Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s “The Cell”:

Before we get started, it’s worth noting that last week’s “The Well” was apparently intended as the third Walking Dead hour of the season, not tonight’s “The Cell,” as creator Robert Kirkman felt the season needed a lighter mood after that skull-splitting premiere. I can understand that position, as “The Cell” serves more as a functional introduction to Dwight and the Savior’s way of life, but in practice would have felt like more torture porn for Daryl.

Daryl’s presence is kind of an odd one throughout “The Cell,” as the character barely speaks, nearly escapes and defies Negan’s wishes at least twice, but never seems to suffer any real consequences for it, beyond the continued dehumanization and sleep deprivation. It’s also worth mentioning that the comics used the still-young Carl as a window into the Sanctuary and Negan’s world, which might have better explained why Negan would be willing to forgo his violent impulses. Norman Reedus can deliver shattered intensity in his sleep, but “The Cell” doesn’t really move Daryl anywhere specific beyond the torture.

Instead, the hour begins and ends with Dwight, as we see the ins and outs of the Saviors’ hierarchy and “points” system, in the process learning how and why Dwight gave up his humanity (and marriage). I don’t know that anyone necessarily cared to remember the specifics of Dwight and Sherry (then Honey)’s introductory episode last year, but it definitely helps to fill in the blanks of how Dwight went from frightened escapee to remorseless killer last year. Obviously, Dwight only needs a few more pushes from either Negan or Sherry to switch sides, but I appreciated the insight to his hopelessness all the same.

If not the obsession with stealing Daryl’s look.

It’s harder to get a read on Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan as an actual human being, but “The Cell” at least took a few steps to flesh out the character’s somewhat simplistic viewpoint. We’re not trafficking in the same intellectual sadism as someone like the Governor, but rather someone who assumed command of a group from the outside, and committed to a twisted sort of value system. Dwight betrayed him, as might any number of his own men, yet a simple trade of “super hot” wives and an iron to the face buy back loyalty, perhaps even friendship. It’s frightening in its simplicity, and I get the sense that Negan actually thinks of Dwight as his buddy, in spite of the abuse. There’s an awful familiarity in the concept of a strongman leader who doesn’t understand the consequences of his barbarism, and in that way, “The Cell” made a much stronger case for Negan as an enduring character.

Either way, that’s two hours now we’ve spent without checking in on those left behind by Negan’s victims, as I get the sense The Walking Dead becomes increasingly drawn to these piecemeal half-seasons. It worked last year to feature some singular event that tied together a number of Rashomon episodes, but here seems like overwrought exposition without a central focus. We’ll need a sense of all these communities moving forward, and if not for some early heads-up, I wouldn’t be surprised if next week spent the entirety of its runtime at The Hilltop, rather than offering Season 7 any direction.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • Certainly stylistic flourishes line old episodes of Who’s the Boss?, montages of Dwight assembling a sandwich or some of Daryl’s torture offered a bit more color than The Walking Dead usually enjoys.
  • Not sure I understood what all the jumpsuited prisoners were up to with the walkers. Is the goal merely to station walkers around the fence as a deterrent? Why did they seem to struggle so?
  • Making Daryl eat dogfood isn’t nearly so poignant as that wordless Season 3 opener, when Rick refused to let everyone stoop so low.
  • Like the comic, tonight’s episode introduced a different Dr. Carson, without necessarily explaining his relationship to the one we met at Hilltop.
  • What exactly destroyed the motorcycle’s front wheel? Just Dwight having to shove it down for a falling walker?

The Walking Dead Season 7 will return November 13 with “Service,” airing at 9:00 P.M. on AMC.

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