Originally published on Flickering Myth on 07/11/16.
Negan fans rejoice, for the barbed-wire lovin’ bandito finally returned to our screens this week, and certainly with a vengeance. Although once again, it wasn’t really his show. ‘The Cell’ kindly gave us the first Daryl-centric episode in a little while, and an adorable little notch further in his and Dwight’s ongoing relationship (/bromance? I’m pretty sure even they don’t quite know what it is yet).
It did mean more time away from Rick and his fellow Alexandrians though, but in spite of such liberties, ‘The Cell’ was chocked full of seriously solid content and some genuinely iconic moments. Season 7 is on a total roll…
1. Easy Street
Considering it’s a show set mostly deep within a series of rural, post-apocalyptic communes, The Walking Dead isn’t particularly fond of pop music, so when a little splash of colour was dropped into this week’s episode, it made a nice change. It may have proven a tad annoying over time, but easily in the best way possible.
With Daryl now very much Negan’s prisoner, he’s thrown in a tiny, solitary, windowless cell and forced to endure hour upon hour of torture, consisting of frequent nudity, dog food sandwiches and the little-known (but insanely catchy) indie tune ‘Easy Street’ by The Collapsable Hearts Club, played on an endless loop. It’s an odd choice, but certainly one that gives Negan an edge on The Governor when it comes to sadistic baddies; not only will he test your will to live, he’ll make you suffer through the most infuriating music possible whilst he does so.
2. “You Will Kneel”
Basically the entirety of this week’s episode was devoted to one thing and one thing only; Negan’s plans for Daryl’s future; namely how he’s going to ‘break’ him and turn him into a Saviour. Something which, of course, Daryl is understandably very hesitant to do. I mean, who the hell wants to be a bad guy right? Well, something The Walking Dead crew have always done pretty well is villains, and this crazed barbarian cult are no exception.
Using Dwight as Daryl’s Saviour parallel, the show pretty neatly shows us how the group works underneath all the bludgeoning and general extortion. Dwight isn’t portrayed as the weak-minded bitch-maid he was hinted as last season, he’s a struggling survivor who gave up everything (including his own wife) to follow a man who categorically broke him mentally. In his speech to Daryl, where he attempts to convince the show’s local hard-case to join Negan’s cause, he makes some worryingly good points. We actually understand where he’s coming from, which actually ends up being way scarier than anything Negan’s done to date.
3. The Fake Out
We should’ve known Daryl’s jailbreak wouldn’t go anywhere. Left with a surprisingly inept guard who mysteriously leaves the door open, our man finally makes a break for safety, but very obviously ends up surrounded by burly men with bruised fists. When Negan shows up, swinging Lucille like there’s no tomorrow, there’s even a hint of a similarly bloody end for Daryl, but let’s be honest, we kinda knew he’s still got some time left in him yet.
That didn’t exactly make Negan’s well-tuned fake-out any less tense though, and his speech about Daryl’s options certainly put things into perspective. The future’s not exactly looking bright for the fan favourite.
4. Daryl Breaks (or at least we think he does)
It’s gotten to the point now where it feels like the show can just instantly spark up an iconic moment by marking it with a pop song. The (count it) third of the episode strikes at a particularly sad moment, blaring Roy Orbison’s painfully-apt ‘Crying’ at the very moment Daryl appears to break before our eyes. Faced with imprisonment, torture, and the knowledge that he got Glenn killed, the moody biker finally lost it, bawling his eyes out.
Yet, just minutes later, we’re treated to arguably season 7’s most triumphant moment so far; faced with the final decision, to kneel before Negan or join the ranks of the great unwashed, Daryl refuses. It seems it’ll take a whole lot more to break the hardened soul we’ve come to know and love. Expect more uncomfortable torture scenes just around the corner as a result though.
5. Kill of the Week: Gordon
You probably have no idea who Gordon is; hell, even I had to look up his actual name, but to save time, he’s the escaped Saviour who Dwight appears to put down. Because as much as ‘The Cell’ followed Daryl’s (literally) torturous journey through Negan’s perfectly aligned hell, it was just as much about humanising Dwight, and taking a closer look at not only what he does within the Saviours, but how he got there.
In fact, this week’s most telling moment came from its final reveal. Earlier in the episode, Dwight shot Gordon to stop Negan from torturing him and turning him into a walker back at base. Yet, just before those final credits roll, we finally take a look out through the endless reams of barbed wire and mesh fence, only to see a familiar face dotted amongst the newly-turned horde. Yep, Dwight’s not quite the merciful soul we might’ve thought he was, dragging Gordon back to join Negan’s unruly wall of rotting flesh.
Again, ‘The Cell’ might not have quite reached the ridiculously high (and relentlessly miserable) standards of season 7’s barnstorming premiere, but it definitely served as an incredibly useful episode, character-wise, above all else. Seeing Daryl struggle is never easy, especially when we know it’s only going to get worse from here, but with Rick and co. back for next week’s 90-minute follow-up, we can only hope for more gold moments.