The Cell was episode #3 of the season, and once again we’re pursuing other story arcs instead of checking in with our group in Alexandria. I don’t know how I feel about that; the Kingdom episode was cool and a completely welcome change of tone from the devastating premiere, but two episodes in a row without news of Rick & co? As interesting as the hostage Daryl/Dwight/Negan dynamic might be, it feels a bit too much time away from the other main characters.

Let’s take it from the top: whoa that was one hell of a cold open. First of all, TVs work in the Sanctuary? Hell, I’d sign on with the Saviors for that alone! 

Okay, not really, but I loved the choice of sitcom, because of course no show would be more fitting than Who’s The Boss? (We all know it’s Tony Danza, but I guess in this reality, Daryl needs quite a bit of a nudge to get with the program and realize it’s Negan).

If not for JDM and his portrayal of the charismatic sociopath that is Negan, who really destroys every scene he’s in, the cold open would have been my favorite part of the episode, and not just for the delicious, juicy fried egg sandwich we watch Dwight prepare and chow down. It says a lot about Negan’s fiefdom and Dwight’s role in this scheme of things without doing so explicitly, and that’s where TWD storytelling excels when it’s done right.

And this time it was – from the kneeling subjects to Dwight enjoying the perks of his high position in the ranks by just taking what he wants, all the way to the contrasting reality of people working for points and walkers on spikes and, of course, Daryl.

Oh Daryl. I bet all the fangirls threatening to riot if he dies didn’t exactly get the nude scene they were hoping for when they saw Daryl curled up in the fetal position on the floor of his dark, filthy cell, subjected to musical torture in the form of Easy Street playing on a loop, chomping down on a dogfood sandwich. Yikes.

The opening scene set the tone for the entire episode, which didn’t really give us much – if anything at all – in the way of plot advancement, but it did offer insight into Negan’s world, as well as Dwight’s place in it.

For one thing, we get Dwight’s back story, which sheds some new light into the plot of “Always Accountable” from last season and what has happened since. In a nutshell, D and ‘Honey’, whose real name we now know is Sherry, made a run for it and then decided to return to the Sanctuary; with Sherry’s sister – Negan’s maybe-bride-to-be – now dead, Sherry offered herself up for marriage in exchange for D’s life, who got the iron instead of Lucille as punishment for his insubordination.

Having worked his way to the top – as we learn, D used to work for ‘points’ – he’s now one of Negan’s top guys, but that still doesn’t make him immune to the boss’ little tests, teases and heavy doses of sarcasm. One such test was the offer of a night with his now-ex wife, which Dwight passes with flying colors (on top of not even flinching when he runs into her at the infirmary where she’s getting a pregnancy test). Another was having to deal with his friend Gordon, who couldn’t take the regime any more and ran off.

My main problem with this entire scene was the fact that it was largely useless in terms of any actual storyline, right up until D catches up with Gordon. Yeah, the car crash site was gruesome and the bridge-diving walker was a cool touch, but all it did was remind us that we got no action in this episode – again. It would have been fine on its own, but after a dialogue-heavy episode last week, I guess they needed to throw that in because it’s a zombie show after all. What was interesting about it, however, was D’s way of dealing with the problem: he’s very matter-of-fact about their options and chooses the obvious one, the one that keeps him alive and reasonably comfortable. Gordon can’t take it any more, and D needs to prove his loyalty in dealing with his friend who defected: he brings him back as a walker, to work for Negan in that capacity. Dwight hustles, says Negan. Dwight is clearly far from happy, but he’s pragmatic.

Was this a mercy kill? It would have to be a shot to the head for it to qualify as one. This way, he gives Gordon what he asks for, and proves to Negan that he has what it takes as one of his top dogs. And I mean that literally – much like he did when he was trying to break Rick, Negan rewards D with the ‘good boy’ seal of approval.

