Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Walking Dead, Season 8, Episode 5: Big Scary U

Ok, can the Saviours be dead now? No, really, we’ve had four episodes of epic fighting, some tragedy - can this war be over now? Can we not have a last minute resurgence of Negan and just have it over? Can we have Gabe suddenly reveal his purpose in life is to shoot Negan in the head repeatedly?


We’ve got to have a whole episode of Negan analysis. Oh. Yay.

Did anyone want this?

So we’re actually going back before all the fighting to get some more insight into Gabe, a character no-one has cared about for so very long. Gabe is apparently super worried about dying a fruitless death

This is the man who nearly got himself killed saving Gregory’s useless arse. Gave you nearly died the most fruitless death ever. Honestly you’d have to work hard to have a more pointless death. Note, Gabe is willing to put in the work on this

We also see the Saviours before the battle, especially Negan’s inner council of soldiers including Simon, his right hand man who seems to get as much shit and threats from Negan as he gets support: I think that Negan is very aware of who may replace him. Simon’s also invested a lot in Gregory (who is there to convince everyone how he still totally has Hilltop underwraps which… is a hard sell) which isn’t exactly good for him. One thing that Negan does make clear is that he isn’t in favour of indiscriminate slaughter because people are a resource

This is an excellent and interesting point - in pre-industrial times people WERE a resource, people were valuable, everything from agriculture to building was very labour intensive. This, again harking back to the earlier episodes of this season, shows a step away from the basic survival narrative (where extra people use up your scant, scavenged resources) to building a new society (where you are confident you can produce enough resources to survive and now need people to help build a better future).

Then we get the attack and Negan and Gabe ending up in the same trailer. I thought Gabe would be brutally tortured by Negan. Instead we get them talking

Oh what joy.

Gabe has decided his purpose in life is to get Negan to confess and embrace redemption. Uh-huh. This involves lots of poking Negan to try and figure his philosophy in case we haven’t guessed it. This comes with a lot of Negan self-justification by how everyone is a combination of strength and weakness and he forces people to be strong. How he inspires people and how he has united all of the disparate gangs that used to rule here.

Negan kills a lot of people but he always intends to  - while he says Rick gets people killed. While part of this seems to be deflecting blame from Negan’s own evil (and honestly, yeah we get it Negan doesn’t think he’s a bad guy but he clearly is so can we skip ahead?) but it also makes a point about strength and effectiveness. Negan may kill you because he wants you dead but his plans aren’t going to get everyone dead. It’s Rick’s ambitions and plans that got Glen and Abraham killed: and, yes, he’s not wrong

This would be more of a point if Rick & co hadn’t killed an awful lot of Saviours… and you can equally say that it’s Negan’s ambitions that got all of them killed as well. I mean, in light of that this is as much a comment about leadership, hard choices and the high stakes of same as anything else

We also have a brief confession moment about Negan’s wife - his first wife who died from illness, who he treated badly but couldn’t bring himself to mercy. Ok… fine… and? I mean, is this supposed to be humanising? Sympathetic? Justify anything?

He goes on to why he calls his people the Saviours - because he thinks he is saving people. He thinks that he is the only thing stopping people turning on each other, without him everyone would tear themselves apart like they did before. He is building something and he is the one making it happen

Ok… yes… but we knew this and this isn’t exactly absolution. Negan is the big scary one forcing the Saviours to unite. But we’ve seen Rick do this without utterly terrorising everyone. We’ve seen Ezekiel do this through sheer adoration. We’ve seen Maggie do this with grit, we even saw Gregory do this. Even Jadis and her weird junkyard people did this. Before that we’ve had Alexandria and numerous other settlements that have held themselves together without fear and terror. Yes, not forever - but then, nor have the Saviours and Negan himself has already made it clear how fragile his own organisation is, literally relying on him to keep going. Negan forging his people together into one whole isn’t something new that hasn’t been replicated - and without his methods at that

After getting the wife confession out of Negan, Gabe agrees to work with him to get him to the main complex. Helping him do so even, and not just killing him while surrounded by zombies. Because WHYYYYY?!

Back at base camp, Negan’s inner council is, as he predicted falling apart. Regina wants to use the workers as fodder to help them escape. Others are worried that the workers, with far greater numbers, will turn on them. It’s also interesting how some talk about keeping the workers “on our side” recognising unity while others talk about keeping them “in line” recognising subservience

They’ve also realised that being attacked while all the heads were in one place is weirdly coincidental and how it’s clear the other outposts have been hit: they realise they have a mole. But Dwight, the mole, keeps them circling round and arguing so as not to focus on that

Of note is Eugene thanking Dwight for supporting him when suspicion was cast on him: now Eugene’s a clever and surprisingly subtle man at times despite his ridiculous language use. So I’m torn as to whether this is the coward latching on to any support or a subtle indication that Eugene is very aware who the mole is.

When the workers gather in rebellion, angry at the heat supplies and the basic contract: the soldiers are supposed to protect them for their labour - things get heated. And again we have a mix of Simon’s threat, Dwight’s reconciliation and reason; the council is not unified

Alas this is when Negan returns to have the rebellion quashed by the worshipful masses

Meanwhile Rick and Daryl are having an argument

And this is something new. One thing that has always intrigued me about Darryl is that he’s an excellent “follower” character that breaks some molds for it. In many ways it’d be easy and typical to cast Darryl as the uncooperative loner, especially with his silent demeanour - or have him be someone who needs convincing, talking round and who either stubbornly refuses to follow orders and does his own thing or flares up and rebels. This would be the archetype. But that’s not Darryl, he’s obedient. And that’s rare in a character we’re supposed to see as a big manly man because we devalue “followers”. But Darryl has always been far happier as a lieutenant, a faithful follower than one who makes decisions

So him clashing with Rick is odd. He wants to take the big gun and shoot a hole in the Saviour building allowing the herd outside to pour in. Rick refuses - by doing that they’ll slaughter the workers inside which he can’t support. Yes Rick is more and more stepping away from the dark side and trying to find a better way: he’s not just seeing good and evil

Darryl, especially in the aftermath of the slaughtered Kingdom, is still very much focused on Us vs Them and slaughtering Them. They disagree so strongly they even come to blows over it. Until the fight literally destroys the gun

Well done guys

They have a total guypology afterwards by joking over whether chokeholds are legal are not (which is virtual cannot-talk-emotions-or-apologise guy code for “we’re cool, yeah?”)

Honestly, I’ve seen a lot of people raving about this episode and I just don’t get it? We don’t get anything surprising or new or insightful in Negan’s ramblings. We already knew how the Saviours operated and how Negan thought. I honestly don’t see what I was supposed to take from this. What new understanding I was supposed to have gained. What new insight. Or why I should be anything but irritated that the Saviours have limped on and Gabriel has, again, failed to do something useful

The main thing if anything to come from this is how Negan thinks he is genuinely inspiring people to be strong and useful - but even that is a self-deluding ruse, to pretend that the people he enslaves, rapes and abuses are being improved by this and that they are making “choices” to be part of his racket: without acknowledging that no-one has a choice but him

Are we supposed to be surprised some of the workers genuinely love Negan? Of course they do - same way people loved the Governor. A theme of Walking Dead is the sacrifices people will make for safety. This shocks Gabe - that people do see him as a Saviour - but it’s not a new concept. Ultimately, when afraid people like someone who promises to protect them? This may surprise Gabe but it shouldn’t surprise us. We know Negan is intelligent and charismatic. We know he has created a working society - this is clear - but that doesn’t really change anything