WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “The Big Scary U,” which debuted Sunday on AMC.
After fairly divisive early episodes in Season 8, The Walking Dead returned in fine form Sunday to remind us why we love the drama so damned much. “The Big Scary U” finally gave us a much-needed break from the “All Out War” storyline in the form of an incredibly revelatory episode about Negan and the philosophy that guides him. By the end of the episode, the show turned everything on its axis, and we’re left with a completely new picture of where things stand. Negan’s a long way from redemption, but this episode expertly reveals there’s still plenty of room to explore him.
We open at the beginning of the day we’ve been watching unfold over the past four episodes. Gabriel’s praying in his church in Alexandria, begging God to grant him a useful death, and Negan’s sitting through Gregory’s spineless defection from the Hilltop just before Rick, Maggie and Jesus arrive. The episode wastes no time letting us know what we’re in for this week: Before the credits roll, we’re promised an unprecedented look into how the Saviors operate. After Simon suggests they simply murder everyone in the Hilltop with a rocket-propelled grenade if the community refuses Gregory’s leadership, Negan launches into a speech meant to terrify everyone in the room. He bellows that people are the foundation of everything they’ve built there. While they preserve what they’ve built by occasionally killing people, it’s who they kill, and how, that matters.
Now, a philosophy built on a foundation of murdering people in the most messed up way possible in an effort to keep other people in line is problematic to say the least. But seeing the good intentions Negan’s using to pave his personal road to Hell gave much-needed depth to his character. He feels a genuine responsibility to his people, and as the episode plays out, we see why — without him, it all falls apart.
The Gregory meeting falls apart with the arrival of Command Team Rick at the Sanctuary gates, and then we jump back to the present with Negan and Father Gabriel stuck in a trailer and the lieutenants locked in the Sanctuary trying to figure out if their leader is alive and how next to proceed. Infighting and paranoia set in almost immediately as everyone begins to realize what a widespread and coordinated attack the entire Savior organization is under and start wondering how Rick could’ve pulled this off without a man on the inside.
They’re also trying to deal with how to stop the zombie horde that’s filing in by the hundreds without alarming the worker population (or using them as bait). It’s clear that without Negan around to lay down his law, the Saviors are in an incredibly precarious position internally. He’s literally gone a few hours before the workers are almost revolting and there’s a gunfire in play. If Rick actually does make good on his promise to kill Negan, and given the weapons we now know the Saviors possess, that particular death could leave a potentially devastating power vacuum. This knowledge has the added benefit of raising the stakes even higher for this war now that we know Rick’s win could legitimately make things worse.
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