While Alexandrians plot, Carl's secret mission to The Sanctuary goes horribly wrong

By Nick Romano
December 05, 2016 at 05:03 PM EST
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  • AMC
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It’s no secret The Walking Dead has been dipping in ratings since the season 6 premiere, and part of it seems like a casualty of the format. The most recent episodes have blocked off the majority (if not the entirety) of the time allotted to focus on single characters. It seemed okay with Carol and Daryl — at least they carry their own fan bases — but the momentum slowed with Sasha and Maggie’s Hilltop blowout (diluted further by Carl and Enid’s romance), followed by Tara’s lone trip to Oceanside.

In the interim, the story dazzled viewers with King Ezekiel and his giant tiger, an all-female colony, and Negan’s constant shadow looming over everyone. But when you step back, you sort of realize that while a lot of time has been spent on prepping for some still-unknown climax, not much has actually happened. This week falls into that same pattern. Yes, we see Carl at least try to execute his covert mission to kill Negan in The Sanctuary, while some of the others back at Alexandria are plotting their own coup de grâce. But there isn’t much meat to chew.

Again, we have an extended episode — this one’s 90 minutes in length. It focuses primarily on Carl and Negan, but also sprinkles in bits of Rosita’s bullet-making mission, Spencer laying the same old character groundwork he’s been developing during his past few appearances, Michonne’s change of heart, and Rick and Aaron’s search for more offerings for Negan. Here’s a breakdown of each.

Carl, Negan, and Daryl

Carl’s outing is incredibly reminiscent from the comics. So, for any comic devotees reading this, there wasn’t too much deviation. The episode picks up directly from two weeks ago, so he’s still hiding out in one of The Savior’s trucks with Jesus. Their vehicle is stopped on the road and the drivers are perched on the back, looking through a makeup mirror to wait until a herd of walkers up ahead thins out. One of them mentions Fat Joey, one of Negan’s more robust workers whom we’ve seen keeping an eye on Daryl. He mentions how useful he is with clearing out walkers, using “guerilla kinda stuff” and the RPGs their group took from Alexandria.

Carl, seemingly afraid of missing the blind spot, asks Jesus to show him how to do it first. He jumps first, but instantly regrets it when he sees Carl waving from the back of the truck. The boy walks to the back, grabs a machine gun and, when the truck stops and Negan’s voice is heard, he hides in the back waiting to fire.

NEXT: Instant regret

Negan commands his men to start unloading the truck, while someone (one of the drivers, presumably) says he needs to talk about “redirect” because their plan got screwed up. A Savior starts grabbing boxes from the truck, but his first is the one Jesus carved a hole in, so the bottom falls through and lets the whiskey shatter on the floor. He then spots Carl, who starts firing into the crowd, killing two men. Standing on the back of the truck, he points his weapon at The Saviors, saying no one else needs to die — he only wants to kill Negan. The name on everybody’s lips makes himself known, calling Carl “adorable” and guessing he picked his gun “‘cause it looks cool.”

Carl’s master plan goes wrong right after that, as Dwight tackles him from the side and disarms him. Daryl’s watching from inside the pen of walkers, but he can’t do anything about it. Luckily, at least for the moment, Negan isn’t going to execute him right then and there. He clearly admires him for his courage and, based on the history of those he admires, will probably try to woo him. If that was your guess, ding! ding! ding!

As Negan promises to give Carl the grand tour, we get a full view of The Sanctuary’s exterior, revealing it to be an abandoned factory surrounded by his gated-in wall of the dead. Negan notes Carl can only do his father’s “stink eye” half as good because he only has one eye. He then extends a hand and threatens Carl when he doesn’t initially accept. Before they depart inside, he tells Daryl to go fix some food and remarks he won’t have time today to screw any of his wives. “Well, maybe one,” he says, referencing Sherry as he stares at Dwight.

Carl asks what Negan is going to do to him, but the lord of The Saviors is disappointed Carl would shatter his tough-guy image by asking such a question. Negan replies, “You really want me to ruin the surprise? Screw you, kid. Seriously, screw you.” Inside The Sanctuary, he playfully demonstrates his dominance by walking over to a railing overlooking his subjects and watching them kneel. He declares everyone gets fresh vegetables with their dinners without having to work for points. Turning to Carl, he notes how they respect him — whatever “respect” means in Negan’s world.

