The Walking Dead S8E05: The Big Scary U
Despite the prolonged cliffhanger of Negan and Gabriel stuck in the trailer, last week saw what was, in my opinion, the best episode so far this season. We got a deep dive into the mindset of Ezekiel as he is made to question his plan, his leadership, and his identity. In fact it was such a good analysis that I was made to forget about that cliffhanger. Unfortunately, we had to get through two bad episodes as well, but now in the fifth episode our patience pays off. We finally get into that trailer with Negan and Gabriel, and it mostly paid off.
“What I fear is a fruitless death… what I ask for is purpose”.
The episode opened on a prayer from Gabriel, presumably just before the coordinated attack on the Sanctuary and the outposts. I can probably count on one hand the number of times the show has focused on a character in prayer, and perhaps all but one or two of those are Gabriel. Prayer is an intensely personal time for someone. You’re as honest as you allow yourself to be, and the regularity and depth of someone’s prayer life are usually a good indicator of their faith. In fact, it’s one of the few things on which Jesus expounded how exactly to do it (Mt. 5). So when we see Gabriel offering such an honest prayer it informs us a lot about the character in terms of growth. It also gives a clue as to what Gabriel’s death could mean. It’s no secret that he’s been on most people’s short list on characters they wouldn’t be too upset about losing. What’s happening now, and what this episode may serve as a linchpin in, is Gabriel’s lasting impact on the world (at least with these groups) is being established. Name me one other character that has had the opportunity and the guts to ask Negan for his confession. You can’t.
As he tells it to Gabriel, Negan believes his most grievous sin is not dealing with his wife appropriately after she died. I think this is incredibly revealing about Negan’s worldview. Before he admits this, Gabriel pushes him on his other sins; treating people like slaves, reducing women to sexual commodities, murdering anyone who may disagree with him, etc. To all these he has an answer; the people are providing a service, the women had a choice, or he’s maintaining order. In this explanation of his actions he reduces people to their utility, and raises personal choice as the highest good. He removes the humanity from people, while at the same time believing his greatest sin is how he treated someone who was no longer human. At best, Negan self-contradicts his own worldview. A Christian perspective on an experience like his would reinforce the value of people before they become walkers, not strip people of their value to a degree somewhat equivalent of a walker.
This interaction between Negan and Gabriel was undoubtedly the most important part of the episode. You may be wondering how Rick and Daryl’s fight isn’t the most important, or that Eugene discovered Dwight is the mole. Those are important items, but I would argue they are elements in the plot rather than character defining moments. Rick and Daryl are fully formed characters, they aren’t going to change much even though they’re fighting a bit right now. Eugene may or may not out Dwight, but it will be because he will analyze every detail of every possibility because he’s Eugene. This move to have Negan confessing something deeply personal from his former life (much like is done is a prayer) with Gabriel is a potential character shifting moment and could play into the softening of Negan into a man that can be forgiven by others.
Let’s wrap this up by talking about those plot points quickly. I mentioned in my review of episode three, Monsters, that a potential rift was forming between Rick and Daryl when Daryl shows no mercy on two saviors and kills them. The expression on Rick’s face relays his concerns, and they’re brought to fruition here. Daryl disagrees with Rick on how to proceed with the explosives, but rather than following Rick’s lead, Daryl demands his own way. The two fight, and while the fight never seemed to reach consequential levels, it’s the first time Rick and Daryl have really fought over a major disagreement since maybe the first season. Personally, I would’ve preferred that this play out a bit longer. I would’ve liked if tensions progressively rose between the two throughout the season and the fight comes at a more consequential time.
We have an equally intriguing development with Eugene discovering the Dwight is the mole within the Saviors. I think most people probably assume that Eugene is fully bought in with the Saviors, but this revelation is going to test his loyalty to both sides. If I’m a guessing man, he’s probably going to bide his time and reveal to Dwight that he knows at a time that is most convenient for him. Eugene is a schemer, he needs all the information possible, and enough is not known right now for him to decide.
My Rating: B
I don’t think there is much to not like about this episode. We have two solid plot developments and Negan confessing his biggest sin. That’s good stuff. It remains out of the “A” range for me mostly because Negan’s big confession feels pretty lifeless (no pun intended). Not head-shotting his wife when she became a walker is bad, but that’s the worst thing? Really? That just feels like a lame excuse in a moment the show is trying to make me believe is monumental.