“Hostiles and Calamities”
Last fall, after the dreary, nihilistic premiere of The Walking Dead’s seventh season, the overly-indulgent fictional episode was followed by an overly-indulgent talk show (better known as Talking Dead) paraded the cast on stage to expound at lengths that the deaths of Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) would leave a meteoric impact on the future of the show for seasons to come. Since then, outside of a throwaway scene where Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin) tend to their graves at the Hilltop, there’s been little mention of either character, their respective deaths, or (most importantly), what these deaths have driven the remaining characters to do.
While last night’s episode, “Hostiles and Calamties” was a marginal improvement over what’s been offered up this season, it certainly doesn’t buck the trend of continuing to shrug off major character deaths.
The focus this week is Eugene (Josh McDermitt), a character whose utter uselessness was only recently ended by the revelation that he’s able to make bullets — which he does. Almost.
That is to say: so far he’s made exactly one bullet, a request he was bullied into by Rosita (Christian Serratos), who did so while reminding him of said uselessness. A mullet-sporting, cargo shorts-wearing gamer whose skills have almost no discernible use for life in the apocalypse, save for his ability to lie, a skill that has allowed him to survive thus far and, as of last night, looks like it’ll be keeping him around a little while longer.
When Rosita’s petulant assassination attempt against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) fails — because, again, one bullet — Eugene finds himself a captive of The Saviors. Although unlike Daryl (Norman Reedus), Eugene is welcomed like one of the family, and develops an immediate case of Stockholm Syndrome. He gets to hang out in his room, play Yar’s Revenge, (okay, so it’s not all bad) and explain the intricacies of the plot to Negan’s harem, who also happen to be perpetually clad in cocktail dresses.
Throughout all this, Eugene does manage to put some perspective on things, mentioning Glenn and Abraham only in passing before going on about the 30 or so Saviors that the Ricktatorship wiped out last season. What’s striking though is how quick Eugene is to write off any emotional impact of their death, particularly given how Abraham was central to him being alive at all.
It could be another ploy on Eugene’s part, something akin to his fable about needing to travel to Washington DC to complete his work and end the zombie apocalypse. It could also be that Eugene, who’s weak-minded to the point he has to be condescending about his intelligence, would rather be on the side that’s inflicting the violence rather than receiving it. Perhaps life with The Saviors will afford him the kind of comfortable withdrawal from his reality, letting him reframe the end of the world with the same kind of comfort he derives from video games.
Of course, the episode also mercifully breaks away from the Eugene story for a bit so we can learn more about Dwight (Austin Amelio), Negan’s one-time most loyal henchman who’s been coming under fire lately for questionable decisions and the sudden absence of both Daryl and his ex-wife, now part of the Negan harem.
The scenes with him were brief, but poignant, and it showed a broken down glimpse into what the apocalypse has done to one couple’s once-happy life together. It’s still one of The Walking Dead’s most unique narrative tools, and showed some real insight into Dwight’s character, even packing a bit of an emotional reaction to boot.
It was almost enough to forgive the egregious use of a They Might Be Giants song during the end segment (just… why?), but not quite.