Warning: This recap for “The Big Scary U” episode of The Walking Dead contains storyline and character spoilers.
In which we get the deepest dive yet on what makes Negan tick.
At the Sanctuary
The non-linear storytelling of Season 8 continues with a flashback to what was happening inside the Sanctuary when Rick and the gang rode up to the compound and opened gunfire in the season premiere. Simon wakes up Gregory with a special breakfast, made with love, Simon says, to show appreciation for Gregory’s tattle-telling on the resistance plan to attack Negan’s crew. “Wakey, wakey, eggs pancakey,” Simon tells Gregory, serving up a tray of sorghum hotcakes — with Hilltop sorghum he milled himself, he points out. He wants Gregory to enjoy a big breakfast, because Simon now needs Gregory to tell his story to Negan.
“You fill your belly up with my love,” he tells Gregory, before adding it’s Gregory’s job to solve the problem of the Hilltoppers aligning with the Alexandrians and Kingdomites against the Saviors.
Shortly after, Gregory sits at a conference table with Negan, Simon, Dwight, Eugene, Gavin, and Regina, all the people who were called out to the Sanctuary platform to chat with Rick in the premiere. Gregory still thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, and while he’s terrified of, well, everyone, he also arrogantly addresses them, and thinks Negan and the others will be unable to see him for the pompous coward he is.
“I know how it is, negotiating the slippery, steep terrain of managing resources and the population and the big, scary ‘U,’ which you might know… it’s called the ‘unknown.’”
Gregory is very proud of that one. Everyone else sitting at the table is unimpressed. But he continues, addressing Negan.
“I don’t like killing people any more than you do…” he says.
Negan: “I like killing people. I say it’s about killing the right people at the right time… everything falls into place. You kill one, and you could be saving hundreds more. And that is what we are all about. We save people.”
“That’s why you’re called the Saviors,” Gregory says in the most butt-kissy voice possible. Negan touches the end of his finger to the tip of his nose, as Gregory continues his big, weasel play. He tells Negan he can stop the Hilltop’s involvement in Rick’s plan before it even gets started. He’ll go to his people and tell the that if they participate in Rick and Maggie’s “misguided crusade” against the Saviors, they’ll be kicked out of the Hilltop. Simon grins and nods along as Gregory speaks.
Negan asks if Gregory thinks the Hilltop residents still listen to him. He wonders if Gregory could exile people. A blustery Gregory insists, “Hilltop is my house. I’m still the guy. I’ve always been the guy.”
If that’s so, Negan demands, why didn’t Gregory know that Rick and Maggie were leading an army of people against him in Alexandria?
Gregory is speechless, with a terrified look on his face. Negan says he thinks Gregory’s playing both sides: “I think you are a thin-d**ked politician threading the needle with your thin, thin d**k.”
Gregory stammers and stutters about how he didn’t know what was going on — which is exactly Negan’s point — and Simon tries to calm him down by putting his hand on Gregory, and telling him that he believes him. He tells Gregory he just needs to make Negan believe him. Gregory tries again, saying he made a mistake by letting Maggie and her people inside the community. They took advantage of his “generous nature,” and he says he’ll fix it.
Simon suggests they let Gregory issue his ultimatum to his people, and things will go back to “copacetic.” If they don’t, he says they can just kill everyone at the Hilltop, and let the other communities cave to the Saviors as a result. But that idea brings Lucille crashing down on the table, as an angry Negan yells at Simon that people are a resource. “People are the foundation of what we are building here!” he says. “Who the hell do you think you’re talking to? Are you confused about who we are? Are you confused about who is in charge? Are we backsliding Simon? Please tell me we are not backsliding.”
A much more subdued, less cheerful Simon says they are not. Negan calms down, and reminds everyone of his plan: They need to win it all. He wants to capture Rick, Maggie, and “King A**face,” alive, and then kill them in a “very, very public and instructive way… we kill the right people in the wrongest way possible, and we make ‘em all watch!”
Speaking of Rick and Maggie… gunfire erupts outside, but Negan tells Simon not to send Saviors fighters out. “They’ve got some sort of hillbilly armor,” he says. “We’d just be wasting metal on metal. And the RPG is stashed at the cache, so let’s have ourselves a little chat.”
Gabriel and Negan, Sitting in a Trailer
Flashing forward, slightly, to right after #TeamRick’s attack on the Sanctuary, Father Gabriel and Negan have found a temporarily safe hideout in a trailer outside the main Sanctuary building. Negan pushes Gabriel to the ground and takes his gun, then the two sit quietly for a while as the walkers surrounding the trailer and pounding on its walls calm down.
“Your friend Rick is an a**hole,” Negan says.
“You’re an a**hole,” Gabriel replies.
