Following up an action-packed, yet emotional Ezekiel-focused episode of The Walking Dead last week, we now return to Negan, who hasn’t been seen since the premiere. “The Big Scary U” is not as exciting or as effective as the previous week’s stellar entry, but it does a lot to develop Negan and the Saviors, an aspect of the series sorely in need of more direction. There’s also a subplot involving Rick and Daryl that feels a little worthless, but it’s always hard for this show to get everything right. As it stands, we’re now over a quarter into the season and it feels like things are finally moving forward.
One of my biggest issues with the season has been how the showrunners and writers have handled time. This week’s episode is still focused on what happened in the season premiere. I’ve seen arguments for how this won’t matter for those who eventually binge watch this season, but that’s not really how this works. Each episode should be telling its own story, and while some have effectively done that, others have felt like filler. Shifting around where we are in time has only exacerbated this.
“The Big Scary U” starts off with a flashback to Gabriel grappling with his purpose, which is fine. The scene that follows is another flashback to Simon and Gregory before Rick came to attack. Now, I may enjoy these two characters a lot (perhaps too much), but it’s tough to see a purpose to a scenario like this when the audience can easily infer what’s been going on already. It ends up seeming like a waste of time for the sake of over-explaining. Sure, I got to see the two quirkiest actors on this show in a scene together, but it slows the episode down.
Everything becomes more interesting once we get to the real meat of the episode. There are the scenes with Negan and Gabriel and the scenes revolving around the head Saviors determining what to do following the attack, assuming that Negan has died. Both scenes feature strong work from all involved and are allowed just enough time to deliver on the little nuances of the characters. Perhaps most importantly, Negan was more than tolerable, he was effective.
I’ve made it no secret that Jeffrey Dean Morgan has seemed ill-fit for this role. The posturing he’s applied to the character has felt more like a child making faces than it has felt opposing. I don’t think Morgan is incapable of delivering, but the show has been directing him in ways that just haven’t felt effective. The cold open provided another example of this. Between the comic and my general thoughts on a compelling villain, the sort of bloviating Negan did when he started getting upset at Simon just felt laughable. However, the tone he held with Gabriel was pitch-perfect.
Those scenes are what I can attach to. Gabriel has earned enough goodwill to be interesting enough on his own, so putting these two together and not keeping it as some tense standoff was useful. Negan is still in alpha predator mode, but he is happy to speak with Gabriel and even open up. Not knowing where this was going, a natural level of suspense felt layered in these scenes, but I could also hear about who Negan was and find some nice dynamics between these very different characters. I don’t quite buy the resolution being a better one than Gabriel merely taking his gun and shooting Negan to end everything, but if the show wants to embrace being a comic book adaptation and therefore forcing this sort of silly thing, I’m willing to take it.
The other fun came from the head Saviors. Watching Simon, Dwight, Regina, Eugene and others sit around the table and try to figure things out was good stuff. These scenes allow us to see how their logic applies; especially once the workers come asking questions. There have been some wild inconsistencies in how capable the Saviors are, so between Negan explaining how he whipped the Sanctuary into shape and seeing first hand what was happening in his absence, new understandings were had and I could further get behind what the show has to offer with its villains.
Also fun, Eugene’s intellect finds him easily learning how Dwight is the spy of the group. The two share a nice scene together alone, but there’s lots of effort put into to seeing these characters sitting next to each other in the table scenes. Given what we know already, there’s another bit of suspense that comes with seeing how everyone tries to intimidate each other, while the truth is apparent to the viewer. I’m still very curious how far the dark side routine is going to take Eugene, but this new development should prove to be interesting, as he’ll have some tough decisions to make to either satisfy Negan or maybe find just the rope he needs to climb out of such a dark hole.
It’s just a shame all of this was occasionally interrupted by Rick and Daryl. I was more than happy with their car chase cameo last week, but this week’s trip with these two felt unnecessary. It broke up the claustrophobic tension that easily came out of the limited settings for the other characters and didn’t provide much to chew on. Basically, Daryl is willing to kill “innocent” saviors to end the war and Rick doesn’t like the sound of that. They scuffle, loose some of the bombs they had in an explosion, and head their separate ways. Sure, Rick sees a helicopter and is now headed back to the trash people, but it feels like we could have learned this in next week’s episode and have been fine.
Given how the season premiere ended, I would say I was surprised and delighted with how the Negan/Gabriel scenes ended up going. Rather than making it something familiar, we got some quality writing for the two as they “bonded.” Similarly, instead of piling on action or seeing more horrible acts from the Saviors, we watched them grow paranoid while attempting to figure things out. The episode is padded out with an extended runtime that didn’t quite feel necessary, but as a slower-paced episode that did well by most of the characters, “The Big Scary U” got by with good marks for delivering on its best aspects. Now I just hope we’re done with time jumps for now.
- Zombie Kill of the Week: Nothing overly elaborate this week, but Negan does vent some rage on a walker’s skull with Lucille. That’ll do.
- “I like killing people” – Negan later tells us how he helped kids. Quite the life he’s led.
- “Chokehold’s are illegal” – Rick and Daryl debate schoolyard fighting rules.
- “We’re from Georgia” – Gabriel gets guts.
- Pickle puns Eugene? You a mad man!
- Very curious what the next step of Negan’s plan for Gabriel is.
- Any thoughts on that helicopter? I have my theories.
- Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.