The Big Scary U – While Negan and Gabriel are getting better acquainted, things are starting to fall apart in the leaderless and under siege Sanctuary. Daryl wants to take more extreme measures in light of The Kingdom’s losses much to Rick’s dismay.
Ask and you shall receive. After 4 weeks, we are treated to a much-needed catch-up with Negan, Gabriel and everyone else under house arrest in The Sanctuary. It quickly becomes a fascinating insight into The Saviours and especially their slugger of a leader. It portrays him as far more calculated than and less impulsive than we’ve seen in the past. Even as far as Negan placing value on human life.... quite literally, “people are resource”. As much as he could stamp his authority by killing at will, he takes an efficient businesslike approach to make isolated but vicious and impactful kills to achieve specific objectives. The man himself says it best, “it’s about killing the right people at the right time”. This casts a new light on Glen and Abraham’s death. Killing all of Rick’s group that fateful night in the woods was not Negan’s objective. He wasn’t looking to defeat an enemy in Rick/Alexandria. To him, that was nothing but an acquisition of new resources. Later in the episode, he even compares his society of Saviours and workers to an economy rather than an army. There are even a few hints that his persona came from his experiences helping troubled children before the world fell. That he sees The Saviours as those same children and gives them whatever tough love it takes to make them strong enough to survive and succeed in this new world. You could go far as calling him Lawful Evil.
Then, there are The Saviours themselves and their leadership group realizing they’re stuck in a Bug’s Life with no Hopper. The siege presents a dangerous political situation of the few keeping order and authority over the larger worker collective without as a symbolic peacekeeper. For a film double bill, Bug’s Life is followed by Reservoir Dogs as the inner circle quickly (and correctly) figures the perfectly timed attack would have required treachery. I really liked the way episode used Eugene here as both the awkward voice of reason and the pawn poised to sneak across the chessboard. He embodies Negan’s own sentiments to Gabriel about using your weakness to drive your strength. People see him as weak and the prime traitor suspect. He plays completely into those perceptions to go unnoticed as he starts putting the puzzle together. Best of all, he still delivers a few of his random laughs along the way.
I wasn’t as keen on the use of Father Gabriel in this episode. There was some merit in his desire to hear Negan’s confession. It played into the larger themes showing a different side to Negan’s villainy and it was quite fun to see this worked physically into their predicament. It just would have been nice to get more from Gabriel other than a fear of meaningless death (like taking a bullet for Nickleback). While this is very much a Negan episode, we have seen in recent seasons how much of an interesting character Gabriel can be when used correctly. It would have been nice to see him less composed, more animated and really going through a crisis of faith over Negan’s revelations, having him realize that there is no place in this new world for a righteous man. That instead this world needs monsters like Negan to be more fearsome than the darkness.... That would have been awesome. The Rick & Daryl conflict didn’t fare much better. It gave them both good opposing views but felt like it was shoved into this week purely to set-up a future episode. I would have preferred this to be a bigger focus on a separate episode. However, a redeeming factor was good comparisons to the central Negan story. We see Rick’s more benevolent leadership ignored by an unruly subordinate. The kind of situation Negan talks about making an example of to affirm his control... but Rick, unable to that finds his authority weakened.
The few niggles aside, I really enjoyed this episode. It took a great character and made them better while catching up the story within The Sanctuary. It’s an episode light on action, heavy with strong character content and solid change in pace from the more war focused episodes. Next week looks to be another long overdue return. Let’s hope it’s not all garbage.