“Only One Question — Who Are You?”
The Walking Dead spent most of its third episode of season 7 providing more insight into how the Saviors operate, as well as showing off how influential Negan is over his men. It was a pretty slow episode, all things considered, with majority of the time being allotted to exploring the psyche and backstory of one of Negan’s right hand men, Dwight (played by Austin Amelio).
Thankfully, whereas “The Well” was dedicated to Carol and Morgan’s storylines, with “The Cell” we finally got to see what happened to Daryl after the Saviors stole him away from Rick. A lot of the episode dealt with the torturous conditions the Saviors put him through in order to break his spirit. Negan wants him to be a part of his crew, and he really thinks that he could be a great member of the team, but first that wild spirit of his needs to be tamed.
The insight into Dwight’s life was sort of interesting, and it was definitely the writers attempt to make the Saviors feel more human and likeable, but overall it’s hard to make a group of brainwashed bullies into anything more than just that. The side story where Dwight goes to bring back a runaway was compelling, and gave me a sort of Equilibrium vibe with where the writers might take Dwight’s storyline, but it was Negan’s bragging about stealing his wife and melting half his face that made me wonder how far Negan could really push some of his men.
Again, this was a more existential episode than a heart-pounding thriller, trading in Ezekiel’s pomp and flair for Negan’s brutal version of indoctrination. We’ve seen just how merciless Negan can be, but here we got to see just how deeply his influence has taken hold of his men. They all truly believe they are Negan; one entity, dedicated towards taking whatever they want out of this world. It will be interesting to see if any sort of mutiny could happen within the ranks of such brainwashed thugs. They may be able to take what they want, but Negan’s cost for such power is high.
There’s a couple weird moments between Daryl and Sherry, who I totally forgot helped Dwight steal Daryl’s stuff back in season six. She clearly takes pity on Daryl for what they’re putting him through, probably due to her own experience with Negan’s particular brand of “forgiveness.” She prophetically warns Daryl about how much worse his treatment could become, and it’ll be interesting to see what her character could become capable of, given the context of her relationship with Negan.
One thing is for certain- the showrunners have taken a liking to putting Norman Reedus through hell. Between stealing his now-iconic gear, shooting him in the neck, blaming him for other characters’ deaths… The Walking Dead really likes to torture Daryl Dixon. This episode is no different, as the Saviors put him through treatment that’s fit for Guantanamo Bay. Watching Reedus eat a worm was bad; knowing his character has no idea he’s being fed dog food sandwiches is somehow even worse. Hopefully there will be a righteous comeback for Dixon, instead of him just getting some facetime with Lucille.
All-in-all, it was a decent episode. It falls victim to that sluggish pacing that The Walking Dead is infamous for, as the whole episode is spent trying to make the Saviors seem as if they have layers. While the scenes that dealt with Daryl’s indoctrination to the Saviors were intense and unpredictable, the rest of the episode falls mostly flat. Dwight isn’t a very interesting character, unfortunately, but hopefully they’ll use his backstory to fuel some narrative fires, rather than just stand as an attempt to give the bad guys more dimensions. It’d have been nice to see more than just the Saviors, as last week’s episode “The Well” at least introduced Ezekiel and the Kingdom while simultaneously developed Carol and Morgan’s storylines. With “The Cell,” we’re left mostly with a look into the Saviors that hammers home the same point as the season premier: Negan is in control.