The Walking Dead
After detours to Negan’s house of horrors and the Kingdom of Bad Community Theater, we finally return to Alexandria to see what life is like after the deaths of two of their most beloved residents. And we’re just in time for a visit from the Saviors, who’ve come knockin’ to collect their weekly bounty. From the moment Negan arrives at the gate — all whistles, one-liners, and villainous swagger — you know the Alexandrians are about to have their world flipped upside down. What’s clear by the end of “Service” is that Rick has a little bit of fight left inside him, but he’s nowhere near ready to challenge Negan’s bloody reign.
(A brief detour before we move ahead. I’m sure some of you felt a little queasy about the art-imitating-life aspects of this story line: The Alexandrians are now at the mercy of a totalitarian leader who talks tough, has the full support of the gun lobby, and says gross things about women. The scene with Rick and Father Gabe sounds eerily like two Hillary supporters trying to talk each other off the ledge after Election Day. “We’ll get through today,” Gabe says. “Then we’ll find a way to go forward. How to beat this.” Rick isn’t convinced: “There is no beating this.” The priest says he still has faith in Rick. Maybe they’ll plan a protest?)
Despite tonight’s special extended episode, there isn’t a hell of a lot that actually happens at A-town, aside from Negan making damn sure everyone knows he’s a real bastard. How sick is this guy? Let’s count the ways.
- Negan gets uncomfortably close to Rosita, then turns to Rick and smiles: “Whew. A lot of suspense there.”
- Negan mocks Rick’s camcorder interview with Deanna, dating back to when he first arrived at A-town with his lumberjack beard intact: “Shee-at! I would not have messed with that guy. But that’s not you anymore. Nope!”
- Negan takes out a zombie, tells Rick he should be thanked for keeping the people of A-town safe, then makes Rick hold Lucille for the rest of the episode.
- When Negan asks what happened to the “sick girl,” a.k.a. Maggie, he refers to Glenn as “No. 2.” Then he explains to Rick why widows give him a psycho boner: “Especially ones that look like that. They are special. I love ‘em. Right after their husbands go they are just — empty inside. But usually not for long!” This rant prompts Rick to squeeze Lucille a little tighter. But he’s not ready to revolt just yet.
- The episode begins with a shot of Rick and Michonne in bed together. To show just how far they’ve fallen by the end, Rick’s laying out blankets on the floor where their mattress once was. The Saviors took all the beds, but as Michonne discovers, Negan isn’t stockpiling furniture — he burned them all and left a smoldering pile on the road.
- Negan’s taken a shine to Carl as yet another way to screw with Rick. Instead of punishing the kid for turning a gun on his henchmen, Negan applauds his “giant man-sized balls.”
- When Father Gabe appears, Negan doesn’t show the priest much respect: “Ho-lee crap! You are creepy as shit, sneakin’ up on me, wearin’ that collar with that freaky-ass smile.” (Kinda agree with him on this point.)
For a man I once hoped would be zombie food, Gabe is turning out to be a powerful asset. It was his idea to dig a grave for Maggie and fake her death to explain her absence. (Apparently no one cares where Sasha is, or Michonne, who’s gone for most of the episode.) The rest of the Alexandrians are scared and confused by the new sheriff in town, and when Aaron’s beau asks Rick for a plan to get out of this rather lopsided deal, Rick is blunt: “There is no way out of this. Let me put this to you as clearly as I can. I’m not in charge anymore. Negan is.”
That doesn’t sit well with Spencer, who’s decided that the Negan situation is all Rick’s fault. He does raise a good point: If they made a deal with the Saviors instead of trying to wipe them out, Glenn and Abraham would still be alive. And Daryl wouldn’t be wearing that basic sweatsuit and following Negan around like an abused junkyard dog. But Spencer takes it just one step too far by throwing the Sarge and Glenn in Rick’s face. For the first time, we catch a glimpse of the old Rick: “You say anything like that again to me, I’ll break your jaw and knock your teeth out. You understand me?” Rick then takes a page from Negan’s playbook: “Say yes.”
There’s a sad, tender moment when Rick tells Michonne the story of Shane, his best friend who banged his wife. Although Rick leaves out the part where he killed Shane and Carl killed Zombie Shane, he does drop a major bombshell: He knows that Judith isn’t his baby. It’s heartbreaking to see him so broken, but his message has the desired effect on Michonne. She understands that above all else, he’ll do what’s necessary to protect the people he loves. Even if that means licking Negan’s boots.
After his butchery in the premiere, I didn’t think it would be possible to like Negan at all, despite his knack for a good turn of phrase. (Though it would certainly help if he talked like a normal human being, rather than a character in a Tarantino movie. “Easy peasy, lemon squeezy”? Really?) But damn it, he is one charmingly evil bastard and a master of mind-fuckery. His parting words to Rick aren’t subtle: “In case you haven’t caught on, I just slid my dick down your throat. And you thanked me for it.”
In the end, Daryl is hauled away without saying a word, Enid is still miserable, Michonne is enraged by the sight of the mattress flambé, and Spencer is ready to revolt against Rick. That seems like an unwise choice, especially given how Rosita stashed a gun and found a shell casing that Negan left behind. Would she have the stomach to take Spencer out? And how long will it be before the A-towners learn that the Kingdom (and a big-ass tiger) could join their alliance with Hilltop to take on the Saviors? I’m guessing the mid-season finale, at the earliest. But I’m in no hurry to get there.