The Walking Dead: It Doesn’t Matter WHY You’re Negan

[dropcap1]I[/dropcap1] had an odd feeling after watching this week’s The Walking Dead. I wasn’t angry or sad or even disappointed. The absence of those emotions–a new sensation in the last season or so–gave me pause.

Was this a good episode? [clutches pearls; looks around in disbelief]

Even though I’m confused and a bit scared I’m going to proceed as though this was a good episode because I think… I think it might have been.

Eugene. No, I’m not faulting him for using the one skill that he had, his intelligence, to survive. But he did not need to put other people’s lives in danger over and over and over again to do it. This was a chess piece episode, one of my favorite kinds of episodes. We got to focus on who–on a fundamental level–theses character are.

We’ve known Eugene was a lying coward since he first appeared on the show. Are you a government scientist with all of the answers to shitshow engulfing the world? Will you save us if we protect you?

I fault Abraham’s gullible ass for that one as well.

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Eugene putting other people’s lives in danger over and over and over again to do it. To survive. Yet that’s what he chose to do when he told Abraham and Rosie to and ultimately Rick that if they would just deliver him untouched pristine and protected to the CDC that he could help us solve this problem. He knew it was a lie. He had no in the game in mind. That brings us to this week’s episode.

He’s been captured by the saviors. Negan knows that Eugene can make bullets because he made a bullet for Rosita (that’s a whole other disappointing story). Negan plans to exploit him for his intellect even though he’s not sure how yet. Eugene is Negan’s new pet brain.

“…same thing we do every morning: masturbate thinking of how else we can ingratiate ourselves to Negan…”

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Eugene’s journey through the episode, then, isn’t exactly surprising. What is interesting is his reversion. He starts off the episode afraid. He’s been taken from Alexandria, his head covered, his hands bound. He is the opposite of Daryl at the compound: compliant, groveling, professing his thanks. This is the fearful Eugene we know and loathe.

But. But there are moments when his intentions are unclear. After he meets Negan and the gang in the yard and offers up his badass molten metal solution to Negan’s fence-walkers problem, he walks away with a smile. It’s an odd smile because it is direct contrast to how he was when he spoke to Negan. We have to wonder if he’s acting and if so, when and with whom? We have to ask because everyone in the Savour’s camp is, to some extent, acting.

That brings us to the other focus of this week’s episode: Dwight. While Negan was out terrorizing the Alexandrians and kidnapping Eugene, Daryl was back at the camp escaping with the help of Dwight’s ex-wife, Sherry.

Which explains the ass whooping Negan unleashed on Dwight

Because what else is a sociopath to do when you think the dude whose face you burned with a hot iron is falling asleep on the job and allowing the guy you were torturing and your wife (by wife I mean victim of sexual coercion) to escape? Yep, definitely beat his ass and lock him, ironically, in the same cell Daryl escaped from.

After that, though? After that, you send him out to recover your victim (his ex-wife).

What happens in the episode is the journey each man takes back to his true (we think) self. Eugene’s journey is a domestic one that happens within the walls of the compound and requires other people to hold a mirror up for him. Dwight’s is one that takes him away from the noise of the saviors and deeper into a solitude.

Negan gives his wives (no sex) to Eugene for a night. As with a specific brand of nerd, he doesn’t know what to do with them, so he just plays video games while they watch. This riveting evening ends, as so many of these evenings end, with him trying to impress the ladies with his intelligence. The unintended side effect of that is that they ask him to make a pill that one of their sister-wives can take (because she’s a sex slave who wants to kill herself).

“You are good, Eugene. You have to be,” one of the wives says to him. And I’m reminded of Tara (and occasionally Rosita) trying to convince Eugene not to be awful and it almost/occasionally working.

While he ponders whether or not to do this, going so far as to gather the supplies and make the pills, Dwight travels to the if-we-ever-get-separated rendezvous place that he and Sherry had. There he finds a letter from Sherry which reads him to filth. She laments the man he is and acknowledges her culpability in making him into that man: a subservient killer who she can’t trust.

The irony, of course, is that he still so deeply loves her. He keeps her wedding rings which she left for him and leaves beer and pretzels which is what he said he’d bring if they ever got separated. I can’t decide if this trade is just that: him leaving his obligations on the table for someone long gone or him hoping she’ll circle back and know he wasn’t entirely the man she feared he’d become.

In the course of Eugene, making the suicide pill for one of the wives, he becomes one of the unnumbered Saviors. He is rude to the workers. He harnesses all the entitlement he can and takes so much more than he needs just to prove he can. He makes the pills.

Sherry is gone and Dwight could go too, but he doesn’t. He goes back to Negan. So is the beer and pretzel offering flowers on the grave of the man he still hoped to be? Because when he goes home, he sets up the compound doctor, an unlikable man who tells Dwight that “we don’t get to have big hearts. Remember that.”

The doctor might as well have been talking directly to Eugene. On some level, Negan was talking to Eugene when he made the coward watch as he hit the doctor with a baseball bat and then burned him alive. I imagine it was the doctor’s death playing over and over again in his head as he refused to give the wives the two pills he made.

He knew they wanted the pills for Negan. We’ll assume that he suspected that all along, but the death of the doctor is too much for him to risk because, at heart, he’s a coward. He always has been. The question becomes, can people change? If they can, what does it take to change them?

Dwight walked into that house with beer and pretzels and his wedding ring tucked away; when he walked out, he was walking towards a future where he lied just so a man would be hurt. The question is was Sherry right? Had the Saviors changed him into a man she couldn’t trust or did her lack of faith in him change him into a man with nothing to lose?

Maybe the more important question is: is everything just bringing us all closer to who we are? At the end of the day, does it matter why or under what circumstance we say “I am Negan”?

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