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The Walking Dead - The Big Scary U - Review

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The Walking Dead “The Big Scary U” was written by the team of David Leslie Johnson and Angela Kang, with help on the story from Scott M Gimple, and was directed by Michael E Satrazemis. The episode finally takes us back to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Gabriel (Seth Gilliam). This episode is beautifully shot, continuing the seasons love affair with tight closeups. There are numerous scenes mirrored and echoed throughout - Gabriel and Negan both with cross symbols, and the scene of the Lieutenants marching out to face the music - first from Rick and then the workers. I love the way this show uses these layers to add meaning to the scenes.

The episode begins with a black screen and just Gabriel’s voice. At first, it seems that he may be talking to Negan in that trailer, but as soon as the picture is added, it’s clear that Gabriel is praying in his church before they leave. He’s pretty sure he’s going to die, and he’s not asking to live. His redemption has made him no longer fear death, but he does fear a fruitless death. Gilliam is terrific in this episode, and it’s easy to see Gabriel’s sincerity as he asks for purpose. There is a beautiful shot of him kneeling at the center of a visual cross.

The episode then takes us back to what was happening before Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and company arrived in “Mercy.” Simon (Steven Ogg) brings Gregory (Xander Berkeley) breakfast – and not just any breakfast! – pancakes he’s made himself! Simon knows that if his puppet doesn’t perform, Negan will hold Simon accountable. As an aside – how is Ogg’s mustache so black in this episode? Simon makes sure that Gregory has his story straight and assures him that he did the right thing in coming to him.

The next scene places us at the middle of that meeting that Negan was having when Rick arrived. It’s interesting that all the lieutenants appear to be there – and there are so few. This becomes a problem later in the episode when it becomes clear that the top of Negan’s army is far outnumbered by the workers. However, it would also seem to be smart on Negan’s part to keep those he has to trust down to a bare minimum: Simon, Dwight (Austin Amelio), Gavin (Jayson Warner Smith), Regina (Traci Dinwiddie), and Eugene (Josh McDermitt).

Gregory does not have a very receptive audience to his prattling. He does get credit for the title, however. The “U” is not “YOU” – as in Negan – but the “Unknown” and this echoes Gabriel’s prayer from the opening scene. We are scared of the future because we don’t know what it holds. Gregory is desperate to connect with Negan, and Gregory’s own ignorance is fully on display as he says “I don’t like killing any more than you do…” Negan sets him straight right away, pointing out that he does like killing. There’s also strategic advantage in it when you kill the right people at the right time.

Negan’s madness does seem to have a purpose, however. He tells Gregory that by killing one person, you can save hundreds. And that’s what they do – they save people. And of course, Gregory, always slow on the uptake – finally realizes that’s why they call themselves the Saviors. Of course, the big scary U in this occasion is which one person will die. That fear makes all the others fall into line.

Dwight decides that he’s going for a smoke right then – because, as we know, he has work to do. Negan is curious as to why he’s not staying to listen to Gregory. Dwight’s answer pleases Negan. He tells him he doesn’t need to hear it. Whatever Negan decides needs to be done, he’ll do.

Gregory claims he can stop the war before it starts. And Negan clearly knows that Gregory is not still the “guy.” Negan points out that Gregory didn’t know anything about the Widow (Maggie – Lauren Cohen) leading an army of Gregory’s people against Negan in Alexandria. I loved the close up of Negan’s face as he accuses Gregory of playing both sides. Gregory is smart enough to be afraid, and Simon has to reassure him to stop him from babbling.

Simon tells Gregory he believes him, but he has to convince Negan. Simon has a plan. They go in surrounding Gregory with a show of force and if they fall into line great, but otherwise they take “a flyer” on the place and kill everyone. Gregory just about chokes at that declaration. Simon’s plan is to make the other communities fall into line. Negan is not happy – people are a resource!