“Yeah, I am,” Negan says, laughing. “But he’s gonna get people killed… I killed the widow’s husband and the ginger. But I didn’t get them killed. That was your boy, Rick. Big difference.”
The two continue the back and forth, and Negan says he saw Gabriel get stuck at the Sanctuary because he stopped to help Gregory. He wonders what possessed Gabriel to do so, especially after witnessing Gregory issue an ultimatum to the Hilltoppers just minutes earlier. Gabriel tells him, “What I fear is a fruitless death.” He doesn’t think his purpose was to spare Gregory’s life, but he knows he has one. He suggests maybe he’s there because he’s supposed to hear Negan confess.
Negan says they can wait it out in the trailer for a bit, and see if his people can figure something out. “One thing that is sure as a**: if my people think I’m dead, lotta folks are gonna die in there.”
Negan wants to know why Gabriel became a priest, and Gabriel answers it’s because he loves people, he loves God, and he wanted to bring them together. He also wanted to help people through their difficult times, and through their weaknesses.
“I get that,” Negan says. “That’s my thing. I like to help people through their weaknesses, too. I’ve been doing it one way or another my whole life.”
“How do you help people?” Gabriel asks.
“You wanna know why people are gonna start dying in there? Because I’m not in there to stop it,” Negan says, revealing he has little faith in his lieutenants to keep his community running smoothly.
Gabriel asks if Negan helped the weak before this. “Kids,” Negan answers. “You don’t show ‘em the way, they turn out like garbage. Little a**holes become great big ones, so you show ‘em the way. Adults, they need it, too. Government, the laws, religion, guilt… people are weak… everyone.”
Gabriel: “You’re weak, killing the innocent.”
Negan says that’s right, and wrong. He is weak, but also strong. “Everyone is a mix,” he says. “You can use your weaknesses to drive your strength… I took this place, and it was a damn free for all, confederation of a**holes, an army made up of gangs of animals, and I brought it all together. The last guy that was in charge… he wasn’t in charge of sh*t. He allowed people to be weak. I make them strong, which makes this world strong.”
Gabriel asks about the people Negan has killed, the people he enslaves.
“I haven’t killed anyone that didn’t need it,” Negan insists, adding that he doesn’t have slaves. “It’s an economy. Some people win and some people lose, but no one’s a slave, no one’s going hungry, and you couldn’t say that before all this.”
Gabriel says Carl told them about Negan’s wives, the women pressured into marrying him, and Negan’s posture changes, he tenses up. He walks away from Gabriel, telling him every one of those ladies made a choice. Gabriel asks if Negan had a wife before all this, and Negan begins talking under his breath, “Lucille, give me strength,” just as Gabriel rushes him and takes the gun from his waistband, then runs into another room and shuts the door.
“Alright, Gabe… no one’s coming for us,” Negan says. “It’s time to go.” He pulls one of the walkers pushing into the walls of the trailer all the way in, and smashes it with Lucille, and then he goes to the door of the room Gabriel is in, and tells him they need to work together to get past the herd and into the Sanctuary. “We make it inside, we live,” Negan adds.
Father Gabriel surprises Negan and tells him how he locked his congregation out of his church, and listened to them die when the apocalypse began. “I failed them, I failed God, and every day I work to lessen that failure, to be in service and purpose,” he tells Negan. “I will go with you, I will show you that working together as equals is the only true way to grace, to a future. I will do that if you confess.”
“Jesus, Gabe. What you did, that is some horrible, cowardly, spineless sh*t,” Negan tells him. “But I guess that’s what a confession is supposed to be, right? My first wife was a real wife. My only real wife. ‘Til death did us part. It was before this. I lied to her, I screwed around on her… she was sick, and when she went, it was during this. I couldn’t put her down. That is how I was weak. That is what I will confess. Because, yeah, maybe we do bite the big one here.”
Gabriel opens the door, holds out the gun to Negan, and tells him, “You are forgiven.”
Negan punches him in the nose. “Thanks,” he says. “You can keep the gun.”
The two cover themselves in the guts of the walker Negan bashed with Lucille. “These are putrid, decaying organs… dead blood, piss, and sh*t that have been cooking all day in the Virginia sun,” Negan says. “Any of your people ever gotten sick from this?”
Gabriel: “We’re from Georgia.”
Covered in stewed walker guts, they head into the courtyard. Gabriel falls, and when he stands up, the walkers note he’s alive. He begins shooting them with the bullets he has left, and Negan begins bashing them with Lucille. But they’re surrounded.
BFFs = Best Friends Fighting
Rick and Daryl confront Yago, the Savior who was driving the truck full of guns, the one Rick knocked out of the truck before he ran it down a hill. Yago’s bloody and dying, but Rick and Daryl want to know if the Saviors won against Ezekiel’s army at the Saviors’ chemical plant outpost.
