After a traumatic season premiere of the Walking Dead, last week was a breath of fresh air. We followed Carol and Morgan to the Kingdom and were introduced to King Ezekiel and his pet tiger Shiva. It felt good to smile again. And hope. Hope felt good. Well, tonight we head back to Negan’s world. Get ready for some uncomfortable feelings. How is Daryl faring as Negan’s prisoner? Will he be sacrificed to Lucille? Will he get a shower and a haircut (as some commenters have requested)? Since the latter is unlikely, I hope he lands somewhere in between.
Dwight is watching Who’s The Boss. There’s Tony. And Angela. Ah, life isn’t so bad in the zombie apocalypse. Not when you’re Dwight. You get to play knock hockey. And carve your little statues. You can push to the front of the breadline. Who’s going to stop you? Sure, someone is being beaten to death right in front of you but ignore that. Focus on your sandwich. And while you’re at it, steal the dead guy’s pickles. He doesn’t need them anymore and you have a sandwich to make. Pick tomatoes fresh off the vine. You can do it. You’re Dwight. And don’t forget the lettuce while you’re at it. Rough up the farmer a little just to remind him who you are. Don’t forget the eggs! Oops, here comes Negan. You’ve got to kneel. It’s ok. It’s worth it. Just shake it off and make your sandwich. It’s a sight to behold. A little taste of happiness. It makes all the killing and kneeling worth it. Right? Right? It’s better than the alternative. Yeah, you made the right choice. Negan’s way is the only way. Right? Right?
Daryl is practically catatonic on the floor of his cell. He’s naked, in complete darkness and they’re blaring sadistically upbeat music. Mind control at it’s finest. It’s only interrupted when Dwight brings him dog food sandwiches. He’s so hungry he’s almost grateful. He reminds me of Theon Greyjoy turning into Reek on Game Of Thrones. Hopefully Daryl will survive a little better (and more intact). Over and over it goes. Darkness. Music. Dog Food. Finally, Dwight gives him a dirty sweatsuit and takes him to see the doctor. They run into Sherry, Dwight’s girlfriend from the burnt forest. There’s something weird going on between them. They’re clearly not together anymore and she seems ashamed when Dwight spies her pregnancy test. Then she notices Daryl. She’s concerned. She advises him, “Whatever they say, just do it.” Dwight yells at her for talking to him. He doesn’t want Daryl to feel human. It interrupts the breaking process.
On the way back to the cell they run into Negan. Dwight pulls Daryl into a kneel. While Negan and Dwight talk, Daryl stares through an open door. It’s a simple bedroom. Bed. Chair. Kitchenette. Plants. It’s the place a human lives in. Daryl looks at it like it’s a museum display. He has no relationship to that world anymore. Then Dwight takes him to see the walker zone protecting the Sanctuary. He explains Daryl’s options: get turned into a walker, become a grunt that slaves to survive, or be like him, a big shot with a great life. The choice is his. Daryl tells Dwight he will never kneel. Dwight chuckles. He used to feel the same way. But he learned. So will Daryl. Dwight shuts him in his cell and starts the music. It might take some time but he’ll learn.
Negan and Dwight meet again. Negan is pleased with Dwight’s progress with Daryl. As a thank you, he offers Dwight “a blast from the past” with Sherry. Dwight keeps a straight face but his eyes shine with pain. It’s a test, and he passes. Dwight gets a call for a “grab and go.” He’s on his way but Negan suggests he send someone else. “I mean, I want my shit back but that is grunt work.” Dwight assures him he likes to do it. Another test passed. Negan never lets up. You must kneel with mind, body and soul.
While Dwight is gone someone else brings Daryl his dog food and he forgets to lock the door on the way out. No! It’s a trap. Daryl can’t hear me and isn’t willing to give up his big chance so he sneaks out. As he’s winding his way through empty corridors he runs into Sherry. “Go back while you can. You know I did,” she cautions. “Whatever he’s done to you, there’s more. There’s always more. You won’t get away. And when you’re bad, it’ll be worse.” But Daryl doesn’t listen. He can’t kneel. Not yet. And then he spots a row of motorcycles. Nirvana! This must be a sign. He makes a run for it but it’s a trap (of course). Negan walks up, swinging Lucille. “Are we pissing our pants yet?” Negan goes around the circle asking, “who are you?” Each man answers, “Negan.” Negan chuckles. “You see that? I am everywhere.” This escape attempt was Daryl’s test and he failed. Negan swings Lucille towards Daryl and Daryl doesn’t even flinch. It was another test. He appreciates Daryl’s bravery and walks away smiling. The rest of the thugs stay to beat the crap out of Daryl.
