SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for tonight’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
Did tonight’s episode of “The Walking Dead” really need to be so long? Of its 90 minutes (give or take a half hour of commercials), almost half of it consists of Negan bashing the same story beat over and over and over with his baseball bat. Granted, most of his actions and dialogue during his time in Alexandria come directly from the comic, but it’s much more exhausting watching it on the screen than reading it on the page.
I don’t mean that in a good way either. Maybe it’s because last week’s election was so draining or because we’ve already been subjected to so much of Negan’s abuse, but it’s taxing to watch a bully spent 30 minutes or so berating the Alexandrians as he and The Saviors pillage their belongings. It’s made worse by the fact that there are few levels to Negan’s monologuing. He makes a string of crass remarks while glaring at Rick and the others, reminds them that he can easily be pushed to violence, refrains from actually using said violence, smirks at them, then moves on to the next person. Wash, rinse, repeat. Nothing much happens in Alexandria beyond everyone getting half of their shit taken away from them. If we’re going to watch nothing but flatlined verbal abuse for an extra-long episode, it would help to have some action sequences that go beyond Michonne and Rosita taking down a few walkers.
While Jeffrey Dean Morgan continues to do a fine job with Negan’s material, the writers are getting a little overzealous with the character’s vulgarity. I’ve said it before, but having him spout out dark-blue comedy as colorfully and frequently as he does in the comics gets a bit goofy after a while. His previous episodes have struck the perfect balance between menace and school-boy humor (which in turn made his off-kilter speeches more menacing than ever), but here, the “ball-tickling,” “man bush,” and “freaky deaky”-ing grow stale. It’s likely just a result of there simply being more of it than ever in “Service.” If “The Walking Dead” is going to continue to air such Negan-centric episodes, they’d be smart to keep the proper seriocomic balance in mind.
It feels strange writing such a short review for such a long episode, but that’s basically all that happens in “Service.” Alright, to be fair, the Rosita and Michonne subplots both end with some interesting developments: the former asks Eugene to start manufacturing bullets (another note taken from the comic) and the latter discovers that The Saviors get a kick out of burning taken goods. But both minor plot points take far too long to arrive at, and in the case of Michonne, it’s just another cruel joke in an episode that’s full of them. We already saw how awful Negan could be in the season premiere and “The Cell.” The rest just feels like overkill, especially when he actually does has some positive character traits to focus on (for non-comic readers, believe me, he does). It’s always more interesting when a villain has layers, and if “The Walking Dead”‘s going to continue to stay so true to the comic in its seventh season, it should focus on Negan’s strengths and likability, too. Otherwise, he’s in danger of turning into a non-threatening cartoon.