Negan tells them that people are the foundation of what they’re building there – and as he yells each word, he punctuates it by banging Lucille on the table. Eugene is clearly terrified. And like good dogs, the others all sit with their eyes down. Negan wants to know if Simon is confused about their mission and who’s in charge. Clearly, Negan doesn’t like someone else laying out plans – or is it just Simon? He asks Simon if they are backsliding. This is an interesting comment in the context of Negan telling Gabriel later in the episode that he wasn’t the first leader. Was it Simon?

Simon reassures Negan that they aren’t backsliding. This is simple a “pronounced event and a fragile moment.” Negan agrees and tells them that they need to win it all. Negan’s plan is to kill the right people – Rick, the Widow, and the King (Khary Payton) – in the wrongest possible way and make everyone watch. And it’s at that moment that Rick arrives. Negan assesses the situation and sees that a show of force – the force they have at their disposal won’t work, so he’s going to “chat.”

I loved the shot of them all going out the door. Negan and Simon assess the situation, Dwight knows what to expect, and Gavin curses and is clearly impressed – and knows they’re in trouble. Eugene clearly doesn’t want to have to go out, but he knows he has to follow Negan. Is he ashamed to be seen by his former allies or is he just afraid he’s about to be killed? Fading to black, we pick up where we left off.

Inside the trailer, Negan immediately slams Gabriel to the floor and takes his weapons. He’s surprised that Gabriel’s gun has a full clip. For his own part, Gabriel seemed remarkably unafraid. He tells Negan that he didn’t see any point in emptying the gun when there were too many walkers anyway. Negan then reverses himself. It was a smart play; he was just messing with Gabriel. After all, he just might need an ally to get out of there.

The two sit quietly. Negan tells Gabriel that Rick is an asshole, and Gabriel immediately retorts that Negan is the asshole! Negan tells Gabriel that Rick is going to get people killed, but again, Gabriel turns the accusation onto Negan. Negan, like the rest of us, wonders why Gabriel helped Gregory. Gabriel tells Negan that he fears a fruitless death. Negan points out that Gregory left him – that would be a pointless death. Gabriel has a moment of doubt, and then he realizes that he’s there to take Negan’s confession! Negan calls Gabriel creepy, and Gilliam really sells it with that creepy close up smile.

Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus) question Yago (Charles Halford) about the fight at the mechanical plant. He tells them that nobody won, and Daryl is all over him for what he means – Carol (Melissa McBride) was there! He tells them that everyone is dead – and Daryl refuses to believe it. And he does clarify that the King, his Ax-man (Jerry – Cooper Andrews), and the psyco-short-haired lady (Carol!) got out. Daryl is clearly relieved. Yago echoes Negan’s words when he accuses Rick of causing all the deaths.

Negan is prepared to wait for his people to come and rescue them, but if they think he’s dead, people will die. He also tells Gabriel that he has nothing to confess. He asks why Gabriel became a Priest. He tells Negan that he loved God and people and wanted to bring them together during difficult times. Negan tells Gabriel that he likes to help people through their weakness too – and he’s been doing it his whole life. It’s a little insight into his past, but it still begs more questions. Negan clarifies that people will die because he’s not there to stop it. He begins his own creepy whistle. It’s to his advantage to keep the walkers irritated because that’s really the only signal he can send that he’s still alive.

Meanwhile, the Lieutenants try to figure out what to do. Regina is quick to write Negan off as dead – too quick? What’s her history? Simon points out that he – and everyone in the room – is Negan. He pointedly asks if Regina is someone else, and she immediately says no. Eugene shoots down Regina’s plan. Eugene also very accurately foreshadows the workers unrest. Regina doesn’t want to hear it, but Dwight points out that Eugene is right – the workers have the numbers. Simon agrees that they need to keep them in line. Gavin wants to focus on who betrayed them – it has to be someone in that room.

Dwight gets in Gavin and Regina’s face – they’re getting out of there. Dwight tells Simon if he can’t lead the Saviors out of there, he will! Simon is impressed – and clearly thinks that the rat is Eugene. Eugene, of course, knows it isn’t him and is carefully observing the look of relief on Dwight’s face when Simon calls an end to the meeting.