He takes Carl into what’s essentially his personal brothel, filled with his “wives,” all dressed in sleek, black dresses as if in mourning. After telling Carl he’ll want to look at their breasts, he pulls Sherry aside to ask about the little redirect issue mentioned earlier. He asks what happened to Amber (one of his wives) and Mark. She initially says whatever they discuss without him present is none of his business, which just makes him laugh. But he then says he heard Mark reneged on his duties to go and be with Amber in secret, and that there are rules for doing such things. Sherry admits Amber made a mistake and implores him to go easy on her. Negan asks if he ever hit any of them, but she reminds him, “I know you, there’s worse.”

NEXT: Male bonding

Promising a “to be continued” on this conversation, he walks over to Carl and puts a beer in his hand before turning to Amber, a young, blond woman sitting on the couch on the verge of tears. In a comforting, almost nurturing voice, he says he doesn’t want a wife who doesn’t want to be with him. If she wants to go back and be with Mark, she can — but what she can’t do is cheat on him. If she decides to go back with Mark and her mom, Negan promises to put them on the same job, which can only be a worse fate because she quickly says she wants to stay. Much like how the men say “Negan” when asked, “Who are you?” the wives have their own required chant: “I love you, Negan.”

Noticing her tears, he says he doesn’t know why she’s crying because it’s all going to come up “aces” for her. After their powwow, Sherry calls him an a—hole. “I know,” he says, “but the messed-up thing is you like me anyway.” As they kiss, Dwight walks in with Daryl, who’s holding a tray of food, and Negan holds up a finger to make them wait while he finishes kissing Dwight’s now ex-wife in front of him. When they stop, he tells Carl to grab the tray and Daryl asks how he got him to The Sanctuary, to which Negan repeats Sherry’s earlier jab about things said in private. Negan tells Daryl to light the furnace and teases “a little déjà vu,” implying that what happened to Dwight’s face will happen again. Dwight looks to Sherry before leaving the room, and she collapses on the bar to drown her sorrows in a glass of whiskey.

In Negan’s bedroom, Carl asks if all those women are really his wives. He asks why he’d want to settle for just one woman, revealing one of the contradictions of his character: Negan said before he’s firmly against rape, and commands the same from his men. Yet, he has no problem with forcing them to be his wives by other, more psychologically tortuous means.

The two get down to business: Negan wants to get to know Carl, but at the same time confirms he can’t let the boy’s infiltration slide. Looking at his eye patch, he says it’s like “talking to a birthday present” and commands Carl to expose his bullet-gouged socket. He first says no, but — just like all their other interactions — a few threats loosen his straps. He starts taunting the kid about his wound and asking if he can touch it, but when Carl starts crying, he reveals a more compassionate side. Negan apologizes for hurting his feelings and forgets he’s just a kid. Carl says to forget it.

While we still don’t know much about Negan’s backstory, it seems he very much wants a child. When Sherry first popped up at The Sanctuary in the doctor’s office, she was getting a pregnancy test that ended up being negative, and now Negan is kind of trying to take Carl under his wing. Perhaps that’s even another reason why he feels compelled to break Rick so much. The two are mirror images of each other — Negan being the embodiment of the extremes of the Ricktatorship — but the one thing he doesn’t yet have is a family with kids. Lucille is the last echo of what he had before the outbreak.

NEXT: Déjà vu

Speaking of Lucille, Fat Joey comes in the room to bring the barbed bat. Negan says he must have been distracted by “a kid firing a machine gun.” Turning back to Carl, he says he looks “rad as hell” and even though his eye won’t be a hit with the ladies, no one will mess with him looking like that. He jokes more with Joey, asking if he treated Lucille like a lady and caressed her pu–y. Like most of Negan’s victims and followers, Joey doesn’t seem to get his sense of humor, so Negan tells him to leave. He remarks Rick is supposed to be teaching Carl about how men “break each other’s balls” like that.

