This Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 3
I’m not sure there’s ever been a more polarizing start to a season of The Walking Dead than the first three episodes of season 7. Even season 6, for all of its problems, delivered three very solid opening episodes full of zombies and Wolves. The common thread that tied those episodes together was the emphasis on action. Big setpieces dominated the early part of the season, a nice breath of fresh air for the fans, who longed to see these characters kicking ass again instead of crashing dinner parties.
In comparison, season 7 has had to carry the weight of its premiere episode since before it even aired. The big deaths, which were supposed to launch the show into a brand new story, have really turned out to be distractions. The Walking Dead hasn’t quite been able to get past them. Or rather, the show has refused to give the events of “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” the proper closure they deserve.
How is it that we’re three episodes in and we haven’t properly returned to any of the characters who were in that lineup, who watched Abraham and Glenn get their heads bashed in? How the hell is Rick dealing with things back in Alexandria? “The Well,” while an enjoyable introduction to Ezekiel and the Kingdom, felt very out of place as the follow up to the bloody premiere. “The Cell” doesn’t fare much better.
I know you’re typing manically in the comments that Daryl’s in this episode and that I’m just the dumbest reviewer who ever lived, BUT… Daryl doesn’t even get the benefit of the episode’s attention. “The Cell” is much more about Dwight than it is about Daryl at all, the episode’s title a metaphor for the henchman’s shitty situation after selling his soul to the devil. Austin Amelio, who plays Dwight, does a great job of carrying the episode, in fact.
Dwight spends a lot of time justifying his decisions to the other characters. Like that incredibly annoying “Easy Street” song that plays throughout the episode, Dwight’s moments of self-justification are like a refrain. His conversations with Daryl, the runner, and his ex-wife Sherry are as much about convincing himself that he’s made the right choices as keeping others in line. Each character reacts differently to Dwight’s pitch: the runner firmly rejects it, Sherry helplessly accepts it, and Daryl understands it. But none of those interactions help free Dwight from “the cell.” Dwight tragically ends the episode pretty much right where he started – on the wrong side of that fence. As a character piece, the episode works really well.
But because we still haven’t dealt with the fallout from the premiere, the episode really is about the wrong character. My main issue with the Daryl portion of the episode is how little time is spent actually addressing the elephant in the room: Daryl’s guilt over getting Glenn killed. The fact that it’s only briefly mentioned in conversation is a bit infuriating. The snuff picture, which is admittedly horrifying even now, doesn’t quite hit home, either. Daryl finally breaking down in tears is what sells that scene. It’s what the episode should have been about all along: Daryl dealing with his guilt. Instead, we get Norman Reedus sitting in a cell eating dog food sandwiches for way too many scenes.
The Walking Dead goes for shock value with Daryl when it should go for depth. That said, tonight’s episode is a nice reminder that Reedus can wring every last drop of emotion out of the usually stoic Daryl when the occasion calls for it.
Not quite as successful tonight is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whose presence as Negan is a bit cartoonish throughout the episode. I know that he’s playing the villain pretty close to the source material, but I felt like he was just a bit too animated here. Gone was the sinister edge from the premiere. Maybe it’s just that he was one too many characters in an episode that really just wanted to be about Daryl and Dwight.
While I could almost call the writing poetic, the episode doesn’t quite move things along. Instead, “The Cell” is most successful in fleshing out Dwight, who up to this point had just been another scowling villain. But we don’t get any of the closure this season desperately needs. I hope next week’s 85-minute return to Alexandria is the episode that finally starts to tell a story.
Don’t forget to listen to Den of Geek’s Walking Dead podcast, No Room in Hell:
– Christine Evangelista (Chicago Fire) is quite good as Sherry. I really like her scenes with Daryl because I can’t figure out if it’s a con or not…
– That “Easy Street” song really did make me want to bow down to Negan and become a Savior. Anything to make that shit stop.
– The highway walker scene was pretty cool, except that I wish the writers hadn’t forced an action scene out of it.
– Daryl’s escape attempt also seemed unnecessary, especially since it was thwarted in about a minute. It seemed like a way for the writers to get Daryl to do something that didn’t involve eating dog food sandwiches…
– The show is pretty much sticking to the source material when it comes to the way the Sanctuary works. I wonder if we’ll meet the iron at some point…