After spending a satisfying hour at the Kingdom, we go back to torture and torment at Negan’s compound, where Daryl’s being held hostage. Negan wants to break him (just like Rick), but Daryl won’t fold that easily. On the surface, episode 7.3 was very similar to the season 7 premiere, but what sets “The Cell” (written by Angela Kang) apart is the character study of Dwight, who we come to find out is more complex than meets the eye.

The Walking Dead loves to take upbeat tunes and play them out in irony, and that’s what we get at the beginning of the episode, as we see Dwight and the Saviors collecting their offerings from other survivors – to The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice,” and later, when Daryl is being tortured with the peppy (and obscure) “Easy Street.’

While Dwight eats well and lives in his comfortable apt, Daryl sits naked in a dark, damp cell, eating dog food sandwiches. Dwight’s been chosen for the task of breaking Daryl, and he seems to revel in it initially. This Dwight is very different from the one we saw in Season Six’s “Always Accountable” – the one who wouldn’t kill because “There’d be no going back.” This Dwight enjoys being a big deal around the compound, taking what he wants and getting people to do what he says. But in exchange for this lavish lifestyle of his, there was a price to be paid. Dwight tried to escape Negan’s clutches – and could have, with Daryl’s help. Instead he chose to go back, got punished with a face full of iron, and gave up his wife to Negan (when Sherry made a deal to become Negan’s “wife”  to save Dwight’s life). And though he’s now Negan’s right-hand man, he still endures Negan’s taunts and condescension, especially when Negan offers to reward Dwight’s good work with the “privilege” of sleeping with Sherry for one night (which Dwight declines). Clearly, Dwight is in a cell too. But unlike Daryl’s, it’s a cell constructed from Dwight’s choices, which ultimately destroyed his self-respect and humanity.

Dwight’s only reprieve from the prison of his own making is getting outside the compound’s walls to chase runaways. When Dwight catches up with Gordon (one of the unlucky survivors who must work for points in the compound), his choices come back to haunt him – again. Gordon begs for Dwight’s help, even suggesting they stand up and fight Negan (Gordon’s question  of “There’s only one of him and all of us, so why are we living like this?” was the most logical one posed so far this season). But Dwight won’t do what’s hard, and would rather have giant egg sandwiches and a comfy easy chair then risk death during an uprising. He ends up shooting Gordon in the back (ensuring Gordon would turn and Dwight would have his trophy to show Negan), but his action did end Gordon’s misery, so we’re left to surmise Dwight could have a bit of humanity left somewhere inside him.

TWD 7.3 Dwight and Daryl

Daryl, on the other hand, won’t make those same compromises. He’ll endure torture and Negan’s threats (and the moment when Negan swings Lucille at Daryl was a cheap scare), but he won’t bend to Negan’s will. Sherry (who, like Dwight, is in her own personal Hell) tries to help Daryl by basically telling him to give in, though that’s just not in Daryl to do. But after making a failed escape attempt, enduring a severe beating, and being made to look at a polaroid of Glenn’s remains (courtesy of Dwight, of course), Daryl breaks down. Daryl is brought to Negan once more, where Negan asks him his famous “Who are you?” question. This moment immediately took me back to one of the most powerful scenes in television history, (In the epic 1977 mini-series Roots, when a tortured Kunta Kinte proclaims his name), and nothing can ever come close to the poignancy and power of that declaration. Still, there’s something inherently moving about a person being stripped of everything, who will still stand up and assert their identity, and when Norman Reedus quietly yet resolutely said “Daryl,” it was a fist pump kind of moment.

Ultimately, Daryl goes back to his cell, and a frustrated (though probably somewhat envious) Dwight yells at Daryl that he will end up “In that room or hanging on the fence” Daryl understandingly tells Dwight “I get why you did it. Why you took it. You were thinking about someone else. That’s why I can’t.” It’s not clear if Daryl is thinking of his whole group, honoring Glenn’s memory, or maybe even thinking about Carol. Whatever the case, he’s determined to stay true to who he is, even though he knows what that will mean for him. 

This episode brought us more of the same in terms of Negan’s reign of terror, and I must confess that it’s becoming quickly tiresome for me to see the same basic scenes played out over again in slightly altered ways. Negan just isn’t that compelling of a character – at least not right now – to be content to see him repeatedly strutting around, getting off on torturing people. It’s actually kind of eye-roll inducing. But this episode did give us more backstory and character development on both Dwight and Sherry, and so far, they’re characters who have potential to be interesting additions to our core group, especially if they start to change loyalties.

TWD 7.3 Daryl in the cell

We haven’t seen Rick and his people since the season premiere, and it’s time to go back to Alexandria and explore how the group is coping in the aftermath of Abraham and Glenn’s deaths. Rick is a broken man, but the others will still be looking to him for guidance. At this point, it’s up in the air as to how things will play out for the rest of the season. If the show follows the comics – SPOILERS AHEAD – there will be all out war. But right now, it doesn’t seem likely that will be shown this year. Instead, we’ll probably see life in the different survivor areas – Alexandria, Hilltop, The Kingdom, and Negan’s compound, with a few episodes focusing on 2 or three characters at a time sprinkled in to the rest of the season as well. I’m hoping we get some interesting storylines, and not just more of Negan’s brutality. Ultimately, we’re going to need to see Rick and the others achieve some victories over Negan and the Saviors, even if they’re only small ones. You can’t have a big bad without a fight from the other side. Every story needs someone to root for – and despite those who enjoy Negan, it’s impossible to cheer him on. It will probably be a long time before Negan gets what’s coming to him, so for now, we’ll have to hope Rick and his gang at least get in some sucker punches.

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