Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Sunday night's The Walking Dead Season 7's, "The Cell."
Contributing Editor Tara Bennett breakdown this episode directed by Alrick Riley and written by Angela Kang.
Overview: We get to see where Negan and the Saviors have taken Daryl after the massacre of Glenn and Abraham - a filthy, solitary jail cell in the Savior's compound. As he's assaulted with classic torture techniques like the repeated loop of perky music and being fed dog food, former acquaintance Dwight (Austin Amelio) is charged with overseeing his misery. The pair are explored like two-sides of the same coin with their individual choices differentiating why one is locked inside the cell and the other is locked into a hellish way of life under Negan's thumb of oppression. Via Dwight's assignments, we get a better sense of what it's like to live as a Savior and what utterly giving yourself over to Negan means in all facets of your life (if you can call it that).
It was smart to construct this episode as the yin and yang parallel lives of Daryl and Dwight. Post their initial encounter in the woods in Season 6 with Sherry (Christine Evangelista) and Tina (Liz Morgan), Dwight has since refashioned himself into Daryl-lite in every subsequent time we've seen him. He absconded with Daryl's bike, took his signature vest and now uses Daryl's crossbow as his own. But as we all know (and he does as well), Dwight's no Daryl. The entire episode reinforces that from his lack of fighting prowess in the outside world, to finding out he gave up his wife to Negan without a fight, and his acceptance of his role as a lapdog lackey. The important thing we do discover via Amelio's fine performance of Dwight is that he still has a conscience which he uses to put his escapee former friend out of his misery, and shows us in his tortured look as he listens to Daryl's grief. In that moment, it's as if he's listening to his own internal anguish being coughed up in Daryl's catharsis, and that bodes for a very interesting journey with Dwight.
Norman Reedus' portrayal was excellent tonight. He's always played Daryl as a man of action, less comfortable with words but possessing a true heart with incredible loyalty for those he lets inside. Watching him go through an almost wordless arc of incarceration throughout the episode, we still acutely get his pain along the way, which culminates in that deeply sad ending. The entire episode is a testament to Reedus' seven years of stellar work on the show.
I continue to appreciate the restraint in laying out the inner workings of the Savior life. We could have gotten a lot of grisly scenes visually laying out how it goes down inside their walls (and the weird purgatory punishment pen), but the verbal stories and glimpses of the compound were plenty. The writers left a lot to the imagination, but in no way watered down the bleak realities of Negan's point and rewards system, how he views women, and his cutthroat bursts of justice, be it by Lucille or even an iron to the face. It's an ugly world in there and I'm fine with how they are laying it out for the audience to process.
How does Sherry look so spring-time fresh inside the Savior compound? I'm not naive about gross implications of Negan liking to keep his ladies looking "hot," but in reality it still seems like a bit of a stretch. The Alexandrites looked good when we first met them but they were trying to be civilized. The Savior compound looks like a biker bar with a prison aesthetic. Unless we see some weird harem wing done up to the nine's, I'm confused right now.
While I'm completely impressed by Morgan's utterly convincingly portrayal of Negan as "charming" evil, I'm also seeing a problem with the character's soliloquies translating from the page to the screen. Yes, we all know a lot of verbose twits in our lives, the kind of people who never get the hint that they can take a breath and just listen sometimes. Thus, a person like Negan is not unbelievable from that perspective. What's getting tiresome is the length at which the scripts are letting him ramble on. We get it that everyone drops a knee for the guy and they're all scared s***less when it comes to Lucille, so no one is going to tell him to pipe down. But, he really needs to do just that. His unfettered talk-a-thons aren't amping up his potency, rather they're making him more tiresome the more he drones on and on. In fact, Morgan's menacing lip quiver when Daryl rejects his options for becoming a Savior was far more effective than the five minutes of chat before that fateful moment. Negan of the comics is known as a talker, but hopefully the show has more regard for the brevity of wit.
"Oh S--t!" Moment
When Negan asks Daryl, "Who are you?" expecting acquiescence, only to receive a classic Daryl response of "Daryl" was a powerful moment. It not only reiterated that he can't be broken but that he's fully remade himself into the man he couldn't be under Merle's thumb. He sees the same bullying and fear in Negan that his brother espoused and he rejects it for the flawed family he has with Rick and company.
That choice then opens the door for Daryl weeping in his cell which is bad for the soul, people! Watching that guy fall apart to Roy Orbison's "Crying" is flat-out crushing. Witnessing his utter breakdown after he sees the picture of Glenn and Abe's bodies are the kind of visuals that make you drink to forget.
I appreciated the writers creating a contextual understanding of what it means to be a Savior and how it is understandable that the instinct of self preservation would absolutely force some decent people to do terrible things to just stay alive. Getting to follow Dwight's sad "Day in the Life," from stealing to make a small pleasure sandwich to watching the guy he mercy killed still get placed in Negan's walker pen as punishment, provided the audience with some empathy for the guy and the grounds for what eventually has to come to a showdown with Negan.
What did you think of “The Cell"?