Eugene then turns up at Dwight’s room – with a present. There’s a nice shot of Daryl’s vest that Dwight is still wearing with the angel wings on the back. This shot is paralleled at the beginning and end of the scene. It’s interesting to contrast where the two are at emotionally at this point. Daryl seems bent on killing whoever it takes, while Dwight seems to be trying to keep as much peace as possible in this episode.

Eugene’s verbal diarrhea never disappoints. He thanks Dwight for supporting his position in the meeting. Eugene has clearly come to be very comfortable in the shadow of Negan’s protection. I also adored that Eugene’s present is pickles – because – pun intended – he knows they will find a way out of the pickle they find themselves in. Eugene notices Dwight’s chess set – and recognizes a fellow nerd. The pieces are still wet… and the red paint becomes a clue later in the episode.

Eugene recognizes that it makes sense for them to think he’s the rat, so he’s even more grateful to Dwight for sticking up for him. Dwight downplays it, saying he just supported what Eugene said because it was right. He’s also clearly trying to stay under the radar too. It begs the question, however, of whether Eugene already knows Dwight is the leak, and is he trying to join forces with him? Or is he trying to find out so that he can prove his own loyalty by giving up Dwight? Or does Eugene even have a plan of how he’d use the information?

Gabriel is still trying to wrap his head around Negan helping the weak in his previous life. Negan tells him kids – with no elaboration. Was he a teacher? A counsellor? Did he work for Child Services? Negan tells Gabriel that kids need to be shown the way or little assholes grow up to be big ones – but adults also need guidance. Everyone is weak. Gabriel again throws it back at Negan saying that Negan is weak and it’s proven by him killing the innocent. Negan declares that Gabriel is right and wrong. He agrees that he’s weak but not for killing the innocent. It’s not why he’s weak but how.

He also says he’s strong. Everyone is a mix, and you can use your weakness to drive your strength. He tells Gabriel that the place was a free-for-all when he arrived. The last guy who was in charge allowed people to be weak – and Negan doesn’t allow this. Is this a reflection on Simon letting Gregory be weak? He also tells Gabriel that he’s his new special project – he’s going to make him strong and find his special purpose. Gabriel insists that he is strong, he’s killed. He admits that he was part of the attack on the satellite station. Negan points out that they killed his people why they were sleeping. He says that it’s strong, but we are clearly meant to question it.

Gabriel wants to know how Negan is weak. Now that the walkers are breaking through, Gabriel points out that it’s likely that they’ll be dead soon – doesn’t Negan want to confess to get absolution before that? Forgiveness? Negan insists that he didn’t kill anyone who didn’t deserve it. He denies that the workers are slaves. Gabriel brings up Negan’s wives, and Negan insists that every one of those ladies made a choice – and that is the one thing that seems to get to Negan. Gabriel presses about whether there was a first, an actual wife. Negan seems to be almost praying as he says “Lucille, give me strength,” holding the bat like a cross.

Gabriel makes a play for the gun in Negan’s waistband, but to no effect. Gabriel scuttles into the other room and shuts the door while Negan takes his frustration out on the walkers trying to get in. He tells Gabriel that its clear no one is coming. It’s time for them to leave.

Rick and Daryl unload the jeep and find a box of explosives along with the guns. Daryl reminds Rick that the Kingdom is gone now – they know what they’ve got to do, but Rick isn’t on board. Daryl wants to simply blow up the Sanctuary – regardless of who’s in side – and let the walkers in. They’ll surrender. If there are any of them left alive to do so.

Rick points out that there are families inside, and Daryl suggests just blowing open the north side – the workers are in the south. Rick picks that apart too. The walkers could beat them in. Doing it could push the workers to becoming fighters and standing with the Saviors. Rick points out that if everyone fights them, they don’t have the numbers because… they don’t have the Kingdom anymore.

