Spoiler Warning for Season 7, Episode 3 of “The Walking Dead”
Beginning midway through the fifth season, “The Walking Dead’s” universe slowly began to expand with the introduction of Alexandria. Later, the Hilltop Colony and more recently, the Kingdom, were introduced to help showcase the fact that life still exists and thrives in the harsh post-apocalyptic landscape. Throughout Season 6, the Saviors slowly revealed themselves to be a formidable force before the climatic introduction of Negan in the finale. Now, viewers are introduced to yet another community with its own set of rules and organization, once again establishing a larger world. While it is far darker than last week’s breath of fresh air, this episode perfectly develops and introduces multiple characters while setting storylines into play and answering several questions.
“The Cell” begins with a montage of daily life for Dwight in the Savior community known as The Sanctuary, which is an old factory and warehouse complex. Dwight watches VHS tapes of “Who’s The Boss?” and makes himself a sandwich, using supplies that he takes from other residents of The Sanctuary. He also collects tomatoes and lettuce from the community garden, which isn’t nearly as impressive as that of The Kingdom, but does illustrate the fact that The Sanctuary is at least somewhat self-sufficient. Dwight eats his sandwich outside and stares at the fenced area of walkers that protects the community from outside threats; this defensive tactic is similar to that seen in “Fear the Walking Dead” with La Colonia. After finishing his sandwich, Dwight makes his way to a small dark room inside the compound where Daryl is being held after being taken prisoner by the Saviors in the season premiere. Dwight gives a sandwich made with dog food to Daryl, who is completely naked and alone. Daryl eats the food and sits in the dark room as time passes and Dwight returns periodically to deliver a dog food sandwich; painfully annoying music blares constantly. Eventually, Dwight arrives and gives Daryl some clothing, however, it is only a prisoner-esque jumpsuit with an “A” on the back. It isn’t entirely clear what this “A” is meant to represent. One possibility is that it signifies that Daryl is from Alexandria; other prisoners with different letters are shown throughout the episode. It may also be a reference to the repeating occurrence of the letter “A,” seen at Terminus and with Sam after the group’s arrival at Alexandria.
After an uncertain amount of time passes, Dwight returns to Daryl’s cell and escorts him to see the community doctor, Emmett Carson (Tim Parati). It’s worth noting that The Sanctuary’s doctor shares the same last name with the Hilltop’s doctor, Harlan Carson; could they be related or is this just a coincidence? In the office, Daryl is reunited with Dwight’s wife Sherry, who last appeared in “Always Accountable.” Dwight orders Sherry not to talk to Daryl before noticing a negative pregnancy test. Dr. Carson looks over Daryl and explains that he will be fine and that Negan will take care of him. While Dwight is walking with Daryl, Negan appears and asks to speak with Dwight. A Savior named Fat Joey (Joshua Hoover) watches over Daryl, who notices a comfortable bedroom, a stark contrast to Daryl’s lifeless prisoner cell. Dwight brings Daryl outside and shows him the walker wall, which several prisoners are working on repairing. Dwight warns Daryl that he could wind up working on that dangerous job if he doesn’t cooperate. Daryl is thrown back into his cell, but confidently tells Dwight that he will never kneel for Negan. The music is turned back on and Daryl is left alone once again to contemplate his current situation.
Sometime later, Negan meets with Dwight to discuss the breakdown of Daryl. They both agree that it is going slowly, but that it is working. Negan congratulates Dwight and offers him a night with Sherry or one of the other women in The Sanctuary. Dwight declines, prompting Negan to poke fun at the altercation between Eugene and Dwight in “Twice as Far.” A Savior interrupts the conversation over walkie-talkie to alert Negan of a runaway survivor from the community. Negan tells Dwight to find someone to take care of it, but Dwight volunteers to handle it himself. This scene helps to demonstrate the class system that exists among the Saviors; those that are most loyal to Negan enjoy the benefits of a more comfortable life with far less responsibilities. Dwight leaves The Sanctuary on his motorcycle, but runs into trouble after coming across several mangled walkers under an overpass. A walker falls from the overpass and lands near Dwight, causing a tense and bloody fight. After subduing the walkers, Dwight notices the runaway Savior down the road and makes his way to confront him. Dwight orders the man to return to The Sanctuary at gunpoint, but the Savior refuses, stating that life under Negan isn’t worth the pain, trouble and hardship. The Savior begs Dwight to kill him, but Dwight demands that he return and threatens to make life for his friends even more difficult. The Savior agrees to comply and begins walking, but Dwight shoots him in the back. Could this be an act of malice or did Dwight mercifully kill the man to protect him from the wrath he would face from Negan? While Dwight’s actions are open to interpretation by the viewer, there is clearly some sense of discontent with Negan’s leadership present in Dwight’s character.