Just like D had a few choices to make in this episode, so does Daryl: he can work for Negan by becoming one of his henchmen; this is the obvious choice for everyone who values their own lives. He can work for him as a walker, chained and/or impaled outside the Sanctuary fence. Or he can work for points, which is not much of a life – and which I still don’t really get. What exactly do these guys do to earn points? Why the lettered sweatshirts? How do you get more points and how many do you need to go up a level?

“You can be like them… or me”. It’s a moot point, because Daryl’s not having any of it. Being like Dwight seems like a fate worse than death to Daryl. Unlike D, he fails his obvious test: when big Joe leaves his cell door unlocked, he makes a run for it, disregarding Sherry’s advice.

After a nice beating and a great display of power by Negan, who not only has his subjects kneel but also identify as Negan, to prove that he’s “everywhere”, Daryl gets a second chance. Negan gleefully recounts D’s story and concludes by asking him a simple question: Who are you? Choose wisely, and this could all be yours. Once again, however, Daryl chooses curtain B, defiantly says his own name and gets thrown back into the cell.

Now, I know Daryl’s not the brightest bulb in the box, but anyone could have smelled the trap from a mile away, so although his decision was a very Daryl thing to do, it was still so damn frustrating! I can’t help but think of Carol, and how smoothly she’d have adjusted to her new circumstances and made an exemplary Negan henchman, all the while plotting her escape – or, even better, a plan to take Negan down.

Daryl’s not having any of it though. Whatever look Negan was looking for when he finally broke Rick, he’s not getting from Daryl any time soon. Both Dwight and Sherry try to convince him to comply, each in their own way: Dwight shows him what could be his: a position of power, nice living arrangements, decent food. Sherry tries to instill the fear of Negan in him.

Neither one makes as big an impression as the stark reminder of what Negan is capable of, delivered in the form of a snuff polaroid of Glenn’s bashed-in skull. Daryl is angry and sad and devastated and alone and mourning but he’s also cornered like a wild animal, and that makes him unpredictable. But right now he’s just guilty and ashamed, because he (partly) caused his friend’s death.

It will be interesting to see how Daryl proceeds from now on – especially because we know unpredictable Daryl is the best kind of Daryl, but also because watching our heroes cowed and hopeless isn’t really fun for anyone, and I’m looking forward to more of D’s character development, because it’s obvious that, as much as he’s established himself as one of Negan’s men, he’s probably not 100% committed, or 100% evil for that matter. And then there’s Sherry, who seems like the only decent person we’ve met so far in Negan’s camp.

Final thoughts:

  • Negan (and Lucille) are sticklers for the rules. He thinks of himself as a stand-up guy, and at least in one instance he does appear to be so: he won’t stand for rape. He offers D whichever lady he wants, as long as she says yes. Not the most ringing endorsement for his character, but at least he draws the line at non-consensual sex.
  • I loved the callback to Eugene’s epic penis-biting and Negan’s cruel teasing of Dwight.
  • This was the second time we hear Negan deliver the “are we pissing our pants yet?” line, and it wasn’t nearly as effective the second time around. Not only was the situation nowhere near as terrifying as the line-up in the premiere, but it also just felt out of place in this instance.
  • Daryl not even flinching when Negan swung Lucille was a great moment, and kudos to JDM for his excellent reaction. “Wow, you don’t scare easy“; boy is that an understatement!
  • Gordon’s defection didn’t look like an isolated incident. Does that mean there’s dissent among the ranks? If enough of the point-workers decided to rebel against Negan’s tyranny, would any of his henchmen join in? After all, there’s only one of him, as Gordon points out. And he makes them kneel!
  • Although I thought Easy Street was kind of an odd choice as the let’s-break-Daryl soundtrack, Roy Orbinson’s Crying was right on the money when Daryl finally breaks down and cries over the loss of Abraham and Glenn.

And that’s all I got for this week; overall not a disappointing episode, but nothing to write home about either. However, next week’s extended episode – to a whopping 85 minutes of run time – is bound to be a doozy!