—especially our beloved Boy, Simon. You can never get too much Simon in a Walking Dead episode.
On the other hand, though, that Rick and Daryl tussle struck me as a confusing, pointless mess. I’m sorry, but given everything that these characters have been through, and given where they are in the middle of their war plans, they need to be able to come to a consensus on basic moves. It’s simply unreasonable that Rick and Daryl, who have as tight a bond as any two other characters on The Walking Dead, would suddenly be coming to blows in the middle of their mission. They’re meant to be more hardened and professional than that at this point, not blowing up on one another after thoughtlessly suggesting the post-apocalyptic equivalent to genocide. And to top it all off, the fight is over and seemingly forgotten as quickly as it began. It’s just bad TV writing to fill 5-10 minutes in an otherwise Negan-dominated episode.
Some additional thoughts to dwell on:
— What was up with that helicopter Rick saw flying overhead? Seriously, for a moment there it was like we were back in season 1! Who still has access to that kind of functioning vehicle, not to mention whatever kind of fuel you’d need to operate it? I certainly didn’t get the impression from any of the Saviors dialog that they had a helicopter in the air. So who, then? And why show it to us now?
— Do you enjoy everything Gregory-related as much as I do? He’s so squirmingly, pathetically evil that I honestly don’t want him to die. I just want to see him continue to be emasculated, chewed up and spit out by every single character he comes into contact with. He’s what you would call a “chickenshit heel” in the wrestling world, because he’s the kind of guy you’d pay to see humiliated every week.
— I don’t know if you were paying attention during the “next week on The Walking Dead” preview, but it looks like we’re going to see the return of The Trash People from last season; our favorite group of junkyard dwellers who all communicate like The Feral Kid from The Road Warrior. What kind of role do these people have to play? Is Rick seriously trying to recruit the same group that already betrayed and tried to kill him? Is The Walking Dead just stalling for an episode before we start ramping up for the mid-season finale?
This was the first episode this season without a major gun battle (and only one accidental explosion), and that was kind of refreshing. The show’s biggest struggles began when Rick’s world got a whole lot bigger because we were introduced to dozens of new characters who never really got fleshed out. Some of those, like Simon, Paula (RIP) and Jesus, had enough natural charisma to be compelling anyway, but so many, including Negan, just felt like caricatures.
I have no idea where we’re going with that helicopter. It seems like a strange time to introduce yet another group of survivors in the midst of the war with Negan. But they are close to D.C. If anywhere was going to provide the resources to rebuild an army with that kind of capability, it’s our nation’s capitol.
Gregory is the absolute worst, and yes, that’s why I kind of hope he survives all this, especially with Maggie around to punch him in the face periodically. The only flaw I’ve found in Simon is that he had the slightest scrap of faith in the apocalypse’s second biggest bull-shitter (Eugene still retains that title).
And yes, I saw that next week we’re headed back to visit The Trash People. I keep trying to forget they still exist, and I don’t know why Rick’s group would treat them any differently than an outpost of The Saviors. They completely betrayed you once. Why put yourself back in that position of trying to fight alongside them?
Both sides of this war are experiencing internal conflict right now. Morgan and Daryl have gone to really dark places. And Negan has a traitor in his midst. Also, what did you think Negan meant when he asked Simon if he was backsliding again? There’s clearly some more history there that we aren’t aware of. And what does Eugene do now? He’s figured out that Dwight is the one who sold out the Saviors, but his first action after finding out is to try to care for Father Gabriel, who he himself betrayed?
From the moment that Eugene was taken over to The Saviors’ side, first by force and eventually by choice (more or less), I’ve always contended that he’s clearly going to stab them in the back at some point. He’s already dabbled with it, giving Sasha the means to commit suicide within her coffin while being transported to Alexandria, and he’s just wishy washy and idealistic enough to do something really stupid at any moment. I think his main goal in the apocalypse, besides being safe, is to be useful to the greatest number of people as a way of making up for some of the shitty things he’s done along the way—he wants to use his valuable background in science for the betterment of everyone. The only question, then, is “at what point does Eugene decide that in order to make life better for everyone, he has to take down Negan?” This is a little bit more complicated than it might initially seem, for all the reasons seen in this very episode. For all his apparent bloodthirstiness and psychopathy, Negan considers people to be his most valuable resource, and he will fight to protect them. But I think that once you push Negan far enough, he’ll eventually start making desperate choices that force Eugene’s hand. He’ll try to betray Negan in some kind of grandiose way, but he’ll fail, because his poker face is abominable. Negan will see through whatever deception Eugene tries to pull, which will either result in Eugene fleeing or dying.
Negan’s “backsliding” threats to Simon were opaque but fascinating. It’s clear that there’s more going on here that we don’t quite know about. Obviously, we know that Simon is a very strong personality—he could easily step in for Negan at a moment’s notice and basically do all the same shtick, and maybe do it even better. Negan knows this, so he may feel it necessary to check any kind of ambition from Simon and put him in his place now and then. And then of course, there’s always the possibility that when they first met, Simon wasn’t a immediate Negan convert. Who knows? Maybe Simon was like Rick once, before getting on the program. At the very least, we can feel fairly certain that he probably never screwed up as badly as Dwight, because, you know … he still has his entire face.
I honestly have no idea how you rationalize a trip back to the Trash People at this point. By the way, there’s a greater than 0% possibility that this was somehow their helicopter Rick was seeing, which might lead him in their direction, but I’m having a very hard time imagining that these regressed people who can barely speak English are maintaining a functional helicopter in their zombie-filled junkyard. But the possibility is at least on the table. To be honest, though, I barely expected them to ever show up in this story again—they seemed more like a weird season 7 aberration that was quickly being retconned. But this being The Walking Dead, I’m sure Rick will probably walk into their camp alone next week, fully expecting to walk out again despite the fact that they were literally trying to kill him the last time they met.
It seems most likely to me that the helicopter is simply a seed they’re planting for something post-season 8, after the war has come to its conclusion. The Walking Dead world is always getting wider, after all. They’ll keep this thing going as long as people keep watching.
Until then, we can only say:
Please don’t die, or pick fistfights with Rick, or murder a bunch of innocent people, Daryl Dixon.
Check back for more letters about the latest episode of The Walking Dead from Josh Jackson and Jim Vorel