“Wanna’ know why people are gonna’ start dying in there? Because I’m not there to stop it.”
It was inevitable, and we’ve had a good run, but this week we slip into filler territory, and whilst this is somewhat disappointing, “The Big Scary U” at least offers some good performances and bit of character development. It also offers a much needed glimpse into the life of The Saviors, in particular Negan’s top lieutenants.
We open the episode with a series of flashbacks, another overly-used trope by the show. First, we witness Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) preying before the assault on The Sanctuary in episode 1. We then move on to the moments leading up to the assault yet this time from the point of view of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his trusted council. His council is made up of the expected – Dwight (Austin Amelio), Simon (Steven Ogg) and Regina (Traci Dinwiddle) – and the less expected – Eugene (Josh McDermitt), who has seemingly climbed into Negan’s inner circle. They have brought in an, understandably, anxious Gregory after getting word about Rick’s planned revolt. Negan accuses Gregory (Xander Berkeley) of playing both sides and that his perceived control over The Hilltop is a farce. Gregory, with the help of Simon (it’s nice to see Ogg getting some more screen time), convinces Negan this is not the case and he’s about to get his chance to prove it as Rick and his crew turn up in their armoured cars ready to slap the smiles of the collective Savior faces.
There is a nice moment here where we are allowed to understand the dynamic between Negan and his equally intimidating lieutenants a bit better. As Gregory assures Negan he will give his community no choice but to side with The Saviors, Simon suggests that if they don’t then The Saviors should kill every last one of them. This infuriates Negan, who sees the importance in people and the numbers they give him. “Plan A is taking Rick, the widow and King Assface ALIVE and making them dead in a very, very public and instructive way,” he says before questioning Simon’s loyalty and whether he knows his place, to which Simon confirms he does. It is important for us to see that a man as cock-sure and dangerous as Simon still quivers at the sound of Lucille smashing into a table. We begin to see how Negan’s power structure works. It is still at this point a bit of a stretch to believe that Simon and the other scary council members (sans Eugene) would be so submissive to a man they could all easily topple, but this at least goes some way to explaining it further.
Another nice moment towards the end of the scene shows the looks on the faces of the council members as they see what Rick has brought to their door. Whilst Negan is in typical cartoon villainy territory, hiding any fear he might have rather well, his inner circle are less composed. We see glimpses of fear and shock as the reality of Rick’s rebellion, and the real threat it carries, becomes clear.
Back to the present, we finally get to see what happened with Negan and Gabriel and the answer, ultimately, is: not much. The gist of it is thus: Gabriel believes the two have ended up together so that he can take Negan’s confession; Negan compares himself to Gabriel, claiming they both help people overcome their weaknesses; Gabriel takes his gun, which Negan earlier confiscated from him, back but does nothing with it; he then tells Negan his darkest secret – locking his congregation out of the church leading to their death – which finally prompts Negan to confess his weakness to Gabriel – he cheated on his ill wife and then could not kill her when she turned in to a walker. Because of this shared heart-to-heart the two inexplicably become besties, don some zombie guts for the classic wolf-amongst-sheep move (which Negan nicely assumes Gabriel knows about, meaning our heroes aren’t the only ones to discover that trick), and make their way in to The Sanctuary seemingly as allies. “I wonder if anyone’s ever gotten sick from this,” Negan ponders hinting at the zombie guts in some of the most blatant foreshadowing from the show so far…
Meanwhile, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) are interrogating the dying getaway driver from the previous episode, who informs them that most of The Kingdom and The Saviors are now dead – a strong sign the war is reaching its climax. They discover that the truck, now on its side spilling petrol, was also carrying explosives, prompting Daryl to come up with a plan to blow a hole in The Sanctuary setting the walkers loose on everyone inside. Rick, of course, disagrees fearing for the lives of the innocent workers that Negan has enslaved. But Daryl, clearly a changed man since his time in captivity, cares not. He wants them all dead, believing the workers have chosen their side. Then in a truly idiotic turn of events the two allies begin fighting each other.
Rick and Daryl have always served as the shows most stable partnership and Daryl has always stuck by Rick and served as his right hand since their days in Atlanta. It becomes a stretch of believability that Daryl would suddenly now turn on his leader and the plan they have so meticulously drawn out. Rick has always come through for Daryl and, despite last season’s failure, his plan thus far has been a roaring success.
The two fight regardless and, just as it seems Daryl is about to win, the truck carrying those treasured Gatling guns – guns which were the focus of the majority of last week’s episode, blows up. That’s right, a whole episode dedicated to getting the Gatlings only for them to be taken away the next episode seems like an almighty waste of time. The explosion prompts the two to stop fighting and for some reason, which is never really explained, Daryl agrees to follow Rick’s plan. An almighty waste of time indeed. We at least get to see an interest-piquing glimpse of a helicopter flying over Rick, seemingly heading in the same direction as him. Do The Saviors have a few more tricks up their sleeves? Or is this someone else entirely.
Elsewhere, we catch up with Negan’s lieutenants as they hold up inside The Sanctuary. Eugene makes it clear to his fellow Negans that there is going to be no easy way out and as supplies dwindle they may have to deal with the desperate workers. However, there is more pressing news at hand as Gavin reveals he knows there is rat amongst the lieutenants. Of course, Eugene is prime suspect but he discovers that Dwight is the real rat thanks to Gavin revealing a bag owned by the rat and Eugene noticing red ink blots on the bag – the same red ink Dwight is using to paint his chess set pieces. It’s all a little convenient but if it means skipping another filler episode dedicated to finding a way for Eugene to find out about Dwight’s betrayal, we’ll take it!
The episode ends in The Sanctuary. As the workers begin their revolt demanding answers, particularly the answer to whether Negan is dead or not. Things get heated when Simon gets confrontational and a gun is fired but this shortly quelled when the man himself, Negan, accompanied by Gabriel, swans in and reassures everyone nothing has changed. In a quiet moment he corners Eugene and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t find out who the rat is, putting Eugene in yet another moral conundrum. And finally, we end with the pay off to that obvious foreshadowing as it is revealed that Gabriel is seriously ill.
It was tough pill to swallow this week, the hope of a season of pure plot-pushing, meaningful instalments quashed. There is some reward, however, as “The Big Scary U” at least offers us some much needed insight into the key players within The Sanctuary. Still it is a shame to see such a strong season slip back into frustrating territory. We can only hope that this week serves as a one off and the season continues on with its promising start.