Close your eyes. Close your eyes and picture someone other than Carl being the star of this episode. Then imagine how much better this week’s instalment of THE WALKING DEAD would have been.
This week involved Carl’s mission to infiltrate the Saviors HQ and kill Negan — a great idea in theory and in practice. The mission failed of course in the first five minutes after Carl shot dead a few grunts and was forced to surrender. No one was surprised. This was a solid episode however. Maybe even a level above that. It was undoubtedly one of the best of the season — which admittedly isn’t saying much. But all traditional measurements of quality and context aside, this was a fun episode and allowed the best aspect of this season to shine. That aspect is of course Negan.
Yes, he can be cartoonish at times and sure, perhaps if we had more of him it would be even more garish. But there is no doubt that he is the star of this show and the best reason to tune in since… well, a very long time. New characters on THE WALKING DEAD have been pretty dire for many a year. So to see the show rectify this in a pretty substantial way with Negan, is one of the huge and only plusses of this annoyingly middling season.
We watched this week as Negan essentially took young Carl under his wing. It was a HOOK type scenario where you could actually see a future where Carl is corrupted and made to be Negan’s. There is no doubt the man himself has taken a shine to Carl — god knows why — as mentioned, Chandler Riggs, the actor playing the little shit is… well, he’s not good, and the character himself is one of the more annoying kid characters in recent TV history. But the psycho in Negan appreciates the budding psycho in Carl. He may be pissed that he tried to kill him, but Negan certainly appreciates the effort and the balls it took to confront him alone. He had many an opportunity and excuse to kill or hurt Carl this week, and really no one would have blamed him, but he chose not to, and this is an interesting development that I actually hope continues. Yes, even if it means more screen time for Carl. God help us.
This episode — much like the early Daryl episode this season — acted as a good inside look at Savior procedure and an even more detailed look at the relationship Negan has with his subjects (essentially what they are). We saw — with Carl by his side — as Negan dealt with one of his many wives’ indiscretions with her ex husband/boyfriend, dealing with it by burning the man with an iron, just like he did to Dwight. We saw as his followers bowed down before him, repeating mantras about the rules and justice. Negan’s world is all about this, all about law and order, both of which must be followed. Negan sees his mission as reigniting civilisation — using any means necessary. To be fair, to get to the civil society we have today, we had to go through barbaric atrocities. So perhaps, in the most morose of ways, Negan and his band of murderers are the crucial first step in saving humanity. He certainly thinks so.
There were alas, some very uninteresting side stories this week, side stories about bullets being made by Eugene, and Spencer being an idiot, and Rick and Aaron out looking for supplies. None of this was interesting but Rick’s absence from Alexandria allowed for the Negan/Carl adventure to progress to more sinister places. Watching Negan take Carl back home, making him perform a tour of his house and then forcing him to sit idly by as he sat rocking Judith was deeply unsettling. One can only imagine Rick’s reaction if he were to stumble home — which of course, is just what Negan wants. Not only to tell Rick of his new found fondness for his son, but to cruelly display how he can even handle his baby daughter, and that Rick can do absolutely nothing about it.
Next week’s mid season finale is shaping up quite nicely. Surely there can be no world where the big episode will revolve around Carol, the Kingdom or the Hilltop. So Negan’s seducing of Carl should hopefully continue. More Negan right now means more fun and less of the undesirable components of the show. Having a character that can actually crack jokes — no matter how depraved — is incredibly refreshing. Negan brings an energy that has been missing from this most gloomy and ploddingly one note of shows. THE WALKING DEAD needs him. It needs his dynamism and it of course needs him to increase the death count. My first pick would have been Carl, but as mentioned, this new development is kind of fun. Let’s see where it leads.