Since The Walking Dead returned from its midseason hiatus earlier this month, Negan has been noticeably absent on-screen. Not that anyone's been complaining; the villain's introduction at the end of season six has coincided with the worst stretch — both with ratings and its critics — in the show's seven seasons. But we knew he'd have to return eventually. Negan took Eugene as a prisoner in the midseason finale, and in what's been standard practice this season, this week we were treated to a standalone episode following Eugene's first days at the Sanctuary.
On paper, this sounded like a rehash of the Daryl-centric, torturous "Easy Street" slog we were treated to earlier this year. In other words: fuck. However, the latest episode, "Hostiles and Calamities," quickly subverted expectations, and even more surprising, is one of The Walking Dead's best episodes in recent memory.
For starters, Eugene doesn't receive the ruthless treatment once doled out to Daryl. He's given some sweet digs: a room with a stocked fridge, a sofa, television and a microwave. It's arguably nicer than my current New York apartment, and only one of us is currently in the zombie apocalypse. A Savior informs Eugene he can even choose what he wants for dinner (no joke, he first asks for lobster, so she reminds him that post-apocalyptic options are limited). Afterward, he turns on the radio in his room. What's playing? "Easy Street," which I assume was only thrown in there because The Walking Dead ultimately wants its fanbase to suffer.
Meanwhile, Dwight gets the brunt of the punishment for Daryl's escape and spends a night locked up in a cell. Turns out, Dwight's former wife Sherry — and one of Negan's many wives — also escaped, so Negan buys into the theory that Dwight somehow helped them get away. So he dispatches Dwight to find Sherry and bring her back, but not before the Sanctuary's doctor patches him up and reminds him that Sherry probably deserves what's coming to her because she disobeyed Negan (a nasty thing to say to her former husband, perhaps!).
Negan's interest in Eugene is pretty obvious: He found out that Eugene constructed a bullet, the one that almost killed him, and wants "Doctor Smartypants" to use his ingenuity at the Sanctuary. Eugene exaggerates his actual expertise — just like when he met Abraham, he says he's a former government scientist, when in reality he was just a science teacher. But hey, it works for him again, as Negan is thoroughly impressed by Eugene's solution to zombies on the Sanctuary's fence slowly eroding. The answer? Pour hot metal on them. Science!
As a reward for his work, Negan allows Eugene to spend the night with three of his "wives," though he explicitly states that he isn't allowed to have sex with them. Instead, he's basically rewarded with companionship for the evening, and for Eugene, that means sharing microwave popcorn and video games. While The Walking Dead needs to tread carefully with Negan's disturbing relationship with women, it does provide a harrowing glimpse into their world. One of them is visibly upset and chugs most of the champagne given to Eugene. The other wives later explain that she became one of Negan's wives out of necessity for her sick mother, who couldn't work and earn Sanctuary "points." It's a life she didn't choose, and they ask that Eugene assists her in ending her life. He begins gathering supplies to, essentially, concoct a suicide pill.
As for Dwight, he leaves the Sanctuary in search of Sherry, arriving at a meeting spot the two agreed on for when things went south (there's a framed photo of the couple at the disheveled home, which probably means it used to be their house). However, in spite of everything that's happened with Negan — and what's become of Dwight — she leaves him a note alongside her wedding ring. In it, she admits to releasing Daryl.
"I let Daryl go because he reminded you of who you used to be, and I wanted to let you forget," the note reads. "I loved who you were, I'm sorry I made you into who you are. Goodbye honey."
Dwight has thus far eschewed the redemptive arc his character goes through in the comics (he's basically the comics' Daryl Dixon-type, since Daryl is a TV-only character), but seeing him break down after reading his wife's note is pretty heartbreaking. And really, he's been through the wringer: He tried to escape with Sherry, but they were caught and he was punished with having half his face pressed against an iron by Negan. In a show where there are pretty clear lines between protagonists and villains — and sometimes, The Walking Dead chooses for you, even when Rick does something really abhorrent — Dwight is a rare breed.
He lies and informs Negan that he killed Sherry. The doctor returns to let Dwight know he did the right thing in killing his wife. "We don't get to have big hearts, remember that," he says.
Unfortunately for the doctor, Dwight takes his advice and frames the doctor by leaving part of Sherry's note in his office. This allows Negan to create a narrative where the doctor — fixated by Sherry — had agreed to help her free Daryl and escape. It doesn't really make much sense, frankly, but this allows Negan to literally throw the man into a furnace (this episode was short on deaths, anyway!).
Mind you, this all goes down in front of the entire population at the Sanctuary, so Eugene sees what happens first-hand when someone steps out of line. Thus, he informs the wives that he won't supply them with any pills — also realizing that they wanted more than one so they could try and poison Negan themselves. It's not the solution viewers would hope for, especially after Eugene had a redemptive arc in season six. But he's reverting back to his cowardly ways. He's falling in line. He becomes another "Negan."
"Hostiles and Calamities" is genuinely effective in shaping Negan's influence at the Sanctuary. We might've imagined that Dwight would follow his comic book character and eventually betray the Saviors, but the fact that Sherry leaving him — literally and metaphorically — isn't enough to sway Dwight's loyalty speaks plenty. Eugene, meanwhile, has a much different experience at the Sanctuary than Daryl for one simple reason: When Negan asks him who he is, he's willing to shed his identity and become "Negan." Perhaps Dwight isn't the only person on The Walking Dead having a crisis of faith.
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