If you're invested in a TV series, it can be tough watching the protagonist making a decision you know to be dumb. If three protagonists all make a dumb decision — the same dumb decision — it can be agonising. The latest episode of The Walking Dead features three of our "heroes" all enacting doomed, stupid plans. And despite it being yet another needlessly 90-minute episode, only one of them even got close enough to actually fail.
"Sing Me a Song" was not without its good moments, and it certainly wasn't The Walking Dead's worst episode. But if you thought the show was spinning its wheels before (and I most certainly did) the episode was often deeply boring as it repeated information we already knew — hey, did you realise Negan was sort of a bad guy? Don't worry, we spent about 40 minutes just watching him be horrible! — but even that was better than watching Carl, Michonne and Rosita all plan to individually try to kill Negan, even though this is deeply, deeply stupid.
As they know, Negan has a literal army. He's mainly sequestered in a compound at a mostly unknown location. They have no idea what his other assets are, when he might be vulnerable or how to avoid his dozens and dozens of heavily armed soldiers, but they're so determined to avenge Glenn and Abraham's death that apparently they don't care whether they succeed, or live, or if (when) they fail how other people will absolutely be murdered for their attempt on Negan's life. They adamantly refuse to make a plan, or — and this sounds crazy, I know — work together.
Carl comes closest, and I mean that literally, not figuratively. After hiding in the Saviors' truck with Jesus and then tricking him into jumping off the truck (Jesus is also not the sharpest implement in the arsenal of this episode) he simply stays in it until it enters Negan's compound. Carl's plan: Grab a gun from the truck and, once it enters the compound, shoot Negan. What will Carl do if Negan is literally anywhere else in Sanctuary than right by the back of his truck? He will get captured and possibly killed. If Carl somehow does manage to kill Negan? He will also be captured and probably killed.
Luckily enough, Negan is hanging out by the back of the truck after it parks, so Carl takes his chance. Of course, he manages to only kill two of Negan's guards before he is taken out by the army of soldiers everyone knew Negan had. However! By trying and failing to kill him, Negan takes a shine to the murderous nitwit. Instead of killing him, he takes him on a grand tour of Sanctuary.
No scene with Negan is ever truly bad, because they give the character such ridiculous dialogue, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan does such a great job delivering it. And there's definitely an interesting dynamic between Negan and Carl, as Negan respects Carl's ballsiness in trying to kill him despite the overwhelming odds. He takes sort of a paternal — twisted, but paternal — role, showing Carl what he's built and how he rules, and demanding that Carl continue to show his courage. When he makes Carl take off his eyepatch, revealing the empty eye-socket (in what was strangely one of TWD's worse CG effects) and Carl gets upset, Negan even apologises to him.
But in terms of presenting new information? I can sum up over half the episode in 41 words: Negan's compound is huge, he has a harem of wives, he alternates between fascism (hot irons to the face) and benevolence (free fresh vegetables, today only!) and that's about it. Then he takes Carl back to Alexandria.
And Carl's attempt was a raging success compared to Michonne and Rosita. Rosita just berated Eugene into making her that single bullet, which gives her about two per cent odds of killing Negan, an attempt that the episode can't be bothered to show us. Meanwhile, Michonne makes a roadblock of dead zombies and uses it to capture a Saviour, whom she demands take her to Negan, which the episode also can't be bothered to show us, and would be just as doomed as Carl's attempt was except now we know Negan isn't even there.
Here's everything else that happened in this 90-minute episode:
• Rick and Aaron, out looking for supplies, found a house that may have supplies in it surrounded by a large moat with zombies in it. The episode can't be bothered to show them actually trying to get into the house.
• Spencer espouses his belief that Rick sucks. Father Gabriel calls him a shit.
• Dwight and his ex-wife Sherry have another conversation exactly like the one they had in episode three.
• Jesus apparently hides on top of a Saviors' truck for half a day.
• Spencer finds a zombified hunter in a tree perch with a sweet bow; when he grabs the bow he also finds a note in Latin which very coincidentally leads to a bunch of caches of food and medicine and supplies that this hunter had hidden around.
• In Alexandria, Negan discovers baby Judith and starts carrying her around ominously.
• Someone (almost certainly Shelly) drops a note in Daryl's cell reading "GO NOW" with a lockpick taped to the back, but not before…
• Daryl brings a snack tray to Negan and Carl. Note: WE ALSO DON'T GET TO SEE DARYL ESCAPING.
If season seven has been spinning its wheels in general, this seventh episode was practically paralysed as it tried to push everything — anything — eventful to the finale. Seriously, the only person who actually accomplished anything during the entire 90 minutes was Spencer, because he actually got that bow and found some of the hunter's supplies, and brought them back to Alexandria. And everyone, both on the show and watching it, hates Spenser.
