Decompression. It’s a problem that The Walking Dead has grappled with throughout its initial six seasons and it’s a problem that remains to this day. Following the brutal murders of Glenn and Abraham in the season premiere, and a detour that showed us the inner working of Ezekiel’s Kingdom alongside Morgan and Carol, we’re brought into Daryl’s world now as he’s tortured at Negan HQ. As punishment for punching Negan in the face, he’s being subjugated to show tunes and “top of the charts hits” while being fed dog food sandwiches, but the main antagonist of this season has also taken a shine to him. The lone biker of Rick’s brigade has always been one of the show’s more popular cast members, with Daryl’s survivalist attitude winning him big points along the way, and there are times when that shines through in this episode — though unfortunately for the most part he’s pretty much just a tool for exposition.
Negan rules his compound with an iron fist, having his subordinates take his identity to give the appearance of omnipresence. It’s an interesting idea, though it does feel like we’ve gone down this road a few times now with places like Terminus or the Governor’s town, but it is ultimately helped by Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal as Negan. Morgan really has made the character his own, and is electric whenever he’s on screen. On top of the other despicable acts that Morgan’s character performs, he also keeps a harem of women under his sway, married and otherwise, as he did with Dwight’s now ex-wife. While Negan doesn’t exactly have as many one liners and zingers this time around as he did in the Season 7 premiere, Morgan’s strength as an actor keeps us interested. Still, his acting chops can’t quite manage to help this episode ascend past mediocrity, as things just tend to drag along without any major beats or character moments populating the run time.
The best part of the episode, though, is its opening, which takes an avant garde approach in demonstrating how the day-to-day operations of Negan’s base works. Dwight takes us through the process of making himself a sandwich by collecting chickens, harvesting vegetables, and scrounging resources from a battle-torn, makeshift depot where most of the commerce happens. With this quick scene, I was briefly reminded of a page taken from the book of Breaking Bad, playing with expectations and supplying the audience with information in a fun and ingenious way. But while Daryl’s story of rebellion against Negan was one that needed to be told, it could have been told in a much faster method, and a trip back to Alexandria to further explore Rick and company’s state of mind following the death of their friends could have been interjected into the episode. Last week’s episode was one of levity that was greatly needed to offset the dour, depressing mood of the premiere, but sticking to one perspective/location per episode is a tactic that I hope they don’t employ throughout the entirety of this season.
Dwight’s story — losing his face, his wife, and his former life to Negan — isn’t that interesting, and it certainly doesn’t have the legs to hold itself up for half of an episode. When Dwight is confronted with a former friend that escaped from the compound, we’re given an arduous conversation between the two of them as to what should be the fate of the deserter. Ultimately, I think that the episode attempts to give us more insight into Dwight’s character, but it isn’t particularly riveting and I feel like we already know what his path will be before season’s end. If Dwight could stare any harder through Negan, he’d burn a hole through his leather jacket. It’s clear that his relationship with Negan is a stressful one, barely hanging on by a thread, and perhaps there’s an avenue to explore there, but they need it to be worth the while. For example, Dwight’s conversation with his ex-wife in the stairway felt more like a scene created to kill time rather than give us a more in-depth look into his character. Once again, decompression is an issue that the show could benefit from addressing by perhaps cutting down the total number of episodes during a season.
Throughout “The Cell,” Negan attempts to break Daryl but can’t, even with promises of his own apartment and actual clothes to wear. It’s all for naught, as Daryl still holds his allegiance to Rick and Alexandria, though it’s clear that the show is trying to paint Dwight and Daryl as two sides of the same coin, I just wish it had been done in a more effective manner. Though the final shot of Dwight looking at his one time friend who had run from Negan (now simply a zombie on a spike) tied up the episode, it didn’t help to make it anything more than a slog. Hopefully, next week, things can get a bit more interesting with Alexandria, the Kingdom, Negan, and the rest.
Rating: ★★ Fair
Blood and Guts
– Well at least the music was on point during the episode! Really good selection of songs along the way.
– Once again, the zombie ingenuity and effects in the series are top notch. The scene of them falling off the highway and the smushed zombies on the ground were worth the price of admission.
– The idea of punishing people by burning the side of their faces with hot irons is ROUGH.
– Negan really does carry Lucille with him everywhere he goes eh?
– I’m sure Daryl fans were happy to see Norman Reedus in his “prison attire”/birthday suit at the beginning.
– Negan: “Dwighty boy!”
– Dwight: “You know, I’m getting the hang of this thing.”
– Negan: “You ok down there? Your penis?”
– Negan: “Are we pissing our pants yet?”
– Negan: “I forgot that your mouth is all puffed up like a baboon’s ass.”