One of the taglines for this season of The Walking Dead is one of Negan’s quotes, “We’re just getting started.” It is kind of a shame that it really does feel that way, as “Service” is an episode designed to continue showing Rick just how impotent he must now be, as Negan and his Saviors parade through Alexandria and do whatever they want. At 90 minutes, this extended episode was an overlong attempt to show just how cruel things could be, short of another ‘surprise’ death. That is unfortunate, as much of this episode was pulled directly from the comics, but the extended period of time continues to highlight the sort of problem I’m having in seeing this Negan story playout.
To their credit, AMC is certainly doing all they can to make sure audiences get the kind of person Negan is. The character is a very popular villain in the comics and hiring on Jeffrey Dean Morgan means the network wants to do right by their incredibly popular series in making sure everyone gets a good look at this performance. I’m sure it’s working for some, but I’m going to have to sadly keep chipping away at what feels like a weak link, the more The Walking Dead decides to keep him under the spotlight.
Much like last week’s episode, “The Cell”, the idea of giving Negan so much to say, without any sort of shading dilutes the tension. With an even longer period of time for this episode, coupled with the fact that it mostly plays as a two-hander between him and Rick, that is a lot of time spent undercutting the threat Negan is supposed to present. Instead, we hear all the bad jokes and obscenities that Morgan happily sinks his teeth into as an actor, but the show doesn’t find a way to make this seem more threatening.
Having brutally murdered Abe and Glenn in the season opener (and doing so in a way that botched the impact it should have had, beyond understandable sadness), there is little suspense in what possible kills could take place, as the possibilities really only extend to minor characters right now. The show would do well to prove me wrong on that, but that’s part of the other issue – it’s stopped taking bigger chances. Negan is a threat for now, but The Walking Dead is incredibly popular and the show is not about to end. This means Negan will have to be defeated in some way at some point, so we just have to go along for the ride of abuse everyone suffers at his hand.
This could work if the character ever gets any further depth. It’s one thing to understand his operation and how the Saviors function under his rule, but if I’m going to have to stare at Negan’s silly grinning for weeks at a time, the guy needs more shading. A chance to peak behind the curtain of this guy could go a long way, regardless of how said reveals occur differently in the comic.
That’s part of the problem that comes out of reviewing TV shows on a weekly basis, this could all be coming next week, but I can only deal out thoughts based on what has been seen so far. So what I see is a threat that is more annoying than frightening, as the Saviors have gone from a bunch of dim commandos in the woods, to an elite crew led by a guy to skinny to fill out his supposedly imposing leather jacket. Fortunately two other parts of the episode filled out some time better than the airless minutes spent seeing Rick be continually demeaned.
Michonne hasn’t had much time to shine as of late, but this week we watch silent character work done to show her state of mind. It leads to a silly conversation with Rick, who goes into Judith’s parenthood, saying words that seem like they have more meaning than they really do. Much better though is the episode’s first ending, which finds Michonne discovering a burnt pile of the mattresses and other stuff the Saviors took. Seeing the frustration on Danai Gurira’s face allows us to see all the emotion necessary for one of the more interesting characters on the show, let alone think about what her next move just may be.
Rosita is the other character getting work to do this week, even if it meant bringing the useless Spencer along for the ride. After Dwight continues to show his awfulness by taking a lot of her stuff, Rosita and Spencer head out to where Dr. Denise was killed to retrieve some things. Most notably is the effort put in by Rosita to retrieve a gun. By the episode’s second and final ending, we see her pick up a bullet and go to Eugene to say that she wants more. Ideally this means Rosita will be stepping up and becoming even more of a character, rather than being set up for death. Regardless, given the unnecessary time spent watching Rick and Negan go through their worst standup routine together on The Walking Dead stage, I’m more than happy to see what else is going on.
There are some smart moves made on the part of Negan and his crew in terms of what they wanted to accomplish. Taking all of the guns away is just good tactics, led alone having Rick hold Lucille for the duration of their visit. It’s not as though I’m against the Savior’s presence. On the contrary, in the right light they can be the threat we are supposed to worry about. Now that they are more than just a warning others share with Rick, it makes for good tension to see elements of how they handle this sort of business, when relations are not as strong as seen at The Kingdom. Turning this into an extended episode, however, just wasn’t the move that serviced this episode best.
So what’s to come next? Ideally we get a move on seeing just how much hope Rick has left in him, but that may understandably (and regrettably) have to take a few more episodes. Instead, we should be getting back to looking at the other communities and mixing the looks we have at how Negan rules over these lands. I get it; the guy has bravado, confidence and a way of striking terror into men better than him. Now let’s see the other angles there are with storylines involving him.