Rick says they aren’t doing it, and Daryl says, no, Rick’s not doing it. He is. And finally, we see the anger and frustration and guilt that Daryl has been carrying boil over. He tells Rick that a lot of their people are dead. Things change. Daryl puts the blame on Negan – in the same way that Negan blames others – anyone who dies is Negan’s fault. Rick insists that he’s not going to let Daryl do it – and Daryl insists it’s not his choice.

The two friends come to blows. As they fight, Rick throws the bag back to the jeep, which catches fire. Daryl switches pretty quickly from choking Rick out to offering him a hand up to run away before all the weapons and explosives go up in a huge fireball. This scene is intercut with Eugene playing a video game in his room when the power is cut. Tensions are about to boil over in the Sanctuary too.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Rick’s car doesn’t want to start. Daryl comes up on his bike and there’s a strained tension between the two friends. Rick insists that they have to stick to the plan, but Daryl is convinced that they aren’t winning. Rick agrees, but they have to. The only mention of their fight is when Rick chides Daryl that a chokehold is illegal. It’s such an hilarious throwback to a time long gone, but is also a symbol of honor among men. Daryl doesn’t apologize – he just agrees that it is. It’s also a symbol of how far Daryl is willing to go. He’ll sacrifice honor to win at any cost – though we can take hope that he does still care about Rick.

Rick tells Daryl it’s time for their last play. Daryl asks him if he’s sure about it – he still cares about Rick’s safety. Rick is sure, but it looks like he’s walking. Daryl agrees – with no sympathy, because he is still mad at him! – and drives off. Presumably, Daryl also has other tasks to perform.

Back at the Sanctuary, Negan prepares to rescue himself – with Lucille’s help of course. Negan echoes his sentiment from earlier in the episode. Their most important weapon is each other – people are a resource. And clearly, that’s why Negan hasn’t killed Gabriel. It’s also an interesting explanation of how Negan can kill people and feel no guilt. If they are no more than wheat, electricity, or blankets, they have no meaning beyond that.

Negan gives Gabriel a choice: he can kill him or Gabriel can work with him. Negan insists he prefers people work with him. Gabriel then confesses to Negan, telling him about his congregation and his desire to make up for his sin by trying to be of service and living with a purpose. Just fyi? You should never tell Negan your greatest weakness (see above…). Gabriel offers Negan a pardon, penance, and absolution. Gabriel promises to go with Negan and that he will show him that working together as equals is the only true way to grace – and to a future. I loved the shot of Negan listening to Gabriel – Morgan is truly wonderful in this episode as he slowly reveals so much of Negan’s inner self by just his facial expressions. There’s no question that Negan is listening to what Gabriel is saying. He knows that he does need that pardon.

Gabriel once more asks Negan to confess. Negan tells Gabriel that what he did was some horrible, cowardly, spineless shit – but that’s what a confession is supposed to be. And that’s Gabriel’s tactic. He’s clearly not a bad Priest. He exposes himself in an effort to encourage Negan to do the same – and he does. Negan tells Gabriel that his first wife was a real wife. His only real wife. She died before “all this.” He lied to her and cheated on her. She was already sick, but didn’t die until after, and he couldn’t put her down. That is his weakness. And OMG – he has quite a lot in common with Morgan (Lennie James), doesn’t he?!?!

Gabriel immediately opens the door and tells Negan that he’s forgiven – and Negan punches him right in the face! He tells him thanks – and that he can keep his gun. They break open a walker and cover themselves in guts. I loved the little exchange between the two. Negan asks if anyone’s ever gotten sick from covering themselves with a walker that’s been baking in the Virginia sun, and Gabriel replies that they’re from Georgia! Just another little way that they are ever so slightly different – and better in Gabriel’s eyes.

Negan and Gabriel let the walkers into the trailer and then shuffle out amongst the crowd. Gabriel goes down, attracting the walkers’ attention and Negan comes back to his aid. The two make it to the platform only to be faced by a waterfall of walkers – and the scene cuts to the escalation of unrest within the Sanctuary.

