Negan begins to share his backstory
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Credit: Gene Page/AMC

“Why did you bring me here?” It’s a pretty legit question, even though it comes from Gregory.

We see a flash of Father Gabriel praying in a church before the slithery li’l sneaky snaaaake of Hilltop awakens in a room at The Sanctuary. Simon waltzes in with breakfast food to reward his backstabbing champ for informing The Saviors about the coup against them. What ensues is an effort to illustrate what was going on with Negan’s crew as Rick & Co. were planning and executing their assault. We see flashbacks of the ringleader and his generals sitting around a table discussing what to do about Rick, the widow, and the king before their enemies roll up to their doorstep, a scene that then instantly juts forward to Negan and Gabriel sitting in the darkened room while walkers are banging on the door outside.

It’s a lot of fluff. I can excuse a lot of these kinds of flashbacks if they contribute to the larger narrative, but there’s little to be gained from these scenes. Why did we need to know that the generals were already talking about Rick’s uprising before the man of the hour attacked first? We actually already knew that from brief lines of dialogue in previous episodes, so why revisit? On the same note, we (and Maggie and Jesus) already knew Gregory went to The Saviors behind their backs.

The same questions about purpose arise as “The Big Scary U” takes us inside The Sanctuary with Eugene, Dwight, and Simon directly after the attack. They’re trying to figure out their next move under the presumption that Negan has been killed. Again, why do we need to know all of this? My guess is that season 8 is trying to shoehorn these actors into more episodes.

This hourlong portion of the story could’ve been much stronger if it had just cut right to Negan and Gabriel, because — really — the only takeaway from the episode is the snippets of backstory we get about Negan. There’s a great deal to be learned about his pre-apocalypse beginnings in the comic book arc Here’s Negan, but the show has kept that information largely out of its story — perhaps to bolster the character’s mystique. The horror movie The Strangers is a tremendous example of how the unknown naturally builds terror. (“Why are you doing this to us?” “Because you were home” is a line that still incites chills.) It’s why I think a lot of this behind-the-scenes action could’ve been cut in lieu of Negan popping up again down the road with Gabriel as a prisoner. We know he’s not the sort of character who’s going to be killed by a bunch of walkers when the fandom surrounding Negan has been growing since his TV debut.

It’s because of his popularity, I’m sure, that the veil of secrecy surrounding Negan is starting to be pulled back, giving Jeffrey Dean Morgan more screen time. Gabriel suggests he was brought to Negan to accept his confession. Negan, however, doesn’t believe he has anything to confess. He may have been the one to kill Glenn and Abraham, but he says he didn’t get them killed. Everything else — from forcing women to be his wives to holding a firm, tyrannical grip over the workers at The Sanctuary — gets a similar justification. Negan believes he’s saving people, hence the nickname “The Saviors.”

He compares his dogma to “kids” and what could happen if “we don’t show ’em the way.” This is likely a reference to the comics, which — spoiler from Here’s Negan — see Negan as a sports coach. His talk of swinging dicks and who has the bigger cojones comes from him wanting to come across as the cool teacher to his students. He’s just speaking their language.

Later, Gabriel presses Negan about his many wives and whether there was ever a “first” woman to bear that title. He shuts his eyes, holds his bat, and prays, “Lucille, give me strength.” Before he can elaborate, Gabriel sneaks up to grab the gun Negan swiped off of him, but his assassination attempt backfires and the holy man is forced to barricade himself in a side room. Through the door, Negan offers to put aside their animosity and work together, which Gabriel only agrees to do if Negan confesses.

