The Walking Dead S07E03 “The Cell” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- Previously on The Walking Dead? SO MUCH badness. So. SO MUCH.
- “A Town Called Malice” and Dwight watching Who’s The Boss?
- We’re in a day in the life of everyone’s least favourite motorcycle thief and in short order get a good look at life in Negan’s world; bread shortages, beatings, savagery and pickle theft. All in the name of a truly wondrous sandwich.
- And all you have to do is bend the knee every time Negan goes past.
- We see Dwight watch a pair of prisoners make their way through a field of chained Walkers that act as security for Sanctuary. They’re armed only with a gold club and Dwight watches with fascination as the two men load a new Walker in place and then make their way out of the field of slightly imprisoned death. He is clearly seeing a LOT of similarity between his life and those of the Walkers.
- We feel a little sorry for him.
- Right up until he delivers a dog food sandwich to a naked, filthy, imprisoned Daryl.
- Daryl is woken up by offensively loud, offensively chirpy music and then… back to darkness.
- He passes out.
- Same song.
- Different day.
- Same song.
- Different day.
- Same song.
- Different day.
- Prison uniform.
- Same song.
- Different day.
- Dwight takes him outside, armed with his own crossbow.
- Dwight takes Daryl to the doctor, who is busy examining Sherry, Dwight’s female travelling companion from the first time we met them. She’s just had a pregnancy test which has come back negative. Daryl is checked out and taken back to his cell and Negan appears to chat to Dwight, while Daryl is held at gunpoint.
- Later, Daryl sees the prisoners, dressed like he is, out in the “range”. Dwight is practicing with Daryl’s crossbow and rams him up against the fence. He tells Daryl that he’ll be one of them or he can be like Dwight. There is no other choice.
- Back at the cell, Dwight pleads with Daryl to make it easier on himself. Daryl refuses.
- The song plays again over and over and over and over and over as Daryl tries to work out any way of getting out of the room.
- We see Negan congratulate Dwight on how well it’s going with Daryl. He offers Dwight some time with Sherry, and mocks him for Eugene attacking his penis last season. It builds to a confrontation that’s interrupted by an alert about an escapee. Dwight heads out to assist and Negan thanks him for his work.
- Back at Sanctuary, Daryl is fed and left alone in the dark. He realises that the door hasn’t been fully locked and sneaks out through deserted corridors, the song still echoing behind him.
- Out in the world, Dwight reaches an overpass with a huge amount of broken Walkers under it. Unsure of what’s going on, he explores and his attention is drawn to a huge patch of dried gore. He looks up, sees the side of the overpass has been knocked away and…
- …a Walker falls on him.
- He dives backwards, straight into the ruined dead surrounding him.
- Back at Sanctuary, Daryl is warned by Sherry to go back while he still can because whatever comes next will only be worse. He ignores her and tries to steal a bike but is surrounded by Negan and a group of Saviours.
- He asks his men who they are and they all respond “Negan”.
- He explains that Daryl doesn’t understand yet that Negan is EVERYWHERE. He gives him three choices: working on the spike as a dead man; working for points but wishing he was dead; or working for Negan and living like a King. He tries to intimidate Daryl, and because it’s Daryl, he doesn’t succeed. Negan is hugely impressed but “Lucille”, it seems is annoyed. Negan leaves Daryl to be beaten down by the henchmen.
- Out in the world, Dwight’s alive but the bike is messed up and he’s exhausted, terrified and pretty annoyed. He sees the man he was sent to retrieve in the middle distance fighting off a Walker and runs in. Just as the man kills the Walker, Dwight tackles him.
- At Sanctuary, Daryl is back in the cell when Sherry arrives. She reminds him that he said she’d be sorry when they first met and she and Dwight stole from him. She is.
- Out in the world, Dwight is holding his target at gunpoint. The other man is done, no longer prepared to submit to Negan. He tells Dwight to shoot him. He kneels, tells Dwight it’s okay.
- And Dwight tells him he will put every single person he’s ever talked to on the line. He tells him he’ll dig his dead wife up and feed her to the crows. The man submits, standing and heading off back to Hell.
- Dwight, half smirking, half snarling, kills him.
- Dwight gets back and finds Sherry, smoking in the hallway. He asks her for a cigarette and she gives it to him. As they talk it becomes clear she’s being treated like property and has been taken away from him. There is nothing between them anymore. Just dead air.
- Back in the cell, Daryl’s song is cut off. The door is opened and Dwight drops his sandwich next to him. Daryl doesn’t respond. Dwight levels with him, noting that they both got people they loved killed. Daryl throws his sandwich at him. Dwight retorts that Negan has taken a shine to Daryl and he should be dead.
- Then he sticks a polaroid of Glenn’s body to the wall and leaves.
- Dwight, sitting outside, changes the music. “Crying” by Roy Orbison.
- Slowly, we see Daryl break down, weeping as the full weight of what’s happened finally settles on him. Outside, satisfied, Dwight walks away.
- The next morning Daryl wakes up in a puddle of vomit. He’s taken to see Negan. Negan explains that Dwight worked for points and that Sherry’s sister needed diabetes meds. That cost too much so Negan “asked” her to marry him. Then they fled.
- Which is where Daryl, and we, met them for the first time.
- Negan explains that Dwight still got away but… worse still… came back and asked for forgiveness. Sherry offered to marry Negan if he let Dwight live. Negan agreed. And burnt Dwight’s face with an iron to make sure the point was made.
- Negan, chillingly, uses this as a sales pitch. He wants Daryl to be the next Dwight and all he has to do is answer one question;
- “Who are you?”
