Whose Episode Is It?
If you were worried that “The Walking Dead” was getting a bit too absurd in the back half of Season 7, then worry no more, since we’re back at the main Savior compound this week to check in on Eugene and Dwight. Each man is assessing his place in the Savior hierarchy, as Dwight must reckon with Daryl and Sherry’s escape and what that means for him, while Eugene finds that life with the Saviors might not be as bad as he feared. It’s strong parallel storytelling, making “Hostiles and Calamities” another solid entry in this half-season. It’s a grim episode, but it’s grimness with purpose.
A Shred of Humanity
We’ll start with Dwight, who discovers that Daryl has escaped and what’s worse, he had help from Dwight’s ex-wife, Sherry. Daryl’s exodus earns Dwight a beating from Negan’s soldiers (who announce themselves with a “shave and a haircut” knock because only Negan could be so corny), as well as a night in the cell in which Daryl was kept — a reminder of Dwight’s own time there before he was loyal to Negan. Eventually, Negan still trusts Dwight enough to send him after Sherry, figuring he best knows where she might go. He’s right, too, since Dwight makes his way to an abandoned house where Sherry has left him her wedding ring and a note, detailing how she freed Daryl because he reminded her of how Dwight used to be. She also apologizes for getting him into his current situation, for making him do terrible things in order for them to live. “I’m sorry I made you into who you are,” she tells him, and that in the end, “Being there isn’t better than being dead. It’s worse. I hope you realize that.”
Dwight’s always been an interesting case, because while he’s a two-dimensional baddie when he’s threatening Alexandrians, this episode and “The Cell” paint a picture of a desperate man who became a monster to survive. He could live with himself and what he’s done as long as Sherry was there with him, even though they couldn’t be together, but now that she’s gone he has to truly face what he’s become — to either embrace it or rebel against it. He chooses the latter, claiming to Negan that he killed Sherry after she was set upon by walkers, then framing the local doctor for helping her and Daryl to escape. The doc had made the classic error of commiserating with Dwight about what monsters circumstances have led them to become. When Dwight tells the doc that he had to kill Sherry, he notes that they’ve all done terrible things, to which the doc responds, “Yes, but before we got here — before we understood — we were cowards about it. We don’t get to have big hearts. Remember that.” Whoops dude, you just dropped that line on a guy having a crisis of conscience who also needs to deflect all suspicion from his wife and himself. You could have just worn a sign saying “I’m everything you hate about this place and yourself” and saved yourself some time.
Man Is The True Monster
If life with the Saviors is causing Dwight to return to the man he once was, then it’s having the same effect on Eugene, whose coward’s heart once again rears its ugly head. Eugene is naturally a blubbering mess when he arrives, and when Negan doubts how smart he is, he reverts back to Survival Mode, resurrecting his old line about being a doctor who worked on the Human Genome Project. What at first seems like a cute throwback to bygone “Walking Dead” days turns out to be an ominous portent of Eugene’s willingness to give in to his worst impulses when he’s in fear of his life.
Eugene is given the full Savior VIP treatment: a cushy room (the same one Negan offered Daryl), whatever he wants to eat (no lobster, but there are pickles), and the ability to loot the indentured servitude class at will. When Negan proposes a problem to Eugene — how to keep his zombie guards from rotting away – Eugene offers an elegant solution — coat them with molten metal like the walker he and Abraham encountered back in Season 6. Negan is so delighted by this idea (it’s “badass,” because Negan is 14) that he lets Eugene have a night of non-sexual companionship with some of his wives.
Eugene tries to entertain the wives with some video games, but they hilariously only want to talk about the Human Genome Project, so Eugene distracts them with some fun chemistry experiments. Unfortunately this display gets him roped into a crazy scheme when two of the wives, Frankie and Tonya, ask Eugene to create a suicide pill for their fellow wife, Amber, who wants out of Negan’s harem the only way she knows how. This means Eugene has to procure some cold medicine from the indentured class, who blow him off at first until he starts throwing his weight around, claiming to be Negan’s new Chief Engineer. Then he goes a bit too far, grabbing plenty of meds he doesn’t need, as well as some other goods, like a weird, monkey-like stuffed animal. “I don’t even know what you call this. I’m gonna call it a Grimblygunk.” Again, some nice foreshadowing, as Eugene seems willing to abuse his power, even if it’s for show.
Before Eugene can give Frankie and Tonya the pills, he’s dragged to his first face melting ceremony, with the doctor Dwight framed as the guest of honor. It’s Dwight’s word against the doc’s, and Negan sides with Dwight, since Dwight is one of his lieutenants and the Saviors now have another doctor. The doctor confesses rather than get the iron, but no points for guessing that Negan kills him anyway, tossing him into the fire. Seeing the fate of those who cross Negan, and knowing the cushy life he could have if he doesn’t defy him, Eugene makes his choice. He tells the wives that he knows their suicide pill is actually for Negan and that he’s not going to give it to them. He knows they won’t rat him out because they’re replaceable to Negan and he isn’t, and Negan’s actions with the doctor proved which side he’ll pick. When they call him a coward, he can only respond with an emotionless, “That is a correct assessment.” Eugene has finally reverted to type.
Negan arrives later, and tells Eugene exactly what he wants to hear: He doesn’t have to be afraid anymore. When Negan asks him who he is, Eugene doesn’t even let him finish the question. “I’m Negan. I was Negan before I even met you, I just needed to meet you properly to know.” Their compact is complete, and Eugene has sold his soul for the security he’s always most wanted. It’s a dark choice, but it’s an interesting one, and one grounded in character, setting it apart from the aimless misery of the season’s first half.
At the episode’s end, Eugene is supervising his molten metal idea, pickle in hand, Grimblygunk in his pocket. Dwight saunters up, and Eugene introduces himself. “Eugene. You’re Dwight. We’re Negan,” to which Dwight gives a reluctant, “Yeah.” Chilling.
- Negan’s still irritating, but at least he’s not the focus this episode. His heart-to-heart with Dwight from behind the cell door indicates how much more threatening he would still be had he been kept at a distance during the season’s first half.
- Achievement in grossness: the impaled zombie on Negan’s perimeter whose bottom half rots away, and whose guts and organs fall out for what feels like seven or eight minutes.
- Eugene does get some charming lines before his heel turn, like “I am indeed a smartypants,” and “Well, I was gifted these pickles.”
- Who ever thought they’d hear a They Might Be Giants song on this show? Not me.