Look, you'll never convince me that delaying the climax of WhoDoesNeganKillGate to the season seven premiere was a good idea, and if The Walking Dead's dropping ratings are anything to go by, I don't think I'm the only one who felt unimpressed by the big reveal. But whether it was the best idea or the worst, The Walking Dead lost two of the characters the audience had invested in most, and there aren't many of those left. It needed to spend this half-season getting us reinvested, and even more so, getting us invested in some of the lesser characters.
The show has done nothing with Rosita, Aaron, Eugene, Gabriel, Enid or any of the other Alexandrian residents who may or may not have names. But think about the main characters and how little The Walking Dead has done with them this season, too: Morgan, Carol and Tara have only appeared in one of the season's seven episodes each, same as the season's best new character, Ezekiel. Sasha, Jesus and Maggie have appeared in two episodes, one of which was the premiere. After sitting quietly during the premiere, Rosita, Eugene and Aaron have basically been nonexistent until "Sing Me a Song". Daryl has been in four episodes, two of which he was basically a background peon for the Saviors. Rick has also been in four episodes, only two of which he starred in: The premiere and episode three. The other two were the episode where he decided to go with Aaron to scavenge and last night, where he, uh, scavanged with Aaron for about three minutes.
The show needed to recover and recalibrate after the premiere. Instead it's taken a victory lap for a win it only thinks it earned.
I've been watching The Walking Dead long enough to know the show has bad half-seasons, and it's bounced back. Honestly, it veers as wildly from good to maddening as Rick bounces between a good leader and, well, mad. If nothing else, TWD's precipitously dropping ratings — they're as low as they have been in four years — will absolutely make the showrunners take notice, and course correct for next autumn's batch of episodes.
Unfortunately, that doesn't bode particularly well for next week's mid-season finale. But maybe, maybe, Rick and Aaron will enter that house.
• Seriously, if there was one redeeming feature about the latest episode, it was Negan's dialogue. On Carl killing a guy and bursting out of the truck with an assault rifle: "You are adorable." On busy days: "I am not gonna have time to screw any of my wives today!" Upon introducing Carl to his harem of wives: "You're gonna want to look at their titties." Gazing at Carl over a snack tray: "It's like talking to a birthday present!" After making Carl take off his eyepatch to reveal his empty eye socket: "You look rad as hell."
• Still, I'll give Father Gabriel the line of the night. To Spencer, after he points out that all of Alexandria's troubles only started after Rick arrived: "Believing such does not make you a sinner. But it does make you a tremendous shit."
• Oh, and just in case you thought Negan had some kind of moral code regarding sexual assault, after he reminded Dwight that Dwight could only have reward sex with one of Sanctuary's women if they consented: Negan not only has a harem of wives but he still passive-aggressively forces them into marrying him and having sex with him. Whee.
• The hunter Spencer finds not only has stashed large caches of food and medicine around and about Alexandria, but keeps a list of the locations of those caches on his person, and has written them in Latin, which Spencer took a class in. Also, not only did Spencer find this guy after randomly running into the woods, but he was trapped in a tree perch so he wasn't wandering around. Also, he very politely died (zombie-wise) after having both his arms ripped off, even though his head/brain seemed perfectly intact. It was all very convenient.
•Negan promises safety and greatness but threatens and punishes anyone who doesn't adhere strictly to his rules, which of course primarily benefit himself. Cough.
• Why the hell did Rosita call Eugene a coward? I thought he got over that when he went and killed those 5000 zombies in the season six mid-season premiere with Rick and everyone else.
• Negan apologises to both Carl for making him cry after taking off his eyepatch, and to Olivia after fatshaming her. I'm wondering how this jibes with the Negan who presumably ordered the deaths of every male over 10 in Oceanside. Think there's more to the story? Or just inconsistent writing?
• To be fair, it could be that Negan punished them so severely because they dared to attack back after he had made his arrangement/subdued them. He kills a couple of you to establish dominance when you first meet, and then if you betray him his punishment is just that massive. Which begs the question what happens when Alexandria decides to fight back. (Or when Negan gets tired of random Alexandria residents making really poor attempts on his life.)
• I'd like to make a prophecy now that Negan will get bored waiting for Rick, and take baby Judith as a hostage, much like what happens in medieval kingdoms and Game of Thrones. This will be what makes Rick decide Negan must be stopped/killed at all costs, which narratively is a valid reason. It also makes sense that his group would join in his fight to get Judith back, although how many pre-Rick Alexandrians would agree? Spencer almost certainly wouldn't…
• Prophecy #2: Spencer betrays Rick and his people because he thinks it's the best way to help the Alexandrians. Maybe not this season, could be later. (If this happens in the comic, I promise I have no idea. The last thing I know from the comic was who Negan killed upon his arrival. As always, I refuse to read the comic to judge the show on its own merits.)
• I thought the face melting/burning effect when Negan shoved the hot iron into that dude's face looked kind of crappy. Was that just me?