After needlessly dragging out the answer for nearly a month, ‘The Walking Dead’ finally fills us in on what happened to Negan after the attack on the Sanctuary. The answer: Not much, really.
This week’s episode opens with some flashbacks. In one, Gabriel prays before gearing up to join the battle against the Saviors. He says, “What I fear is a fruitless death.” You’re on the wrong show, buddy.
Then we jump over to the Sanctuary, where Negan holds a meeting with his top lieutenants to discuss the insurrection at Alexandria. Simon brings in Gregory, who left the Hilltop allegedly to warn the Saviors about Maggie and Rick (but was really fleeing to save his own ass). Gregory tries but fails to schmooze Negan, who isn’t impressed with his promise to stop the conflict before it starts by threatening to evict any Hilltoppers siding with Maggie. Negan accuses him of playing both sides, and berates Simon for suggesting that they should wipe out any dissenters at the Hilltop. “People are a resource!”, he angrily reminds him. The meeting is then interrupted by the sound of gunfire, which catches us up with the start of Rick’s attack.
Jumping ahead, Gabriel is trapped in the trailer with Negan, who immediately leaps on him and disarms him. Rather than kill Gabriel straight away, Negan decides to talk him to death as they wait out the Walker herd surrounding the trailer. He blathers more of his usual nonsense, acting like a cocky asshole. Gabriel says he believes that God put them together in the trailer for a reason. “I think I’m here to take your confession,” he offers. Negan scoffs.
Meanwhile, inside the Sanctuary, Simon and the other lieutenants meet and commence in-fighting. Simon suspects that one of them in the room is a mole feeding intel back to Rick, and he’s pretty sure it’s Eugene. Dwight cuts this line of thought short, claiming that it’s not productive to fight among themselves until they figure out a way to clear the Walkers. He sides with Eugene in warning that the workers in the factory will revolt if the Saviors try to use them as zombie fodder to save themselves.
Eugene stops by Dwight’s room after the meeting to thank him for having his back. He notices that Dwight has a chess board with some freshly painted pieces that Dwight must have recently whittled. Eugene gets a little smudge of paint on his finger. This will be important later.
In the trailer, Gabriel makes a play and grabs his pistol back from Negan, then locks himself in another room. Negan says they need to work together to get out of their predicament. Gabriel will only work with him if he gives a confession, so Negan tells a story about his first wife, pre-apocalypse, who died during the initial zombie outbreak. He couldn’t bring himself to put her down, which he sees as his greatest weakness and greatest failure. This is supposed to explain why he’s so obsessed with making everything into a show of strength.
When Gabriel comes out of his room, Negan pulls a Walker through a hole in the wall and smashes its brains. The two of them cover themselves in zombie guts and open the door, letting Walkers inside. They walk out and try to make their way back to the main Sanctuary building. This doesn’t go as well as they hoped, and soon they’re fighting their way through the herd.
When the power goes out in the Sanctuary, the restless workers come upstairs, demanding action. Simon’s attempts to put them back in their places go terribly wrong, stoking resentment and anger. Just as the scene appears to reach a boiling point, in walks Negan, re-establishing himself as cock of the roost. “I’m not dyin’ until I’m damn good and ready,” he declares. Negan’s promises to restore order are met with gratitude from the workers, who really do believe he’s their savior.
Gabriel is taken away and put in a cell. At the next meeting of the top brass, Eugene notices a paint smudge on a satchel bag that allegedly belongs to the traitor and quickly puts together that Dwight is the mole. He keeps his mouth shut, but Dwight sees that he’s figured it out.
Eugene then pays Gabriel a visit in his cell and finds that he’s terribly sick. Has he been bitten? Did he catch something from the disgusting zombie guts? Is he faking? Eugene offers to go get the doctor, but Gabriel insists that they need to get the doctor back to Maggie instead.
Rick and Daryl question the Savior who had driven the truck with the guns in it. (His name is Yago, according to ‘The Talking Dead’.) The man babbles something and dies from his injuries. When they go down to get the machine guns off the truck, Daryl finds a crate filled with dynamite. He wants to use it to blow a hole in the side of the Sanctuary and let all the Walkers inside to wipe out the Saviors. Rick resists that idea, arguing that they’ll kill a lot of innocent workers as well. Daryl doesn’t care. He considers anyone working for the Saviors to be complicit in their evil.
(During the argument, Rick mentions that they no longer have the Kingdom to fight with them. I have to question how he would know this information already? I thought the attack on King Ezekiel was happening concurrently with this scene.)
Anyway, their disagreement quickly, and pointlessly, leads to fisticuffs. Rick and Daryl brawl over how many people they can kill. Fate answers the question for them when a gasoline leak meets a spark and blows up the whole truck, guns and dynamite included.
After this, Rick and Daryl head in separate directions. Daryl takes his motorcycle, but Rick’s jeep won’t start so he has to walk. On his way toward his destination, he’s shocked to hear and see a helicopter flying overhead. Where did that come from? As he continues on, we discover that he’s headed for the junkyard where the Heapsters reside.
The answer to what Negan’s been up to since the attack is so anticlimactic (and totally obvious) that it only serves to emphasize what a stupid idea it was for the writers to delay addressing it. The fight between Rick and Daryl is also utterly stupid, especially since it comes so soon after Morgan and Jesus had a very similar (and equally pointless) scuffle over nothing.
While this isn’t a terrible episode, it definitely feels like filler and doesn’t move the season’s narrative forward very much. The supposed attempts to bring a little character depth to Negan don’t amount to anything. He’s still the same shallow asshole he’s always been, and his bluster has long since worn thin.