Today’s episode of The Walking Dead is, perhaps, the most successful bottle episode yet. After watching the episode previews, I feared that the show would be falling back into dangerous territory and taking viewers away from the primary storyline in order to explore lesser characters in an environment that nobody cares about. Perhaps it’s my low expectations, but I’m impressed with the caliber of today’s episode ‘Hostiles and Calamities’ – from the acting to the direction to the plot, I was downright enthralled while watching.
‘Hostiles and Calamities’ follows Eugene who we last saw in the midseason finale, being carted away by the Saviors after the revelation that he knew how to make bullets. Eugene is a self-professed coward in this post-apocalyptic world, and has been since his debut in season four. It’s exciting to see a more relatable character suddenly thrust into the spotlight, as Eugene uses his brains and powers of social manipulation to survive rather than the apparently innate affinity for shooting crossbows, wielding swords and having perfect aim – all traits that other characters in the show exhibit naturally. I often hear other viewers of the show comment that they’d be ‘more of a Eugene’ than a Rick or a Michonne, because bravery is not necessarily an effortless human quality. Whatever resilience Eugene built up during his time with Abraham, Rosita and the Survivors, it is stripped away. Eugene steps through the door of his room in the Sanctuary and is tempted by the television, the microwave and the possibility of whatever food he would like.
Not only is it refreshing to see an honest display of human nature, it’s exciting to see a member of the Survivors indoctrinated into the Sanctuary. Finally, we have some clarification on the points system of currency in the Sanctuary, and we get to see the hierarchy in action, making it clear why someone like Eugene would be seduced by the power that comes with being a Savior. Being a Savior means that you get to choose what you’d like to eat, you get to skip lines and watch TV and take things off of the people who have worked hard to acquire it. Life as a Savior – if you’re high up enough – is good, and Alexandria, even when flourishing, pales in comparison. This insight forces the audience to question the extent to which we really can hate the Saviors, for they seem to be doing something right.
In this week’s episode, we discover that Sherri escaped when Daryl did in the midseason finale. Dwight is sent out to find her, and in this episode he excels. Dwight never comes across as a particularly compelling character, but in ‘Hostiles and Calamities’ we get a peek into Dwight’s psyche and watch him cross an unexpected threshold. Previously, Dwight’s interactions with Daryl have suggested a parallel between them and almost foreshadowed Dwight’s redemption. After Sherri’s disappearance, Dwight couldn’t be further away from redemption, framing the Sanctuary’s doctor and forcing him into a very public and horrific death scene wherein Negan shoves the doctor into a furnace for all to see. During the doctors’ death scene, the direction excels: the confrontation between Negan and the doctor taking place out of focus in the back of frame while we close up on Dwight in the foreground, his expression cold and never wavering. It would appear that Dwight has now ascended to the role of Negan’s right-hand man, his love for Sherri no longer acting as a tether to his humanity.
Another interesting thread introduced in this episode is the notion of civil unrest in the Sanctuary. It is revealed that some of Negan’s wives are plotting to kill him. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not the only ones – we got sneaky shots of a redheaded boy stealing food from a table and grumpy groundlings who didn’t want Eugene to skip the line.
The episode ends with Eugene and Dwight standing, looking over the Sanctuary and agreeing that they both are Negan – both having drunk the Kool-Aid to the point of corruption. I am excited to see where this goes; to find out if either of them are playing the long con or if not, how either of them meet their comeuppance. It feels like The Walking Dead is back on track, but who knows how long that can really last…