Whose Episode Is It?
Daryl’s the only Ricketeer on call this week, and while he gets plenty of screen time, he shares top billing with Dwight, the Savior that stole his crossbow and bike way back in the first half of Season 6. After the lows of the premiere and the highs of last week, “The Cell” settles in as one of those pokey, mediocre “Walking Dead” episodes that tend to comprise the bulk of most seasons.
Man Is The True Monster
Negan has taken quite a shine to Daryl, so he wants to break him and make him one of his lieutenants. This means giving him the full “enhanced interrogation” treatment of keeping him naked in a cell while a relentlessly cheery tune blasts over and over, depriving him of sleep. It also means feeding him dog food sandwiches, which Daryl hungrily accepts.
As a contrast, the opening sequence is Dwight procuring all the fresh ingredients to make himself a primo sandwich containing no dog food, to let you know that being one of Negan’s lap dogs has its perks. One of the indentured servants that Dwight gets sandwich fixin’s from gets some hilarious, “this guy will be important later” editing emphasis but I didn’t catch his name, so we’ll go with Sandwich Guy. But more on him later.
Dwight’s the point man on breaking Daryl, but Negan chips in as well. At one point, Daryl’s cell door is left unlocked to see if he’ll try to escape, and when he inevitably does, he gets a righteous beat down. Negan offers him three choices: to be a walker on his perimeter fence, to work for points like the indentured servants, or be one of his top guys. Yes, there are some Negan speeches in this episode, and no, Negan’s whole “I’m really cheerful about being so menacing” shtick is still not particularly compelling.
A Shred of Humanity
What this episode reveals is that there are cracks in the Saviors’ foundation. Dwight is one of Negan’s bright young go-getters, but he still has serious doubts about his Glorious Leader. In a backstory that is strongly hinted at throughout the episode, and then eventually just explained outright to Daryl by Negan, after Dwight returned to the Saviors back in Season 6, his wife Sherry bargained for his life by offering to marry Negan, and Dwight just had his face burned instead. Dwight used to be one of Negan’s indentured servants, working to provide meds for his sister-in-law, until they all decided to escape, and we saw how that turned out.
In one of the episode’s better moments, Dwight runs into Sherry in a stairwell, and they exchange awkward, insincere small talk. They each try to put on a brave face, but their pain and misery is palpable. Finally, Dwight lays it out. “We did the right thing. It’s a hell of a lot better than being dead.” That may be, but not everyone feels that way.
Dwight gets a report that someone has stolen some goods and made a run for it. It is, of course, Sandwich Guy, so Dwight offers to track him down personally. After a tedious segment where Dwight is menaced by walkers that are falling off a freeway overpass, he tracks down Sandwich Guy and starts taking him back to Negan. Sandwich Guy would rather die, and drops to his knees, asking Dwight to kill him. He also makes a good point about possibly overthrowing Negan, “There’ s only one of him and all of us.” Yeah, how did Negan come to run this criminal empire? A gang of power-hungry thugs and a mass of exploited workers no one’s thought of a coup before? Everyone literally has to kneel when he walks past! A baseball bat can’t stop bullets! Hopefully there’s a story there.
Anyway, Sandwich Guy is ready to die, and he remembers when he and Dwight were friendly. Dwight wants him to get up and walk, but Guy won’t do it until Dwight vows to kill everyone he ever talked to back at the Savior compound. Guy finally starts walking after this threat, but Dwight takes pity and shoots him in the back. Negan’s hold on Dwight is not absolute. There might be a chance he could turn on him again.
Meanwhile, Daryl still won’t break, even after Dwight tapes a picture of Glenn’s shattered skull in his cell (that at least elicits some tears). Negan gives Daryl another chance to give the “I’m Negan” loyalty oath, but he still won’t budge. When Dwight goes to lock him up again, Daryl tells him, “I get why you did it. You were thinking about someone else. It’s why I can’t.” If he gives in to Negan, then Glenn’s death would be for nothing, but Daryl understands that they have something in common: actually caring about others. I smell an alliance!