In the penultimate episode of the half season, The Walking Dead found a way to reel audiences back in—just when many of us were on the precipice of rolling our eyes and giving up on the show. Season 7 has predominantly stuck to the one-storyline-per-episode format, and because of this, it feels as if the story itself has not progressed much since the explosive premiere episode seven weeks ago. With just two episodes left to redeem the season, ‘Sing Me A Song’ finally dished out what audiences have been craving. While Negan and Carl’s plot line dominated the episode, we also got insights into other characters’ actions, setting up the drama for next week’s mid-season finale. The set-up from this week included Rick and Aaron going out on a run trying to find supplies for the Saviors, Michonne embarking on a one-woman mission, Rosita and Eugene making bullets, Father Gabriel and Spencer gathering supplies, and Jesus’ infiltrating the Saviors complex.
In today’s episode, Carl shines. Chandler Riggs must be commended on carrying the episode alongside Negan. Infiltrating the Savior’s complex, Carl appears scared at first, but it is in fact an attempt to break ranks with his travelling companion Jesus—and it works. Negan calls Carl “badass”, and the first ten minutes of this episode is visual proof of the fact that Carl is a capable both physically and mentally in looking out for himself. He’s no match for Negan and the Saviors, who we spend the bulk of the episode looking into through Carl’s eyes (or, eye singular). The big, sweeping shot of the Saviors’ fortress, cleverly guarded by walkers on chains, functions to establish their role as a mighty force whose physical strength is matched by their mental acuity.
Carl is the framing device for the audience’s intimate introduction to the Saviors’ complex, and it works better than expected. I had anticipated that Daryl would play this role, however Carl’s budding relationship with Negan creates a more realistic dynamic as Negan shows him around the complex, exclaiming that Carl is an “adorable…serial killer in training.” While Carl watches Negan address his congregation of Saviors, there’s a shot of an elderly couple kneeling before him. It’s somewhat alarming to see that Negan has more followers than just the misogynistic creeps that we have seen so far, and I cant help but wonder what kind of give/take system Negan has in place for the less able, like these elderly people.
There is a lot of content in this episode that is ripe for discussion, but perhaps the most intriguing element of the episode is Negan’s harem of wives. It’s an element from the comic book that I wasn’t sure would make it to the screen—Negan is awful enough as it is without a group of female sexual subordinates and I wasn’t sure that the show runners would deem this element of his character necessary in this day and age. It’s easy to forget that The Walking Dead, while meant to be contemporary, is not actually this day and age: without political, economic or technological structures in place, it’s back-to-basics humanity where only the strongest excel. Because of this, Negan can control these women the same way that he can control Rick.
The reveal of Carl’s eye is perfectly gruesome, but possibly ruined by a strange lapse in Negan’s character. Once Carl cries from the shame of his injured eye, Negan apologizes, claiming that it’s “too easy to forget that [Carl’s] just a kid” and then inflating his ego by insisting that Carl’s a total “badass.” It feels out of character for Negan to remotely care about someone else’s feelings, even if it can be excused by the fact that there is a connection between Negan and Carl’s characters. I have been wondering if Negan’s just too much. When we are exposed to him in small doses, it works, but when he dominates an episode like today, his exuberant attitude toward carnage and murder can feel disingenuous at times. The payoff does come in his more serious moments, when Negan’s voice becomes hard, cold and loud, a stark contrast with his regular demeanor. Perhaps the solution is to limit Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s screen time, so that his characterization of Negan does not feel like a gimmick.
While my review today has focused on Carl and Negan’s stories, the episode ‘Sing Me A Song’ has left dangling the threads that will no doubt provide action for next week’s mid-season finale. Today’s episode ended rather peacefully, with Negan currently in Alexandria, drinking lemonade with Carl and holding baby Judith close to his chest. I have a sinking feeling that the serenity will not last for long.