The only thing Negan will confess to is his own weakness. He then reveals, “My first wife was a real wife — my only real wife ’til death did us part. It was before this. I lied to her, I screwed around on her. She was sick, and when she went…it was during this. I couldn’t put her down. That is how I was weak. That is what I will confess because, yeah, maybe we do bite the big one here.”
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This all coincides well with what we learn in Here’s Negan — again, comic book spoilers ensue — which sees Negan’s wife diagnosed with cancer, a tragedy that leads him to begin an affair with another woman. His wife is eventually taken to the hospital when the outbreak begins. Negan doesn’t want to leave her side, but she dies on her bed and turns into a walker. That’s when Negan finally says her name: Lucille. (End spoilers.)

Beyond this, you could skip most of the episode and not miss a beat of the current season.

With Negan presumed dead, the generals debate whether to sacrifice their workers to the walkers so they can carve a path through the horde and contact reinforcements at the other outposts. Eugene doesn’t think this is a good idea, but the others are starting to think he’s been sabotaging them from the inside. Dwight comes to his defense when they gang up on him, so later Eugene comes to his room with a thank you gift (a jar of pickles to get them “out of this pickle”). He notices Dwight has been making his own chess set and accidentally gets red paint on his fingers — a detail that could potentially be Dwight’s undoing.

Later on, the workers converge on the generals when the power goes out in The Sanctuary. They want answers about Negan and refuse to work until they can get food and water. Things get heated when one of the workers pulls a gun and Regina shoots him down. Negan heralds his return around the corner with his eerie whistle. He and Gabriel killed one of the walkers that broke through the wall and covered themselves in its entrails; they were able to walk undetected through the horde for a brief time but eventually had to fight their way to their base. As the workers and generals kneel before Negan, so too does Gabriel before he’s “gently” carted away and confined to a cell.

Negan convenes with his generals to figure out how everything happened the way it did, and they learn the worker who pulled a gun got it from their own armory. Since workers aren’t able to swipe a weapon without tipping off one of their superiors, they reason it’s one of the higher-ups betraying The Saviors. Eugene is the obvious suspect, but he notices smudges of red paint similar to Dwight’s chess set besmirching the bag. Negan pulls “Dr. Smarty Pants” aside after the meeting and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t solve the walker situation outside, so it’s unclear if Eugene will betray Dwight.

Eugene then goes to bring Gabriel some pillows but finds him in the throes of a fever. Before coating themselves with walker guts, Negan mentioned how people have fallen ill from being close to the dead, and it seems the same is coming true for Gabriel. But he tells Eugene in his delirious state that he came to The Sanctuary to extract Dr. Carson, the Hilltop doc, for Maggie.

The last story line to wrap up here — which I’m convinced was added to offer a bit more action in the relatively action-less hour — is the Daryl-Rick mission. As the duo watch over the dying Savior who attempted to drive off with the machine gun, Rick further questions the morality of their plan. Daryl is merciless, willing to kill every Savior without hesitation or remorse. Rick is unwilling to take the innocent lives of those forced to weather Negan’s rule. It’s this conflict that forces them to physically fight one another when they discover explosives in the overturned truck.

Before his death, the Savior told Rick and Daryl that most of the Kingdom’s forces are now dead, so Daryl wants to blow another hole in The Sanctuary and let the walkers flood in the home base. “We can end this by sundown,” he says. Daryl begins to echo Negan’s own justifications when he says any families or innocents killed at The Sanctuary are on Negan’s hands. When he’s unwilling to listen to Rick’s commands, the two tussle it out — and in the midst of the chaos, the explosives are thrown toward the truck, which then catches on fire and engulfs the supplies they could’ve extracted in flame.

Despite the dramatic fight music, I did appreciate their brotherly jabs at one another after the fact: “Choke hold’s illegal, a—hole.”

Without a working car — the one he drove there is also out of commission — Rick is forced to continue his journey on foot for “the last play,” while Daryl splits on his motorcycle. As he gets closer to his destination, Rick sees a helicopter flying overhead. He approaches a compound where a lookout, dressed in black body armor, spots him and sounds a whistle to notify the others of his arrival. It seems the “last play” has something to do with Jadis and her Scavengers.

Episode Recaps

The Walking Dead

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

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