“The Big Scary U”
With an unnecessarily long cold open that starts back to the moments before the season eight premiere, it seemed that this would be another episode with convoluted timeline fuckery. Instead, after the credits rolled, “The Big Scary U” proved itself to be a tense, almost meditative look inside the inner workings of The Saviors’ sanctuary.
Fraught with unease over what prompted the Ricktatorship to align with The Hilltop and The Kingdom and challenge Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) authoritarian rule, the Savior’s top-tier lieutenants — including Simon (Steven Ogg), who’s been criminally under-utilized this season. They sit with Gregory (Xander Berkeley) while he desperately tries to convince him that his word is still law at the Hilltop, and promises to crush any talk of a rebellion.
The other pressing issue on their minds is more than just what inspired this newfound sense of rebellion, but who was the traitor in their midst who gave them vital information to enact it. All eyes seem to go to Eugene (Josh McDermitt), the recently defected Alexandrian who seems all-too-willing to call the Sanctuary his new home, instead of Dwight (Austin Amelio), who’s been working with Daryl (Norman Reedus) in secret, providing the Alexandria-led army with valuable information. As well as — presumably — working through his man-crush on him.
We also get to (finally!) check back in on Negan and Father Gabriel (Seth Gillam), who’ve been trapped inside a trailer outside the Savior compound after things went sideways during Rick’s opening attack during the premiere.
After some typical grandstanding by Negan, complete with numerous references to his genitalia, Gabriel tells him that his purpose in being brought there was to hear his confession. Negan is, no surprise, resistant to it at first, but Gabriel ends up telling him about his own worst sins: letting his congregation die outside his church during the initial outbreak.
Negan, having already explained his philosophy of killing in order to save lives, and his importance to the Saviors’ on a whole, then justifies his killing of “the ginger and the widow’s husband” as being Rick’s fault (an assertion that is technically correct). Only then does he begin to let his guard down ever so slightly. He explains a bit about his past, specifically, his wife who was sick before the outbreak, and he couldn’t bring himself to do anything about it.
With that, Gabriel absolves Negan, and the two work together to make it out of the trailer using the tried-and-true method of slathering themselves in zombie guts to move through the herd undetected.
After they return to the Sanctuary, we see Negan’s self-importance come to fruition. Workers are starting to rebel, and with his fate unknown, the Saviors were on the verge of total chaos. Some were suggesting feeding their workers to the walkers, others were plotting an escape to another outpost. That all changed when they heard Negan’s trademark whistle, and everyone bows down before their exalted leader.
Negan is the glue that binds the Saviors together. An impressive feat, given their sheer numbers, let alone their organization. Yes, he uses fear to keep his order — and kills in order to save more lives — but in a world where the social contract has been eviscerated, he does so to write a new one. With his name in big, bold letters across the top.
He even takes compassion on Gabriel, who’s now a prisoner, by telling them to “gently” take him to his cell, a point he reiterates. Eugene, explaining that the fact the two once ate dogs together makes them “bound for life,” visits him, only to find him panting and covered in sweat. He claims he’s sick and needs the Hilltop’s one-time doctor, but exhibits all the symptoms of someone who was bitten by a walker. The truth isn’t revealed, and given The Walking Dead’s pacing, we might not find out the answer before the midseason finale in three weeks.
As intriguing as the bulk of this episode was, the show can’t help but trip over itself, namely in a fist-fight between Daryl and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) over the question of killing everyone who could potentially become a threat to their people. It ends with Daryl throwing a bag of dynamite on a leaky, burning truck that housed the Saviors’ gatling gun, one of the most boneheaded moves since the two of them let an entire truck full of supplies sink into a lake way back in season six.
And it wouldn’t be an episode of The Walking Dead without a cliffhanger, in this case when Rick (who’s left by Daryl to walk back to Alexandria himself) spots a helicopter flying overhead. Something he hasn’t seen since the show’s earliest days when he was a clean-shaven sheriff laying eyes on the chaos the world’s become for the first time.