“No one did… everyone’s dead,” Yago tells them.
They don’t believe it.
Yago says it’s true. Everyone from both sides is dead, except him, the king, “the ax man,” and “the short-haired, psycho lady.”
Rick and Daryl exchange a quick glance at each other, because they know that means Carol is alive.
“My people, your people… they’re all gone. And now, me, too,” Yago says, before he dies. Daryl walks away, but Rick takes the time to stab him in the brain.
The pals go down the hill to investigate the truck, which is leaking fuel, and Daryl tells Rick to help him remove a giant box. Inside, they find sticks of dynamite, and Daryl gets an idea: They should use the explosives to blow a hole in the Sanctuary, allowing the walkers to flood in and forcing the Saviors to surrender. They could end this war by the end of the day, Daryl says, but Rick vetoes it right away. Innocent people, the workers, could be killed, he says. And even if they’re not, they could be so angered they’d become more opposition against the resistance, and now with the Kingdom army gone, Rick’s team does not have the numbers to take on even more people. Rick insists they need to stick to his plan, and when Daryl insists he doesn’t, they get into a physical fight near the truck. Rick tosses the bag of dynamite towards the truck, and Daryl puts him in a chokehold, until Rick notices the truck is on fire. They pull each other away from the scene just as the truck explodes.
Rick goes to his Jeep, but it won’t start. Daryl drives up on his bike, and Rick reminds him there’s a plan they have to stick to. He also tells Daryl chokeholds are illegal (a callback to Season 1’s “Tell It to the Frogs,” when Shane puts Daryl in a chokehold, and Daryl tells him it’s illegal).
“Yes, it is,” Daryl says.
“Looks like I’m walking,” Rick adds.
“Yep,” says Daryl, riding away in the opposite direction after Rick tells him they’ll meet up after his “last play.”
More flashback to the events of the season premiere: The Sanctuary leaders, minus Negan, are gathered back in the war room after Rick and his people shoot up the compound and flee. Simon has taken over trying to lead the group, and Regina says they should assume Negan is dead.
“I’m Negan,” Simon answers. “We all are. Are you saying you’re someone else, Regina?”
She backs away from that idea, but insists they should send out a bunch of fence workers to distract the walkers, while a small group of other Saviors sneak by, go off and warn the other outposts about Rick’s activities, and get them to come back to the Sanctuary and kill the walkers.
Eugene speaks up, insisting that plan is a bad one. One, it’s unlikely to work, he says, and two, it’s likely to make the workers turn on the management Saviors, as they’ll see they’re viewed as expendable in the scenario. Dwight agrees with Eugene, but Gavin wants to talk about something else, or rather someone else: the person responsible for the mess they find themselves in. “Someone in here made everything out there happen,” he says. “Sometimes it doesn’t take a gun… the right kind of rat can kill plenty of people, just in talk.”
Dwight — who we know is trying to direct any suspicion away from himself — tells his fellow Negan sidekicks that they have to stay strong, maintain control, and he tells Regina and Gavin to come at him if they have a problem with that. He also tells Simon he’ll lead the Saviors to safety if Simon can’t — slow down there, Dwightie Boy… thou doth protest too much — but Simon backs him up. Simon says they’re going to find out who betrayed them, and then punish that person in a long, slow, painful, public way. Simon and Regina are staring at Eugene as Simon talks, and Eugene looks terrified.
Eugene later visits Dwight in his room, bringing him a jar of “primo cukes” from his private stash to thank Dwight for agreeing with him in the meeting. “I would like you to accept these as a sign of my faith that we will in fact find a way out of this pickle. Pun intended,” Eugene says. Dwight tries to downplay his actions at the meeting, and Eugene notices a chess set in the corner. He asks if Dwight DIYed the set, as he picks up one of the pieces and gets red paint on his finger. He leaves, with the red splotch drying on his digit.
What’s That in the Sky?
Rick is walking down the road, tired, sweaty, breathing hard, and he hears something. He stops, looks in the sky, and sees a helicopter flying overhead. Or does he? Could he be dehydrated and delusional? Or was that really a helicopter flying right over his head?
He continues walking, and is spotted by someone atop a lookout tower, who warns others of Rick’s arrival with a whistle. The lookout guy is dressed in attire that would make him not stand out in a group of Heapsters… is that who Rick’s “last play” is with? Is he going to try to convince them to double-cross Negan the way they double-crossed him?
Back to the Present
All hell is breaking loose inside the Sanctuary, where the workers are coming to the top floor to confront Simon and company. The power is out, it’s boiling hot, and water is being rationed. The workers are angry; they feel trapped, and they point out that they agree to be workers in exchange for the insurance that they’ll be kept safe. They want to know if Negan is even alive, and they want to know how they’re going to be led out of the compound with all the walkers surrounding the place.
