For those that thought last week’s episode in the series about a group of survivors in the zombie apocalypse who have dealt with cannibals, tanks, fake beards and a room full of jars of decapitated heads went off the rails because of a tiger and a black guy with an accent, we’re now back in the comfort The Walking Dead’s penchant for sadism frequently provides. “The Cell” is still a better episode than the premiere, as it realizes we need story and character to go along with the spectacle, but I am starting to worry about how effective Negan is going to be as a major player in this cast.
While this episode is about both Dwight and Daryl (and how they are both prisoners in a Hell that is seemingly unescapable), let’s start with what Jeffrey Dean Morgan is doing here. This week we have somewhat of a different look at who Negan is, when he’s not in “show” mode. In addition to learning about how Negan’s operation works (there’s a points system!), we find that the man knows what he wants, which is mainly power and to have a good laugh about it. With that though, I wonder how effective the character is at being scary.
Understandably, fans of the show are largely happy with Morgan’s portrayal in either a “love him” or “love to hate him” sort of way. He’s a horrible person, no doubt, but he has that strange kind of charisma. I guess Morgan is succeeding at channeling that kind of energy, but I’m still interested to see what else there is, because it feels like something is missing. It may be coming more down to how some of these scenes are written, but the menace he should be bringing doesn’t feel as wildly unpredictable as it should. Saying that after only a couple appearances may be a bit much, but it also feels like it’s saying something as far as what to judge in regards to who is supposedly supposed to be the biggest threat yet.
That’s an issue when it comes to raising the stakes seven seasons in on a show where the worst possible things seems to have been encountered, only to have Rick and the gang overcome the odds. Of course, this week the show is putting everyone’s favorite, Daryl, on the line. Norman Reedus has always brought some considerable acting to this part and this week he really allows himself to come in harm’s way.
Beginning this episode cold, alone, beaten and naked, Daryl is literally stripped of everything and placed under constant torture by way of loud, blaring and cheerful music. It’s a process that means to beat Daryl into submission, which ultimately doesn’t work. Now that could change in the weeks to come, but we are certainly seeing the character near his lowest point and having the show essentially tease us with dark possibilities. Whether these dark possibilities come to fruition, or we are just getting a build up to an eventual rise and escape, it’s not a bad place to be as far as getting a new approach to a seemingly invincible fan-favorite character.
Meanwhile, the world of Dwight has its own charms. His part of this episode begins with a fried egg sandwich. It also has us seeing Dwight feeding Daryl with dogfood sandwiches. Once this fun is over though, we get another little moment, where Dwight watches an impaled walker move its body up and down a pole it can never escape. The Walking Dead is full of these kinds of moments, which are generally quite obvious (Dwight later hands Daryl a picture of Glenn’s dead body, stopping short of literally saying, “Get the picture!”), but this one does enough to make it clear – he may not be dead, but living under Negan’s thumb is no picnic.
As we learn later on, Dwight has gone through a lot. His wife, Sherry, married Negan in order to save the two of them, though Dwight was still punished via an iron to the face. Negan is also trying to have a child with Sherry, but would still be happy to allow Dwight his own time back with her again. These are just gross details at this point, which Dwight clearly acknowledges, but it is good to note how compelling this material is for a guy who was previously the biggest jerk and thorn in the side for many watching this show last season and up until this episode.
Presumably the next step will be getting back to Rick and seeing how he and the rest of the group are dealing with things. It will make for another chance to see what Negan is like and hopefully that will go over better, regardless of whatever terrible things happen or are said. In the meantime, it is good to see Daryl and Dwight get some solid treatment. For being another episode that helps to build the world, it was nice to see this work in a lot of the ways last week’s “The Well” did, as it has strong focus on two key characters. It was also nice that no one got beaten over the head with a bat this week. Sometimes you have to take all the victories you can get I guess.