Whose Episode Is It?
It’s a Negan episode. Wait, don’t go! It’s actually much better than it sounds! In fact, “The Big Scary U” is not only the best episode of Season 8, it might be better than any episode from Season 7. And it manages this feat by simply giving Negan some depth and motivation, an actual character for us to consider, instead of a one-note psychopath. It also gives poor Jeffrey Dean Morgan something to do other than bluster, and he admirably rises to the occasion.
“The Big Scary U” also goes a long way in confirming that this season will finally seriously address the moral costs of living in the zombie apocalypse, as it both establishes Negan’s philosophy and questions Rick’s methodology. It even manages to address this in different storylines involving multiple characters, which is a rarity for the standard recent “Walking Dead” style of focusing on one character per episode at the expense of all others. In short, “The Big Scary U” is the sort of “Walking Dead” episode that makes you mad there aren’t more episodes like it.
A Shred of Humanity
The first big scene of “The Big Scary U” is a flashback to the Season 8 premiere from Gregory’s perspective, as he rats out Maggie and the Hilltop to my favorite dude Simon, who brings him before Negan and his full company of lieutenants, including Dwight, Eugene, Gavin (the Kingdom’s Savior contact), and Regina, the new lady. At first this seems like typical “Walking Dead” water treading (do we really need to see Gregory grovel before Negan to tell him stuff the audience already knows?), but the flashback’s true purpose is to reveal Negan’s values. Simon suggests slaughtering everyone at Hilltop if they don’t fall in line, which elicits genuine impassioned anger from Negan. “People are a resource. Money on the table. People are the foundation of what we are building here!” He reveals to Gregory that the reason they’re called the Saviors is because they save people. What he doesn’t say to Gregory, but admits to Gabriel while they’re trapped outside of Sanctuary in the present, is what the Saviors are saving people from is themselves.
Negan believes the only way to maintain order in the new world is through his form of fascist authoritarianism. He believes people are weak, prone to giving in to their worst impulses, and the only way humanity will continue to exist is if they’re tightly controlled. Negan tells Gabriel that when he first joined the Saviors, they were a pack of factions at each other’s throats, and he was able to unite them. In the past we wondered why Negan’s lieutenants wouldn’t seek to depose him, but they know what Negan tells Gabriel: without Negan, the whole Savior society collapses into chaos.
Another interesting wrinkle revealed this episode is that the Negan we’ve been seeing is a persona, not dissimilar to King Ezekiel. Negan’s tiresome swagger is a put-on to hide any weakness and keep those under him in line. Negan may have greeted Gabriel with his corny “shittin’ pants” line back in the premiere, but once he disarms Gabriel he’s downright sedate, speaking like a regular human being. But the moment he and Gabriel make it back to Sanctuary, the swagger comes back, and Negan’s very presence quells the mini-rebellion that threatened to start in his absence. (One worker actually exclaims, “Thank God for you, Negan!”) While past depictions of the Saviors have depicted them as a hotbed of (completely justified) resentments towards Negan, it’s important to show that many of the Saviors believe in him on a borderline fanatical level.
Man Is The True Monster
Of course, Negan’s worldview is completely evil and psychotic, but it’s motivated and makes a degree of sense, given the state of the world. It gives Rick and the others something more to fight than simply some crazy man — they have to fight a way of thinking and living. And how they fight it is just as important as fighting it at all. To Gabriel’s credit, he calls Negan out on his bullshit, but Negan has his justifications at the ready. He only kills those who “need” killing (basically, those who won’t submit to his rule), and the workers may be oppressed, but they don’t starve, and that’s better than it used to be, right? But when Gabriel brings up Negan’s “wives,” he doesn’t have a quick rejoinder, simply turning away and muttering that each of those women made a choice. Because Negan knows that his society doesn’t need for him to have a harem, that’s just a perk he decided to treat himself to because he’s the top dog. It’s Negan indulging in his own weakness, which makes him a hypocrite, and he knows it.
Gabriel doesn’t push that point, unfortunately, pivoting instead to grilling Negan about a wife he may have had before all this, which turns out to be a sore spot. In the episode’s weakest scene, Negan admits that he had a wife, she turned, and he couldn’t kill her. He tells Gabriel this so that Gabriel will help him get back to Sanctuary, but it’s such a generic backstory for this show (it’s literally Morgan’s, for example), that it feels like a real letdown, especially since the whole episode builds to this “confession.”
The other big ding against this episode is why it took this long for Negan to get any sort of character development. Last season really could have used this, before Negan’s every appearance elicited a resigned sigh from the audience. It’s not like he suffered from a lack of screen time. Still, better late than never, especially since the war is going to eat up the rest of this season, as well.
How Far Is Too Far?
In other news, Daryl and Rick continue their excellent adventure, learning that the Kingdom forces were basically wiped out, which means Rick’s side has essentially lost a third of their forces. This gives Rick pause, but only strengthens Daryl’s resolve that the conflict with the Saviors must be won at any cost.
Daryl finds a bag full of dynamite on the Savior truck, and suggests using it to blow a hole in Sanctuary, letting the walkers in and ending the war in one stroke. Rick finds this idea appalling, since it would inevitably kill the workers and families trapped with the Saviors. Rick even gets political, telling Daryl, “There are people in there who aren’t fighters. Doing this could change that. Make them pick up guns and stand by the Saviors.” Hey Rick maybe you should have thought of that before you sicced a zombie herd on Sanctuary.
Rick insists that Daryl follow his plan, but Daryl’s not hearing it, and the two actually come to blows. Daryl hands Rick his ass, but Daryl’s plan quickly becomes moot when the truck catches fire and blows up, taking all of its ordinance with it. Daryl may not be able to wipe the Saviors out at the moment, but the fissure between Rick and his most trusted lieutenant (non-lover division) has busted wide open.
- In a brief but effective subplot, Eugene figures out that Dwight is Rick’s mole, and since Eugene is naturally everyone else’s #1 suspect, what he does with that info should prove to be interesting.
- Even Negan’s Neganisms are better this episode, as he tells Gregory, “I think you’re a thin-dicked politician, trying to thread the needle with your thin, thin dick.”
- “There is a lot of love on this tray, Gregory, because I wanted to express love to you.” Simon remains the best, and I will be sad when he is inevitably massacred.
- “Your friend Rick is an asshole.” “You’re an asshole.” Guys, you can both be right.