But Simon is unable to calm their fears. In fact, he almost comes to blows with one of the workers, as Dwight and Gavin step up to try to calm everyone down. It doesn’t work, and the chaos is ratcheted up when one of the workers pulls out a gun, and Regina shoots him. All of a sudden, Negan’s signature whistle blares through the halls outside the management war room. Everyone kneels, and he rounds the corner, with Gabriel, both still covered in guts.
“I’m guessing a lot of you fine folks thought I was dead, chewed up, never to be crapped out again,” Negan says, the full swagger back in his delivery. “Well, here’s a little refresher on who the hell I am: I wear a leather jacket, I have Lucille, and my nutsack is made of steel. I am not dying until I am damn good and ready!”
He says he’s going to get a shower, a sandwich, and a massage — perhaps all at the same time — and then, directing his comments to Simon, they need to have a serious talk about how they got to this state. “Then we’re going to get back to doing what we’ve always done,” he adds. “We will save people.”
“Thank you, Negan! Thank God for you,” one of the workers shouts out, surprising Father Gabriel.
“And that is why I am here,” Negan tells Gabriel, who Negan orders his men to “gently” transport to cell number two.
Inside the war room, the immediate concern is how the worker Savior got his hands on a gun. Arat, Laura, and Gary have found a bag of weapons, and they are property of the Saviors. Still, no worker would have had access to them, so Negan’s people need to find out how the gun found its way into the bag, and then into the dead worker’s hand. While the discussion is happening, Eugene notices a mark, a red mark, on the bag. He looks down at his hand and sees the red mark left by the paint from Dwight’s chess piece. He immediately turns and begins staring at Dwight, who looks at him and quickly turns his head. As if that doesn’t send Eugene into panic mode immediately, when he’s leaving the meeting, Negan stops him. He tells “Dr. Smartypants” that if he can solve the gun mystery, he’ll make sure Eugene is “very, very happy.” And even if he tries his best to solve it, but can’t… Negan will make sure his death is swift.
Eugene then visits Gabriel’s cell, carrying a pillow. He knocks on the door, and says, “It’s Dr. Eugene Porter here. We were neighbors, traveling companions. We ate dog together, so I imagine that joins us in some manner for life,” calling back to Rick’s group’s desperate, pre-Alexandria woes of Season 5. Eugene says the Sanctuary is hot and uncomfortable right now, so he brought some Welcome Wagon items that he hopes will help Gabriel. But when Gabriel doesn’t respond at all, Eugene unlocks his cell door, and finds Gabriel curled up into a corner, sweating and shaking.
“You need to see Dr. Carson 2.0, ASAP,” Eugene says.
“I do. That’s why I’m here,” Gabriel says. “Carson is Maggie’s doctor. We have to get him out of here.”
* “The Big Scary U” features the best TWD performances so far from Seth Gilliam and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Not only were Gabriel and Negan an unexpectedly fun pairing, but the actors brought out the best in each other. This is the first time we’ve really seen Negan in a non-posturing way, and it adds another layer to the overall story. Not that we necessarily like Negan more now, but we certainly get to see that he does have genuinely good intentions — some, anyway — for even the most rotten things he does.
* Theory: Negan’s talk to Simon about “backsliding,” plus his chat with Father Gabriel about how the former head of the Saviors was a bad leader who had to be replaced = Simon was the former Savior honcho? Maybe that’s how he got the role as Negan’s No. 2? He was too hapless to be leader, but valuable to Negan as his top minion?
Also, when you think about Simon’s odd friendship-ish relationship with Gregory… everyone else writes Gregory off as the arrogant butthead he is, but Simon seems to have some faith in him (or, did, until Gregory’s lack of respect from his people was revealed, in front of Negan at the Sanctuary confrontation with Rick, leading Simon to push Gregory down the stairs). Maybe the reason Simon had a fondness for Gregory is because he sort of is the Gregory of the Sanctuary, i.e. the fast-talking B.S. artist who had to be replaced because he was going to get people killed?
* For TWD fans who have not read the Here’s Negan comics, several parts of the Negan story we learn about in this episode come right from Here’s Negan, including Negan’s wife being sick and dying at the beginning of the apocalypse, the fact that he was unable to kill her when she reanimated, and that he was involved with teaching children. In the comics, now collected into a graphic novel, it’s also revealed that the beginning of Negan’s Saviors leadership came about because he was tired of seeing people who were too afraid to make their way through the apocalypse continue to die, so he came up with a system that would aim to prevent that.
* F-Bomb Count: still zero. Anyone think they’ll use at least one of them before the end of the midseason finale on Dec. 10?
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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