- Daryl doesn’t answer. Negan repeats himself. And Daryl, beaten and dehydrated, terrified and injured, shaken and crippled with grief, looks up at Negan and says one word:
- Daryl is thrown back in the cell and Dwight screams that he’s either going to be on the fence or in that room. Daryl tells him he understands why Dwight took the deal. He was thinking about someone else. And that’s the reason why Daryl can’t take the deal either.
- Dwight steps outside and watches a new Walker get put on the fence. It’s the man he killed. The man he “saved”.
Well that didn’t take long. After the first episode, which could fairly be described as not much more than housekeeping, stage-setting and horrific murder, season seven is back to doing what The Walking Dead does best; character. Last week we got Carol, Morgan, King Ezekiel and of course, Jerry.
This week? Dwight, Negan and Daryl.
You won’t like Dwight any more when the episode is done. He’s still a hateful, miserable coward of a man who torments Daryl mercilessly. But you will understand him and you will, crucially, see cracks in his armour show. Dwight is a broken man, to Greyjoy-esque levels and Austin Amelio backs down from nothing. We see him delight in Daryl’s misery, see him beg an old friend to choose slavery over death and we see the revulsion he feels at his wife selling herself to Negan to save him.
And none of it matters to him. Dwight’s broken. Daryl’s vest doesn’t fit, he can’t use the crossbow and he can barely ride the bike. He’s just a shell of a man choosing survival and believing it’s power even though no one else can stand him. That’s why he hates Daryl, and also why he’s fascinated by him; Daryl is everything Dwight wants to be and knows he isn’t.
Dwight looks at Daryl and sees, to quote Nine Inch Nails, something he can never have. Negan looks at him and sees a weapon that needs tempering. We’re going to get bored talking about just how perfect Jeffrey Dean Morgan is as Negan so just take it as a given at this point. What makes it work so well is two things, one of which is the lack of the character’s trademark profanity. There’s footage of a take of the murder scene from episode one done using the original F-bomb-riddled language and it’s a mess. Morgan does a great job with it but it infantilises Negan in a way that just doesn’t work on screen. He’s not a little boy with no restraints, he’s a warlord. A man who views the world as his rightful playground and who will do anything he has to do in order to play with all of it.
That’s the other reason the performance works, this episode in particular. Negan is incredibly emotionally turbulent. He hates Daryl for not breaking but admires him for it. He values Dwight’s work but thinks he’s a gutless coward. He constantly measures the world against his own standards and he’s never, not once, happy. So he keeps taking and keeps breaking people. One day some one won’t break.
That day may have come.
Norman Reedus is one of the engines of the show, and has been almost since day one. This is his best performance in several seasons by a clear margin. It’s also the quietest. Darryl has, maybe, a hundred words of dialogue this episode but you can see Reedus working every second he’s on screen. We see him struggle to hold it together, we see fatigue cause him to take bad chances and pay for it. And, in the episode’s best scene, we see him break down over the polaroid of Glenn’s corpse. Reedus has talked a lot about how the guilt over his role in Glenn’s murder will define Daryl and we see that here.
We also see his courage. The final scene with Negan ranks amongst the show’s most powerful moments and shows just where the power lies between these three men. Negan may have the authority, Dwight may have the keys but Daryl is still, just, in control of himself.
Daryl is close to the edge, while Morgan and Carol are blissfully unaware, for now, of what’s happened. And, as the trailers for next week show, Alexandria is nowhere close to recovered from the horrific events of the season premiere. The Walking Dead has never been more fractured, and more beaten down than it is right now. And the show has rarely been better.
- Dwight with Daryl’s crossbow, Daryl’s jacket and was that Daryl’s motorbike? That’s a nice indication of much Dwight wants to be him. It also explains why he hates Daryl. And if that was Daryl’s bike then Dwight messing it up is a really subtle way of showing how little Dwight measures up to everybody’s favourite Dixon brother.
- “I’m EVERYWHERE.” Every line Jeffrey Dean Morgan delivers is great but this one’s the standout. It’s also a glorious piece of back-dated continuity to explain why the Saviours Rick and co murdered last season were led by “Negan”.
- Likewise the polaroid of Glenn’s body provides some extra context on the polaroids they found there. Were they trophies? Or were they reminders of the people killed by Negan to bring them into line?
- The instant bending of the knee when Negan goes past is a really subtle touch.
- Daryl flinching away from Lucille is either just how broken he is or a sign of just how much he’s playing Negan.
- Dwight is an idiot. He sees a colossal, literal SPLAT of Walker under a flyover and at no point does he think, “Hmm, maybe they’re falling off that.” PLEASE.
- Negan’s crack about a fat member of the Saviours needing to lose some weight. Which is also proof of how terrible a human being Negan is but still.
- Dwight’s motivation revolves around Sherry and how she’s being treated as property but Sherry herself has precious little to do. Hopefully she’ll get more spotlight time as this story develops.
- Angela Kang was a staff writer on the never-aired (but really interesting-looking) SF series Day One. She’s had better luck since then, working on the much-loved and much-missed Terriers and writing 13 episodes of The Walking Dead prior to this one. They include the chilling “The Same Boat” and fantastic sort-of-action comedy “The Next World” from last season.
- Alrick Riley does an amazing job with the direction this week, especially in showing how Daryl’s sense of time is being broken down. Brilliantly, his first work was as a child actor on mildly horrific British sitcom Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em. His directing credits include episodes of Spooks, Hustle, NCIS and Person Of Interest.
- Songs To Fail To Break Daryl To include:
• “Easy Street” by The Collapsible Hearts Club featuring Jim Bianco & Petra Haden
• “Crying” by Roy Orbison
• And “A Town Called Malice” by The Jam plays over the opening montage.