The Big Scary U comes as a pleasant surprise amidst a largely disappointing run of episodes this season, offering a closer look at one of the most beloved characters in the show. But is the exploration of this character’s depth too soon?
Episode five is another that is almost entirely centred in one place, this time being the Sanctuary, home of the Saviours. This is the first we’ve seen of the Saviours at their main base since the premiere, where they were attacked by Rick and co. and the fate of Negan and Gabriel was left in the balance. A common trope of the show is to present the audience with a cliff-hanger that will not be resolved until two or three episodes down the line, with usually poor results and little pay off (see Glenn’s dumpster incident of Season 6). This tactic mistakes the rule of “always leave them wanting more” for “never give them what they want” – what “they” want is simply to be rewarded for loyalty toward the show. For perhaps the first time since the show’s inception, however, the resolution of the cliff-hanger was not a resounding disaster. While the episode was flawed, it was undeniably an adequate attempt at resolving the loose end.
“For perhaps the first time since the show’s inception… the resolution of the cliff-hanger was not a resounding disaster.”
Jeffrey Dean Morgan was finally given the chance to play a subtler version of the show’s best big bad, with toned down menace and a more human approach. Duality within a character is not often handled too well on The Walking Dead with one side of the character never quite hitting the mark, and just as this seemed to be becoming the case with Negan, the show shifted gear. His prancing, leaning, menacing smugness was becoming a bit too much in his more recent appearances, but the episode explored the deeper aspects of the villain, helping us as an audience better understand his frame of mind. The two sides seen in this episode showcased Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s skill as he managed to pull off being both the scary violent monster, and the fragile, flawed human. This blurs the line between good and bad people in the show, a skilful ploy The Walking Dead was once famous for. However, the jury is still out on whether this is needed right now.
Another standout this episode is Steven Ogg, who plays Negan’s right-hand man Simon. Ogg, who has a supporting role in just about every TV show going, brings charm and prowess to the cast and outshone his colleagues in every scene they shared. Unfortunately, this wasn’t hard as many of the smaller (and some larger) roles are filled by awkward and wooden actors, supported very little by questionable writing. This episode also continued to follow Rick and Daryl’s trek through the Virginian backroads and finally brought a long-hinted-at collision to life. While the pair have shared tense moments all season, the way in which they came to blows still managed to seem forced, the first punch being thrown for almost no reason at all. What could have been a heart-breaking and emotionally charged dispute between the two was instead a petty scuffle. Disappointing as it is, it still leaves the question of the state of their friendship going forward.
The Big Scary U is an episode that manages to shine despite its (many) flaws and offers a calmer approach to the ongoing war. It’s an oasis in the middle of a season which has been mostly void of substance.