[Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers about the Nov. 19 episode of The Walking Dead, "The Big Scary U."]
This week’s The Walking Dead episode, titled "The Big Scary U" is basically a tale of tight spots and differing opinions, some of which reveal that similar mindsets can spawn vastly different outcomes. And a similar goal can lead to vastly different mindsets.
But let’s start here: At last, we learn more about Negan.
Not much, mind you. But enough to add at least a second dimension to the fearsome bat-toter and give him a few moments of just being a guy (a running theme these days). We learn the most during the long-awaited resolution of what went down during his time with Father Gabriel in the trailer.
Fans got a break from the shoot-or-not-to-shoot business for a nice reminder that at the heart of morality and mortality, there's just some tormented guys and ladies. Here are 5 things the episode got precisely right.
And yes, the writers do know what you’ve been thinking since they ended up there way back in episode 1—why didn’t Gabe shoot Negan or Negan bash Gabe’s skull in and call it good?
Gabe held his fire (and tried to save Gregory) because he needs purpose and fears a fruitless death. That’s shorthand for all the ways he’s still trying to atone for the congregation he left to die outside his church. Make a ton of sense, given what Negan stands for? Nah, not really, but let’s just go with he’s feeling ultra-priestly these days.
As for Negan, well, no one believes that people are the ultimate resource more than that guy. If you have to kill some to save more—or, you know, just make a really, really urgent point—well then that’s just a good time. Father Gabe in the trailer with the bat just for spite? He’s not playing that useless game. Negan may be a killer, but that’s not the same as a random killer — or a guy like Rick who kills and gets people killed.
Eventually, by way of opining that the Lord may have steered them into this predicament so Gabe could hear Negan’s last confession, Gabe gets Negan to share that he used to work with children. Preventing “little assholes” from turning into “great big assholes.” Teacher? Principal? Social worker? Youth prison counselor, maybe?
And his biggest regret—his one true confession? All about the first Mrs. Negan. Turns out she was sick before the apocalypse and passed as it went down. He failed her twice. He was a lousy husband when all was well. And when she died, like Morgan, he couldn’t put her down. Unlike Morgan, it didn’t drive him to madness. It drove him to organize. A new economy. A working populace of tribes who were once feral. A place of order, albeit violent order, in a disorderly world. Maybe if Gabe came inside, he’d get the idea.
See, he and Gabe actually have some common ground. Both of them give weak people strength, Gabe through delivering them to Jesus and Negan through showing people, however forcefully, how to hunker down and nut up.
We’ll get back to these guys in a minute.
Flashing back to the meeting that was taking place before Rick and the armored AHK folk arrived, we also quickly learned exactly how duplicitous an ass Gregory is. Even Negan says as much. Yes, he tried to broker peace, a la what he told Maggie. But it amounted to the hooey he sputtered as he and the Negan administration stared down Rick’s armored force: “I’ll just tell them they’re Negan, and if they’re not, they’re out.” Negan gives him a colorfully-worded reality check. Maggie’s in charge and everyone knows it.
Also, Negan isn’t so much on board with weirdly-attached-to-Gregory Simon’s supplemental plan that if the Hilltoppers don’t abide, they just wipe them out and call it good. “People are the very foundation of what we are building here,” his boss thunders. In other words, you don’t kill randomly. “We take the right people [that would be Rick, Maggie and the King] and kill them in the wrongest way possible” which will make the rest behave. (Well, that didn’t really work with Glenn and Abe, but whatever.) So then, Gregory better get out there and earn the sorghum pancakes a mildly suspicious Simon made him special or else.
(Greg’s also behind the name of the episode. The scary u is the unknown.)
Rick and Daryl meanwhile learn from the guy Rick ousted from the armored truck that everyone at the chemical plant was wiped out—on both sides—except him, the King, Axeman (that’d be Jerry) and Carol, aka Shorthaired Psycho Lady. But they, too, have differing opinions about what happens next, now that they have a stash of the Saviors’ weapons. With the folks at the chemical plant wiped out and their own ranks diminished, Daryl votes they take the explosives, finish off the Sanctuary and end the war before sundown.
Here, Rick displays his own commonality with Negan. He lectures Darry that you don’t kill peaceful people, families, folks who are only part of the problem by virtue of their homestead. People are valuable. There is a plan. They will stick to said plan. Daryl begs to differ. They stare each other down.
Rick tackles Daryl to keep him from going rogue, and the boys tussle it out, somehow missing what had to be some serious gas stank as the truck’s ruined tank empties. BOOM! Truck, ammo, guns, explosives are all bon fire extraordinaire. The boys watch, chastened.
The actor wishes Negan had made a different choice in this particular scene.