Back in his cell, Daryl gets a visit from Sherry. Damn, that girl gets around! She reminds Daryl that she said she was sorry when they stole his bike and crossbow. “And you said, ‘You’re gonna be.’ I am.” That “I am” is so full of loss and regret. She’s sorry they stole from Daryl. She’s sorry they returned to the Saviors. She’s sorry about the life she’s leading. She’s a sad, sorry mess.
Dwight comes across a big splatter of walkers. What the hell happened here? He finds out when a walker tumbles from an overpass and almost takes him out. Wounded and bikeless (the falling walkers made sure of that), he comes across his quarry: a Savior that ran away (just like Dwight did not so long ago). He pleads with Dwight to let him go but Dwight can’t. He can’t because everything is a test with Negan. He can’t because then he’d have to acknowledge that his life is shit. He can’t because then he’d have to acknowledge that he is shit. The quarry can’t believe he still follows Negan after what happened with his wife. “She’s not my wife.” “Not anymore.” Oh yeah, there’s a story there. Dwight points out that there’s nowhere to go. “Everything’s his. Or will be.” So the quarry begs Dwight to kill him. He no longer believes in Negan’s options. But Dwight needs the dream. He’s given up too much to admit the truth. And yet, there is a spark of the real man in Dwight. He shoots the quarry.
Back at the sanctuary, Dwight runs into Sherry. They share a smoke and talk about how happy they are with their lives. They say all the right words but they’re not fooling anyone: they’re both miserable. Even Dwight’s “it’s better than being dead” rings false. Sad, sad, sad, sorry mess.
Dwight brings Daryl dog food. Daryl isn’t breaking so Dwight kicks things up. “You got your friend killed. I got Tina killed. Don’t pretend like you don’t know the score.” It works. Daryl jumps up and throws his sandwich at Dwight. Dwight hangs up a polaroid of Glenn’s dead body and slams out. Daryl can’t help but look at it. Dwight plays Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and it’s too much for Daryl. He breaks down and sobs. I break down and sob. Now we’re the sad, sorry messes.
Daryl is lying in a puddle of puke, mourning Glenn’s death. Dwight grabs him and brings him to Negan in the “human bedroom” museum display. Negan tells us Dwight’s story. Dwight, his “super hot wife” Sherry and her “super hot sister” Tina used to work for “points.” But Tina was diabetic and they couldn’t afford her insulin on points. Negan offered to marry her and take care of all of her needs. “Because I am a stand up guy.” Instead, they stole all the insulin and ran away. It didn’t work out and when Dwight came back, he had to pay, big time. He begged Negan to spare Sherry’s life. Sherry offered to marry Negan if he would spare Dwight. “Which, if you think about it, is a pretty screwed up deal because I was going to marry her sister until she wound up dead but… Sherry is super hot.” But it wasn’t enough so Dwight also got “the iron” (which explains his scarred face). “And then I married his super hot wife. Ex-wife.” And after all that, Dwight still kneeled. “One of my top guys. And we are totally cool.” Negan thinks Daryl can also be that guy. He points around the room and promises him all of it. He just has to answer one simple question: who are you? Daryl won’t respond so he asks again. “Who are you?” Daryl looks him in the eyes and croaks out, “Daryl.” Dwight gets angry but Negan doesn’t seem bothered. Daryl made his choice. “Ain’t my problem if he made a dumb ass choice.”
Back in his cell, Dwight yells, “You’re gonna end up in that room or hanging on the fence.” He needs Daryl to break to justify his own decision to join Negan’s team. Daryl tells him he gets why he did it. “You were thinking about someone else.” And that’s exactly why Daryl can’t. Dwight storms away and ends up at the Sanctuary walker zoo. They have a new walker on display. It’s Dwight’s quarry from earlier. He allowed him death but not freedom.
Next week: A 90 minute episode that includes Negan’s first visit to Alexandria and Michonne’s secret plan.