Right off the bat (no pun intended) I want to say one thing: there’s no reason for this episode to be a full episode. It could have fit just fine as the B-plot to some other Negan-centric story line.
This episode shows me the showrunners are back to their old practices of elongating a plot line just to fill-up a season, like they did with Hershel’s farm and the Prison.
I say this because nothing huge is gained in “The Cell.” I certainly don’t need action every episode to keep me interested; some of my favorite TWD moments are in the second half of season 4, when absolutely nothing happens expect a lot of walking and talking. But if the episode is focusing on character building, I want to learn something new about a major character or see a significant change in someone we care about by the end.
Episode 703, “The Cell,” takes place in Negan’s compound (which I believe is called The Sanctuary if I remember the comics correctly) soon after Negan and Rick’s first meeting. Daryl is Negan’s prisoner and is locked in a small, cement closet in an effort to break his spirit. Of course Negan can’t be bothered to do the dirty work himself, so he has Dwight work on Daryl to get him ready for full, head-bashing action. This being the case, we get a long look at who Dwight is, why he’s in The Sanctuary and what happens after we see him in episode 606, “Always Accountable.”
Returning to my thoughts a couple of paragraphs ago, the only character we have any investment in up to this point is obviously Daryl. We’re anxious to see the resolution to his current predicament because we want to know if he’ll break and become a Savior or stay true to Rick, and most likely die opposing Negan. We already know he’s defiant; we know he’s strong-willed and tough; and we know he’s going to take a lot of shit before he cracks. We’ve known these things about Daryl for 6 seasons now. He’s in a shitty predicament, and we want to see how he gets out of it. This episode does nothing to resolve that shitty predicament or show us how his shitty predicament might be resolved in the future. We see Daryl being defiant, strong-willed, tough and take a lot of shit – even if we never see him in episode 703, it’d be assumed that is the situation happening to him at the moment. For our favorite bad ass, “The Cell” is a wash.
So who or what is “The Cell” really centered around? I would have liked it to center around Negan; a day in the of the king around the Sanctuary. Unfortunately, it’s centered around Dwight. We know Dwight a little bit from season 6, but there’s been no character background or development around him until now.
Right now we think Dwight’s a prick, having killed Denise with an arrow through the eye and shot Daryl in the back like a bitch. He’s a top dog among the Saviors these days, having worked his way up, doing dirty work for Negan and earning his trust. But there’s a reluctant side to Dwight. Although he’s Daryl’s persecutor, he keeps telling Daryl to listen to Negan and to make it easy on himself and that Daryl can have a cushy life-like him. Deep down, he doesn’t like to be the bad guy, but it affords him a painless life under the worse apocalyptic dictator TWD has ever seen. Dwight’s seen up close and personal the heinous things Negan can do to a person or the people they care about. He refuses to show even the slightest sign of misbehavior around the Sanctuary because Negan’s scared him into that mindset.
We find out (of course through telling not showing) that it is the Savior’s Dwight and his wife Sherry try to evade in episode 606. Back then, life was bad – Dwight was a bottom dweller around the Sanctuary, basically a slave working for the minimalist amount of food to survive. He, Sherry and Sherry’s sick sister Tina, who Negan was promised to marry, run away with a big bag of medicine in hand. As we see in that episode, Tina dies, but Dwight and Sherry get away by stealing Daryl’s bike. What we don’t see is them getting caught, returning to the Sanctuary, Sherry marrying Negan to save Dwight’s life and Dwight getting an iron to his face as a punishment.
And after all that misery, Dwight stands beside Negan as a top soldier in his army. Negan recants the whole story to Daryl, in front of Dwight and we see Dwight slightly cringe with each awful detail. Though he’s been neutered by Negan, he’s only obedient to ensure Sherry stays safe. If or when he has the power, he’ll rip Negan’s throat out without a second thought.
I hate that the Scooter Gimple thinks so little of his audience that he has to verbally tell us the awkward dynamic between Negan and Dwight rather than let it play out on-screen and have us fill in the blanks accordingly. Negan’s whole story should have been summed up in one simple scene with Negan, Dwight and Sherry in the same room together utilizing the smallest amount of dialogue. We already know Sherry was with Dwight before, we know she’s not now because of the scene in the doctor’s office and we know Negan has ultimate power over everyone he comes in contact with. We would see a visibly cowering and shy girl trying to reach out to Dwight, but deciding against it because of the intimidating shadow Negan’s presence casts over everyone.
The Sanctuary seems like an awful place to live if you’re not a Savior. With the right spark, that place is rife for revolution.
Dwight isn’t the bad guy we maybe thought he was. He wants Sherry back, how could be now. But with Negan in power, that’ll never happen.
I wish we got to see more of daily life in the Sanctuary. It looks like a small place, whereas in the comic, it’s a huge factory-looking facility. My guess is we’ll see more of it very soon.
Also, this song is so damn catchy!