This Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 11
In recent years, The Walking Dead has really suffered from a surplus of characters. Too many points of view, backstories, and subplots have often bogged down the central story and stolen precious time from its main cast. Season 7 has especially been guilty of neglecting the show’s main character in order to flesh out a bunch of new players. That said, the two episodes that have focused on minor characters Tara and Eugene have been among the season’s strongest outings.
The Tara episode especially surprised me, mostly because I found her pretty annoying and unnecessary until “Swear” showed just how funny and compelling the character could be when left to her own devices. Her story with the Oceanside settlement gave the show a chance to break away from the dreary, overbearing storylines going on elsewhere. In the same way, “Hostiles and Calamities” puts the cowardly Eugene at its center in order to break up the episode’s more serious and depressing moments. In fact, if there’s one thing this episode is successful at, it’s telling a story that balances drama with a surprising dose of comedy.
Josh McDermitt continues to be hilarious as Eugene, something that isn’t easy when in the Sanctuary, where nothing good ever happens. Eugene finds himself in an unlikely situation, suddenly at the top of the food chain, and McDermitt uses that to his advantage, delivering funny lines about pickles and video games. Unlike Negan’s over-the-top crudity, Eugene’s lack of self-awareness is the humor this show continues to need. His early moments with the Savior henchman and Negan’s wives are especially funny.
I think focusing on Eugene allowed the writers to have some fun with the story too, since he’s so different to every other character. Unlike Daryl or Rick, who use power and strength to stay alive, Eugene is a different kind of survivor, using his smarts and charm to get himself out of sticky situations. The fact that he’s so clearly not a threat to anyone makes it easy for him to thrive in a place like the Sanctuary, which is ruled by power and intimidation. Negan underestimates Eugene as a physical threat, and that’s what allows the man with the golden mullet to slink his way into a position of power.
I don’t buy that Eugene has actually turned into one of Negan’s lackeys, though. To have Eugene actually turn bad because he’s too afraid to fight would be a complete betrayal of the character’s development. Over the years, Eugene has learned to be a bit more formidable – you might remember his RPG-inspired speech to Abraham late last season – and I think his turn at the end of this episode is just an example of how the character has learned to use his specific gifts (his brainpower and surprising cunning) to his advantage. He’ll probably never be able to physically fight his way out of trouble, but we shouldn’t want him to. It’s refreshing to see a character that’s not interested in punching or shooting his way out of dangerous situations. I’m really excited to see what Eugene is up to and how he’s going to stick it to Negan in the end.
“Hostiles and Calamities” also continued to build Dwight up as a possible defector. The writers have been a bit inconsistent with the villain this season – a flawed, relatable character at his best and a cackling henchman at his worst. Tonight’s episode gave us a lot of the former, and it was an effective balance to Eugene’s funnier moments. While we spend a lot of time with Dwight’s good side, that secret part of him that still rebels against Negan, the writers effectively turn all of that on its head when he betrays the doctor and gets him killed in order to save Sherry. It’s an effective twist that shows Dwight’s many layers as a character.
I also have to commend the episode for using what I think is the right amount of Negan – not so much that I was rolling my eyes at every bit of dialogue, but enough to almost make him a little scary. Almost. I think that the second half of the season has so far found the right balance of Negan. Giving him less screen time allows his every appearance to carry a little more weight – something you want from your main villain. Of course, some of the things that have totally crippled the character for me continue to be on full display in “Hostiles and Calamities,” primarily how unlikable and unrelatable he is. There’s nothing redeeming about Negan, something that makes it really hard to enjoy hating him. I just hate him.
It goes back to the show’s insistence on adapting every single facet of Negan’s comic book counterpart. It really hurts the character on screen. The villain is already such a bastard on the show that there’s no reason he also needs the wives storyline. Adding that abusive element to Negan does nothing for the character except make me hate him more than I already do. I think the writers have forgotten that a good villain should be redeemable in some way – or at least have something that explains why he is the way he is. Negan lacks any sort of backstory or good quality (he’s not even a little funny), so the wives subplot is really overdoing it. That said, it’s going to be compelling as hell when these women finally take their oppressor down. At least I hope that’s what happens. These women deserve their revenge.
Ultimately, “Hostiles and Calamities” does something I thought was impossible – deliver a story set in the Sanctuary that doesn’t make me want to stop watching this show for good. I still don’t want to spend much time there, but now that Eugene is there to balance things out a little, it might just be worthwhile.