In a scene reminiscent of the comics, he asks Carl to sing him a song and points Lucille at his face to get him motivated. The boy killed two of his men, so he wants something in return. As he chokes out a staggered rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” Negan practices swinging Lucille in the corner of the room and tells Carl to not let him be a distraction. Afterwards, he asks if his mom sang that song to him and where she is now. Negan infers by his silence that she died, and Carl admits he shot her. “No wonder you’re a serial killer in the making,” he says, clarifying that’s another example of “breaking balls.”

He tells Carl to come with him — the iron should be ready by now — and the two proceed to a giant room where The Saviors have gathered by a furnace. Mark, Amber’s love, is tied to a chair, crying. Negan pats Lucille against the railing above to announce his entrance and turns his weapon over to Carl for safekeeping. He says what’s about to happen will be hard to watch and wishes he could simply let Mark’s indiscretion slide, but asks the crowd why he can’t do that. They respond, “Rules keep us alive!”

After more of his grandiose speech about The Saviors bringing civilization back to the world, Dwight brings the scalding hot iron to Negan, who presses it to Mark’s face as Sherry goes to comfort Amber. Mark passes out from the pain and pees himself with his singed flesh sticking to the iron as it’s pulled away. Daryl is forced to clean up the mess, while Negan declares this burn to be a reminder of the rules. He goes to Carl, whispering about how he must think he’s a lunatic and leading him away to help decide what to do with him.

Dwight finds Sherry in her usual haunt — smoking a cigarette in an abandoned stairwell. He tells her not to beat herself up for selling out Amber and Mark to Negan, because that’s what she needed to do to survive. Sherry says that’s not what happened, but he shrugs it off with “whatever helps you sleep at night.” He says he doesn’t sleep anymore, choosing instead to watch TV every night until day breaks. Sherry suggests they leave before someone comes, but Dwight says they’re not doing anything. She leaves anyway, retorting, “No, we’re not.”

NEXT: Michonne’s mission

Back in Negan’s room, he’s filling out paperwork while Carl sits in a chair across from him. He asks if he can put his eye patch back on, but Negan likes looking at his “rada-s, bada-s eye.” Carl asks why he hasn’t killed him, Daryl, or his dad, and Negan explains Rick is already proving to be a useful scavenger, while he’ll make a good soldier out of Daryl yet. But he still needs to see about Carl, noting it’s more productive and fun to break their spirit.

Negan then puts the question of what to do with Carl on the kid and is impressed by his answer: He tells Negan to jump out the window to save Carl the trouble of killing him. He smiles and listens as Rick’s son says he doesn’t think he’ll kill any of them because he can’t. Negan decides to take Carl on a ride back to Alexandria, but little does he know Jesus is stealthily perched on the roof of their truck. Before they go, Daryl starts threatening Negan should he harm Carl in any way, but he doesn’t get more than a few words out before Negan tells Dwight to lock him up in solitary. However, he gets another chance to escape when someone slips him a piece of paper with the message “Go Now” and a key taped to the back.

At Alexandria, Olivia opens the door and is horrified to see Negan, who decides to wait there for Rick to return. He “breaks her balls,” too, by poking fun at her weight when she says the community is starving, but apologizes when she bursts into tears. In his own way of making amends, he says he’ll screw her brains out if she’s up for it. She slaps him across the face, but that just makes him “50 percent more” into her. When she remains silent, he tells her to make them some lemonade — and to take her time, so it comes out good. Meanwhile, Carl will give him a tour of his home, which leads him to discover something Rick has been hiding: Judith.

They go relax on the porch, with Judith in Negan’s arms and Carl sitting in a chair next to him. He says he just might have to stay at Alexandria since he likes it so much, but warns that maybe he’ll decide to kill Rick and Carl and bury their bodies in the flowerbeds so he can enjoy suburbia.

Michonne

The episode actually opens with Michonne, picking up exactly where we last left her: staring at the burned mattresses on the side of the road. She starts walking down the road and whistling “The Farmer in the Dell” along the trail of syrup Jesus left, much like how Negan whistles to taunt his victims. Two walkers hobble out from the woods behind her, a throwback to when Michonne had her chained pets, but she unsheathes her sword to slice and dice them. We see the walkie Rick gave her poking out of her satchel, a sign she’s not going to meet up with him and Aaron like he hoped. Instead, she carries the bodies and piles them in the middle of the road.