Gavin points out that nobody has come up the roads. His outpost doesn’t miss deliveries. Clearly, that Rick guy is clearly behind it! The Lieutenants don’t seem to have come up with a whole lot of anything. Laura (Lindsley Register) bursts in – they’re coming up the stairs! Eugene assumes it’s walkers – always his biggest fear – but it’s the workers. Laura just wants to shoot them.

Simon, however, takes over and goes out to address them – and it’s a perfect mirror of the scene earlier in the episode when the group shuffles out to confront Rick. Gavin even mutters a curse under his breath again, and Eugene looks around furtively. He hasn’t exactly treated the workers well either. Simon tries to reason with them and placate them.

When Gary (Mike Seal) pushes back, Simon is ready to take a Negan approach, and it’s Dwight who jumps in to try to defuse the situation. After all, like Rick, he doesn’t want to see the workers hurt or turned into soldiers that might fight against them. Brooke (Brooke Jaye Taylor) articulates the deal: they work and the fighters are supposed to protect them.

Things start to escalate when the workers start asking where Negan is and one of the workers pulls a gun. Regina shoots him with no hesitation. They’ve been calling for Negan and she tells them, “I am Negan!” Again, a nice throwback to the earlier scene. Simon has been trying to act like Negan, but Regina is the one to really pull it off. She stems the tide, but it’s the sound of Negan’s whistle that brings everyone to their knees, including Gabriel.

He gives them all a refresher on who he is; “I wear a leather jacket, I carry Lucille, and my nut-sack is made of steel. And I am not dying until I’m damn good and ready.” Negan is going to clean up, and then talk to his right hand man – Simon – to figure out how all this happened. Then they’ll get back to saving people. And the workers thank him! They thank God for him – and Negan looks at Gabriel and tells him that’s why he’s there – this is Negan’s purpose. He has Gabriel taken to number 2 – and Eugene looks stricken as Gabriel is lead away.

The workers gun came from their own armory. It’s clear that one of their own is a traitor. And this is a wrinkle I didn’t see coming. Clearly, Dwight is also arming the workers – but not all of them seem like they are sympathetic to overthrowing Negan. Did the worker who was shot jump the gun (as it were) and start shooting because he thought Negan was dead and this was the start of the coup? It’s during this meeting that Eugene notices the red paint on the bag – he knows that it’s Dwight. Eugene looks angry as he looks at Dwight – but he doesn’t say anything. And it's another parallel shot from the earlier meeting.

As the meeting breaks up, Negan holds Eugene back. He tells Eugene that if he solves the problem with the bad smelling convention outside, he’ll make him very happy. How do you not love all of Negan’s turns of phrase? He also tells him that if he tries his best and doesn’t solve it, Negan will kill him quickly – to spare him from seeing what happens when they run out of food and water. He’s got Eugene’s back – and he wants to know if Eugene has his – and of course, Eugene nods – but he also still doesn’t give up Dwight.

Eugene goes to formally welcome Gabriel to the Sanctuary. I love how he re-introduces himself to Gabriel – who’s known him forever. They’ve eaten dog together and Eugene assumes that bonds them in some way for life! McDermitt really does an outstanding job with this character. So much of Eugene is told on his face – and with his voice. Here he has his “I’m in charge/officious” voice on.

He’s brought Gabriel a care package of sorts. When he opens the door, it seems that Gabriel is sick – has been bitten? Unlikely. Eugene is determined to get Gabriel to Dr Carson asap, but Gabriel insists that Carson is Maggie’s doctor and they have to get him out of the Sanctuary and back to her.

Did Rick really see that helicopter as he was walking through the woods? It’s clear that he’s heading to the junkyard as their outlook spots him.

This was another fast paced and well crafted episode. I loved the many echoes in the episode. It’s also interesting to start unpacking Negan and to see how he got to be here – and just how closely his story parallels Morgan’s. We know where Rick is going, but where is Daryl going? The Kingdom to check on Carol? The Hilltop to rally those troops? Is Rick insane to be going back to Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh)? What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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