WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for “Hostiles and Calamities,” tonight’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” which as of publication hasn’t yet aired on the West Coast, as well as the Image Comics series.
In “The Cell,” Negan and Dwight tried — and failed — to break Daryl. Despite isolating him in solitary confinement, feeding him gruel, and torturing him with saccharine pop music, Mr. Dixon remained resolute, eventually escaping and making his way back to The Alexandrians. The words “We are Negan” never escaped from his mouth.
However, tonight Negan was much more successful in converting another Alexandrian — albeit someone who’s much different from Daryl — to his way of thinking, or at least his way of living. Most disturbing of all, he does it through calculated kindness. The man, of course, is Eugene, whom The Saviors hope to use as a resource for building up their weaponry. He’s highly intelligent, thinks outside the box, and knows how to make bullets, bombs, toxins, you name it.
Unlike Daryl, Eugene’s always been somewhat of a coward — something Negan probably senses right off the bat and exploits without ever explicitly saying so. But his methods involve pampering rather than force. He massages Eugene’s intelligence by giving him access to his own room, his choice of food, vintage video games, and even social time (no sex, though) with three of his wives. But he’s also sure to make an example of Dr. Carson (whom Negan thinks may have tried to impress Sherry/Honey by helping Daryl to escape) by throwing him head first into the kiln. By treating Eugene well, he’s able to give him some comfort (at least in the most superficial sense) in his current situation, and by showing yet another display of violence, he reminds him of what happens to The Saviors’ enemies. Eugene can either do what Negan asks and enjoy a relatively plush lifestyle, or disobey him and get burned. A loyalist such as Daryl would balk at Negan’s threatened bribery, but for a self-preservationist like Eugene, he’s happy to take the coward’s way out.
Still, as we’ve seen, Eugene’s far from being a bad person, and as such, the show does flirt with him secretly going against Negan. For much of the runtime, he gets chummy with Negan’s wives, providing some more lighthearted scenes (always a welcome detour in the world of “The Walking Dead”) as he plays video games in front of them and shows off his chemistry skills by making a visually impressive, homemade bomb. But their bond soon takes a dark turn when two of the wives ask him to concoct a poison for the third. She’s never been able to accept her romantic loyalty to Negan (she only shacked up with him because a sick relative needed help), and wants to peacefully end her life. At first, Eugene agrees to help them, unbeknownst to Negan. But after the death of Carson, he backs out, fearful of going behind their leader’s back.
At this point, his conversion to The Savior way of life seems complete. In an emotional gut-punch of an ending, he stands on the lookout bridge with Dwight, another man who went from bad to good after getting connected with Saviors. “We are Negan,” they solemnly agree. Granted, Dwight may be secretly planning a rebellion against Negan on his own. When searching for his former lover, he finds their old home, along with a letter from her lamenting what he’s become. He breaks down, signaling what may be the beginning of his redemption arc.
But I’m not so sure if Eugene has the inner-strength to do the same. One could argue that he’s just playing along in preparation for his own scheme to take down Negan, but I doubt it. While he’s become somewhat braver since we’ve first met him, he still knows he’s a coward. He knows that he’ll do whatever it takes to survive, even if it means rapidly turning against everything he loves. He recognizes that what he’s doing is wrong, but there’s a big difference between recognizing a moral misstep and taking action to reverse it.
And that’s what makes that final scene one of the disturbing moments on the “The Walking Dead.” The show doesn’t always need walkers or a barbed-wire baseball bat to destroy a character. Sometimes, their weaknesses are more than enough for them to destroy themselves.