Finally we’re addressing the elephant in the season. We’re a mere five episodes into The Walking Dead season 8 and it’s only now that we’re returning to discover the fate of our favourite antagonist. Back in the first episode of this season, we left Negan and Father Gabriel trapped in a caravan surrounded by quite the entourage of Walkers; Gabriel armed with a loaded pistol and Negan with Lucille. Would Gabriel kill Negan? Would Negan get the first blow? Or would they both succumb to the army of Walkers surrounding them? Spoilers to follow.
These are all questions that season 8 has so far failed to answer. In all its meandering and tiger killing, it managed to practically forget Negan even existed. Reducing him to none other than a ‘Will they? Won’t they?’ monologue in the back of viewers’ minds every episode. But thankfully, the The Big Scary U has delivered. At last. It finally resolves the whole caravan situation - but in true Walking Dead style - does it in the slowest possible manner.
Episode 5 puts the majority of its focus on what’s happening on the Saviours’ side of the ‘All Out War’ and it’s not quite as rosy as anyone on that camp would have you believe. The sense of hopefulness that has (mostly) pervaded the season on behalf of Rick’s crew is very much absent from the Saviours’ troops. And part of that is down to the absence of Negan himself. His deputies - and Eugene, who’s now known as the “answers man” - are trying to come up with some kind of solution for their major Walker problem, before the underfed and overworked workers start revolting. It goes a way to explaining just how Rick and his crew got the upper hand; proving that Dwight’s subterfuge has been key in making all this happen after all.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that the script is still so readily dire. There’s a whole scene at the beginning with Gregory, Simon, and some pancakes that I entirely forgot because it was just dull and pointless. And I actually laughed out loud at how bad some of Negan’s dialogue is. Every time we’ve seen him this season he’s talked about dicks, and this episode there’s references to “pencil-thin” and “big, veiny” ones in one single speech, and that’s just after he mentions he “rubbed one out” to ease the stress of potential death. Later on, he reminds his followers that: “I wear a leather jacket, I have Lucille, and my nutsack is made of steel.” If that’s not proof of the really bad, lazy scriptwriting of season 8 I’m not sure what is. Surely Negan hasn’t risen to power by swinging Lucille and constantly talking about his undercarriage.
Any sense of suspense that is created by the fact we haven’t seen Negan for five episodes is quickly lost by the fact they’re still in the caravan for most of the episode, with Gabriel begging for Negan to take confession. Yes, we learn a little bit of what Negan was like before all this - spoiler, he’s never been the best of chaps - but it’s quite clear that the writers are trying to inject backstory where it’s not needed. Negan is a mystery, a horrible, bloodlusting mystery that propels the story forward in a way that little else can nowadays in The Walking Dead. Stop trying to humanise the monster, it just doesn’t work.
Like the previous episode, it all feels predictable too. Even the mid-episode cliffhanger isn’t made enough of, as it’s so quickly resolved that you forget it was even an issue at all. What is kind of interesting though is that for a brief moment we’re taken back to Rick and Darryl, who were left trying to get the heavy gun out of the back of the crashed jeep at the end of last episode. Well, they’re still there and they’re having a lovers’ tiff. What it comes down to is that Darryl wants to kill everyone and Rick doesn’t. The bromance is dead and it might be the most real the series has felt this season, especially when Darryl makes Rick walk home after he drives off like a real lovers’ spat.
At least the ending of the episode offers some intrigue. But I’ve said that before and found myself still wondering how it’s all going to end three episodes later. With each episode it’s clear that AMC is stretching the little plot it has too thin. Everything that’s happened so far in season 8 could have occurred in two episodes or so, rather than five. The fact that all these events seemingly occur within a few hours is insane, as it feels like it’s been so strung out it could have been years since Rick and co launched the attack on the Sanctuary.
Thankfully the episode is redeemed by the return of Negan. Despite all that bad dialogue and talk of wangs, it's a welcome relief to see that leather jacket again.