Later, we see she’s created a barrier of dead walkers. A woman from The Sanctuary pulls up in her car and gets out to examine the barricade, at which point Michonne sneaks up beside her with the tip of her sword at her neck. She disarms her and demands she take her to Negan. In the car, Michonne holds a gun to her head, but the woman tries to pull a fast one by slamming the brakes and wrestling the weapon away from her. Michonne ends up bashing her head against the steering wheel and repeats her demand before the woman complies.

By this point, though, Negan is already at Alexandria with Carl and Daryl is making his escape.

NEXT: A sea of walkers

Rick and Aaron

Rick and Aaron wake up, having slept in sleeping bags in the back of their truck while on a mission to gather offerings for Negan. Rick checks the walkie, but there’s no sound from Michonne. They pull up the sliding door and Aaron sees something he says he didn’t notice last night.

A later scene reveals it’s a fence with a sign that reads, “Only thing her 4 you is trouble.” Rick notes they only have today to find something — Negan could already be at Alexandria by now (which he is) — so they infiltrate the property in hopes of stealing supplies from another survivor.

After sneaking around bushes and shrubbery, they come across a larger, wordier sign that claims the only reason they would have made it this far alive is because the owner shot himself. Rick notes this person has supplies and weapons, but when they turn the corner they see how well protected said owner is: A long pond with snarling walker heads resting on the surface protect a house that can be seen in the distance.

Rosita and Eugene

While all the drama with Carl is beginning, Rosita is hauling Eugene off to a secret workshop to start making those bullets he promised last season, though he’s having second thoughts about it. On their way out, they encounter Spencer, who’s in a car with Father Gabriel and asking why they’re not going out to scavenge for Negan. He says it’s like their version of taxes, and while Rosita can be mad at him, he says Rick was the one who made it this way. When Rosita asks if he thinks he can do better as Alexandria’s leader, he says yes, hinting at some sort of showdown to come.

In their workshop, Rosita and Eugene quarrel over the bullet again. He admits he’s not trying to definitively stop her plans, but to slow her down in what he believes to be a death wish. He notes a single bullet won’t do much against an army of Saviors, and recalls how there’s a price to pay. In Negan’s world, that price doesn’t always fall on the one they expect. Angered, Rosita says Eugene owes it to her and Abraham to follow through on his promise. She then calls him weak and a coward, someone who only managed to survive because he lied and others felt sorry for him.

Feeling defeated and hurt, he ultimately makes her bullet. Later, she tries to apologize to him, but Eugene isn’t having it.

Spencer

While he’s on the road with Father Gabriel, Spencer is talking more about his frustration with Rick. He asks if hating someone is considered a sin, and Father Gabriel says it ultimately falls on their actions. Spencer confesses he doesn’t think Rick should be in charge and blames him for the deaths of the fallen Alexandrians. Father Gabriel tries to reason with Spencer, saying maybe those who survived did so because of Rick and they can only look to the future. When Spencer says their best hope is if Rick never makes it back from his scavenging mission, Father Gabriel asks him to stop the car. He says while Spencer may not be a sinner, he’s “a tremendous sh-t” for thinking that — but it doesn’t have to be a “terminal” condition.

He then gets out of the car and walks back to Alexandria. Spencer gets out, too, but for whatever reason sprints into the woods, where he looks up and finds a walker stuck in a lookout post in a tree. Using a grappling hook, he pulls down the beam and releases a tactical bow. The walker eventually falls too, losing its limbs in the process, and Spencer finds a pocket knife and note written in Latin in its utility vest.

Later, he meets back up with Rosita and Eugene at the gate of Alexandria with a load of canned food and medicine. He explained he knows Latin from school and could read the note leading him to hidden stashes of supplies. Rosita asks if he’s going to fork it all over to Negan; forcing down his disdain, Spencer cheerfully says yeah and promises to do “more than that.” Before he can elaborate, the gates open and they learn Negan is already there with two other trucks.

The show has been laying groundwork for some sort of confrontation between Spencer and Rick or a drastic action from Spencer. If it’s anything like the comics, this tension will rear its ugly head in an even uglier way.

Episode grade: B

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The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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  • 10
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  • Frank Darabont
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