With that matter settled, Rick and Daryl go their separate ways. Rick is on a mystery mission and Daryl, well, is not. In this, what seems like a pair of toss-off lines between bros—“Chokehold’s illegal, asshole” (Rick) “Yes. Yes it is”(Daryl)—seems pithy. Does Daryl think the AHKers are in a chokehold where The Plan is concerned? Is he right? The doomed Kingdomers might have something to say about that.
Back at the Sanctuary, Simon and the other lieutenants are having a mighty struggle about what to do if Negan really is some zombie's lunch. Regina, the sole lady at the table, says they send 40 workers out to serve as walker bait while a smaller team escapes to warn the outposts. Eugene shoots that idea down; it will cause civil war at an already precarious time. Regina takes that badly, but Dwight agrees. The sheer number of workers means they have to be kept appeased. Kept in line, corrects Simon. Semantics.
Ever the voice of reason, Gavin says they’re sidestepping the real issue, which is that there’s a mole in the ranks, which is why they're all in this predicament in the first place. “They knows all and sees all,” he says. “Sometimes it doesn’t take a gun.” Ooh. Interesting. I actually believed Negan when he said only he knew what was really what, but maybe they're all playing with the same limited deck.
Dwight—who bagged out early on the original meeting with Negan, saying he didn’t need to know the details, only the marching orders—now takes control of the proceedings. If Simon can’t lead the Saviors to safety, then he will. Simon, apparently a born second-in-command, is all for that. But he makes sure Eugene especially knows that the rat will be dealt with. Slowly. Publicly. Painfully.
Later, Eugene brings Dwight some of his special reserve pickles as a token for his appreciation for the backup and assurance that he will help find a way out of this pickle. Pun intended, because of course it is. Then he notices Dwight’s handmade chess set. He picks up a carved soldier. Gets a spot of red paint on his thumb. He tells Dwight he knows that he is suspect No. 1 in the rat hunt. But his expression betrays something more akin to suspicion.
Back in the trailer, having heard each other’s confessions and with Negan no longer convinced his soldiers will come save him, Negan decides he and Gabe will get to safety via a familiar trick. That is, grab one of the dead who’ve broken through the trailer wall, slice him open and cover themselves in gore. But he says something critical in the offing: “Know how many people have gotten sick from this?” Well, in our group, none. Hence Gabe’s confidence in his own hale Georgian-ness.
We have a little action-y scene of the pair wading through the fray, during which Gabe stumbles and Negan saves him while most of the surging herd of walkers suddenly lose the drive that made them bust right through the trailer. A few try to snack on the living, but most just sort of flutter their fingers aimlessly in their general direction. A few seasons ago, these guys would have been torn limb from limb. A few seasons ago, last week’s mud walkers would not have marched in place. Feh.
Speaking of marching in place, the Savior lieutenants have moved onto wondering why the guns that were supposed to arrive from Gavin’s outpost haven’t made the trip when Laura bursts in and says a mob is approaching. Not walkers. Workers. They’re pissed off and willing to die to make that point. Dwight tries to broker peace, but the 64-thousand-dollar question comes up: Where is Negan? Er. Well. Regina and a worker trade bullets, but before things can get worse, there’s a whistle. Negan. Everyone, including Gabe, kneels and Negan reminds them why with a sort of cheer-slash-poem:
I wear a leather jacket
I have Lucille
And my nut sack
Is made of steel.
Now everyone can knock off the fighting because he's going to have him a sammie, a shower and a San Francisco-style massage and then they'll sort this stuff out.
The ‘Dharma & Greg’ alum made the announcement via Instagram.
From the crowd, a woman cried, "Thank you, Negan! Thank God for you!" Gabe looks on in wonder. Jesus saves and so does Negan.
He’s taken to a cell.
When Negan is fresh and rejuvenated, the lieutenants are reconvened to figure out how the paupers got the guns. They’re the Saviors’ own guns. Rat in the pantry. Eugene spies a few spots of red on the duffel that held the purloined munitions. Red like the paint on his thumb. Red like the paint on Dwight’s handmade chess set. He fixes Dwight with a death stare.
But he has his own problems, too. Negan makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Either figure out a way to get rid of the horde about to take over the Sanctuary, or enjoy a nice quick death to spare him having to watch what happens when the zombies win. Eugene is clearly troubled.
Maybe a come-to-Jesus—or the closest thing to it—will help. He decides to deliver a few comforts to Gabe in his cell. Figures since they’ve, you know, eaten dog together, that makes them something like blood brothers...only more gross. Gabe doesn’t answer. Everyone else who thought he pulled a Sasha and was about to make Eugene lunch, raise your hand. He didn't. But he’s in a bad way, sweating and delirious. But he does says something coherent: Carson is Maggie’s doctor. They need to get him out, not here to save Gabe.
And out on his own, Rick watches as a helicopter flies overhead. Someone is watching him, too. Could he be heading to Jadis and the Scavengers' chop-shop? And who still has a chopper?
The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC