This The Walking Dead: Dead City review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead: Dead City Episode 4
The idea that anyone could be too much of a psychopath for the Saviors is, honestly, hard to swallow. The first time we meet Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan on The Walking Dead, he introduces himself by bashing a couple of fan favorite characters to death. His chief lieutenant, Simon (Steven Ogg), is at least as bad as his boss. None of the Savior leadership were good people; at the time, the Saviors title seemed ironic. Now that Negan has been established a little better on The Walking Dead: Dead City, it’s easy to see just how things got so out of control. If Simon is the voice of reason, then things are too far gone to save.
It’s no wonder Maggie has such a grudge against The Croat (Zeljko Ivanek) for taking her son. He’s a less scrupulous version of Negan; if the opening scene didn’t make that obvious, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan stumbling across a teenage walker strapped to one of The Croat’s torture chairs does. The Saviors were, generally, kind to children. The Croat himself seems to be willing to allow defectors to join his group, but we’ve seen him in action and we’ve seen how he treats people who aren’t willing to follow along with the party line, and the end result is not a good omen for Hershel. The clock is ticking for him, thus the clock is ticking for Maggie. With every buraz raid, the group of survivors gathered around Amaia and Tommaso grows smaller and their urgent need to escape The Croat’s reign of terror grows larger.
There’s a certain efficiency to the way Eli Jorne’s series has developed. We get a strong, immediate introduction to the new characters; we learn what makes them tick early on. This isn’t necessary for Maggie or Negan, but The Croat’s introduction is strong, and throughout this episode, Zeljko Ivanek builds on that debut with very strong, specific choices. Even when The Croat is trying to be nice, he comes across as menacing. Even when he seems calm and reasonable, there’s something in his body language and expression (Ivanek has great crazy eyes) that suggests that he’s anything but.
With Negan, the menace felt like a deliberate part of his act; he did big public spectacles to make people understand the penalty for crossing him. With Simon, the cruelty felt performative, like he was trying to prove to the people around him that he was fit to be Negan’s right-hand man (this is reinforced by Jorne’s script this week). The Croat doesn’t feel like he’s putting on a show, except for perhaps himself. Negan’s crew wasn’t afraid of Negan. Simon’s crew were friends with Simon. The Croat’s brotherhood all seem to fear him, regardless of how highly placed in the organization they might be. The Saviors would have figured out a way to cooperate or suborn with Amaia (Karina Ortiz) and Tommaso (Jonathan Higginbotham); the Croat is going to smash them to bits.
Any plan involving sneaking into a heavily armed fortress surrounded by the hungry undead is going to be a difficult one to pull off, but at least Amaia and her group make a pretty reasonable attempt at divide and conquer, with Negan and Maggie moving the Croat in one direction and her group taking out the goons that remain behind. Unsurprisingly, everything goes wrong, but the plan itself is solid enough, given their lack of manpower and increasing desperation. Mostly, it allows the second unit team and director Kevin Dowling a chance to craft some very intense set pieces, from the creep through zombie-infested subway tunnels to get into Penn Station to skulking around within the narrow concrete halls of the station itself and further into the big trap set for the group by The Croat and his brotherhood.
The skulking and whatnot is really well done by all involved, but one of the better sequences in the episode is actually played for laughs. Negan has been leading The Croat on a wild goose chase throughout the bowels of MSG; at one point, Negan is up several flights of stairs from The Croat, and the two lock eyes. The Croat yells for him to come talk, Negan keeps running, and The Croat simply shrugs his shoulders. It’s a much-needed punchline for an episode that otherwise would be fairly dry, and it establishes that, perhaps, the Croat’s need for vengeance exists only in Negan’s head, not in the Croat’s reality until Negan refuses The Croat’s gift and crosses a line.
As Negan mentions in this episode, lots of people want him dead, including Maggie. He worked hard to earn forgiveness from the people he’d wronged at Hilltop, but clearly he hasn’t managed to forgive himself for the things he felt like he had to do to keep The Saviors in line. His fatalism, from making arrangements for Ginny’s care to sending his wife and child off to Missouri, stems from a place of pain. Negan deserves to die, according to Negan.
Negan might not want New Babylon to do the job, but he’s made peace with the fact that, one way or another, his misdeeds will catch up to him in the end. He just doesn’t want to take innocent people with him. If that means he does the right thing and it goes bad for him, well, them’s the breaks. Those true believer types are always dangerous, regardless of what side of the moral spectrum they’re on in the Walking Dead universe.