Back at The Sanctuary, Daryl manages to escape his cell and make his way down the maze of corridors. He avoids the various Saviors, but Sherry sneaks up behind him and urges him to return to his cell before he is caught. Daryl ignores the warning and finds an exit; the exit leads him to an outdoor area where several motorcycles are parked. Multiple Saviors appear with Negan, who terrifyingly asks “are we pissing our pants yet?,” a chilling callback to his deadly introduction. Negan confronts Daryl and explains that he failed at his opportunity to better his living situation at The Sanctuary. He then asks several Saviors “who are you?” to which they respond “Negan.” This furthers the philosophy that Negan is a present force everywhere; this concept was first mentioned back in “The Same Boat,” in which Paula and her group described their allegiance to Negan. While swinging Lucille around and unnervingly near Daryl, Negan presents three options to his irrepressible prisoner; death, working for points or working for Negan are the three options that Daryl has to choose from. After not receiving an answer, Negan walks away as Daryl is beaten by a group of Saviors. Once again, Daryl’s strength is demonstrated as he refuses to even acknowledge Negan’s superiority.
After Dwight returns to The Sanctuary, he meets with Sherry secretly. He asks how she is doing, wondering if Negan is taking care of her. Afterwards, he visits Daryl in his cell to deliver food, which Daryl rejects. Dwight continues the sinister mind games by taping a horrifying Polaroid photo of Glenn’s bashed skull on the wall. Daryl throws the photo to the ground, but decides to take a brief look at it. While incredibly cruel and devastating, forcing Daryl to look at the photo allowed him to properly begin the mourning process for his dear friend. Daryl slides to the floor in a fit of tears as the reality of this heartbreaking loss begins to hit him. There is a clear sense of guilt that Daryl feels for the death of Glenn. This has been a major point of discussion in the fan base with many agreeing that while Daryl did cause Glenn’s death, he isn’t responsible and shouldn’t be blamed. Regardless, this death will clearly have a resounding effect on Daryl, but will possibly propel him to keep fighting and stand resiliently against the methodical techniques that are being used to break him.
Dwight returns to the cell and removes Daryl, bringing him to the higher-quality bedroom that was seen earlier; in the room, Negan waits with Lucille in hand. Negan greets Daryl and begins explaining the story of how Dwight came to be one of his most loyal fighters. Dwight used to work on the point system with Sherry and her sister Tina. After falling behind, the trio left The Sanctuary with the full supply of insulin for Tina, who was diabetic. The events of “Always Accountable” occurred, including the run-in with Daryl, before Sherry and Dwight decided that they needed to return to the safety of their community. They begged for forgiveness from Negan, who agreed to an arrangement proposed by Sherry; Negan marries Sherry, therefore saving Dwight’s life, although he still faced punishment in the form of a face burning by an iron. After telling the story, Negan once again offers Daryl a comfortable life if we will answer one question, “who are you?” Negan asks again and after an extended silence, Daryl fearlessly answers with his own name. Dwight returns Daryl to his cell and scolds him for not cooperating with Negan. Daryl tells Dwight that he understands why he chose to kneel and comply, but explains that he can’t do it himself. Dwight makes his way outside and stares at the walker fence, which now contains the Savior that escaped earlier in the episode; this is a chilling metaphor that showcases the fact that even in death, there is no escaping The Sanctuary. Is this some form of foreshadowing to Daryl’s long term story in the series? Will he be a permanent resident of this grim community?
“The Cell” is another fascinating character study that provides a substantial amount of development for Daryl and Dwight. As painfully difficult as it is to see Daryl in such a horrible situation, it is refreshing to have him in a completely different environment than we have seen him before. His relationship with Dwight continues to be gripping and powerful, especially when considering the fact that much of their conflict could have been avoided if Daryl chose to kill Dwight during their original meeting. This episode opens up the possibility that Dwight isn’t fully committed to Negan’s way of life. Will cracks in their odd relationship begin to form moving forward? Seeing Negan in a more relaxed, yet still tense, domain is also interesting to watch; before this episode, we really only saw him during that fateful night. The reintroduction of Sherry is also a highlight with this episode and I am very much curious to see where her character goes as the season progresses; will she help Daryl or will she avoid shining unnecessary attention on herself? Another highlight is the introduction of The Sanctuary and the politics of Savior life. After the seeing the peacefulness of The Kingdom last week, I am certain that The Sanctuary is one of the last places that I would like to live, especially if I would have to listen to the cringe-worthy sounds of “we’re on easy street.” Next week’s episode will focus on the main group at Alexandria following the deaths of Glenn and Abraham. Be sure to tune in to “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.