Gene Page/AMC
November 19, 2017 at 10:13 PM EST

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