You know, of all the things that The Walking Dead manages to do to me, I never thought one of them would be to make me sick of a song that I had never even heard of prior to this episode. But such is the case as we catch up with Daryl and see how life has been for him since Negan brought him along to the headquarters of the Saviors: the Sanctuary. This is “The Cell.”
The episode begins with, Dwight watching, of all things, “Who’s the Boss.” As he does, we hear The Jam’s “Town Called Malice.” Subtle. We’re then introduced to life at the Sanctuary as Dwight keeps tabs on folks in the compound, including one guy who gets a beating by three other Saviors. Dwight minds his place, though, dropping to his knees along with other Saviors whenever Negan walks by.
The montage ends as Dwight is interrupted from his sandwich as he watches two men evade walkers outside the gates of the Sanctuary. One walker in particular is impaled right down the middle, so he won’t be moving anytime soon.
Later, Dwight prepares a sandwich of dog food and drops it off to his prisoner: a naked Daryl who is more than glad to take the sandwich. Dwight heads out of the cell, leaving Daryl in the dark. So now we see how Daryl has adjusted since he arrived. Well, truth be told, it fucking sucks. So does the music. He takes any and every meal that Dwight hands him without question. But he is eventually given a jumpsuit with an “A” on it to wear.
Dwight takes Daryl to a kitchen and instructs the doctor, Carson, played by Tim Parati, who is just finishing with Sherry, to work on Daryl. And Dwight instructs Sherry to not talk to Daryl. As for Sherry, her pregnancy results are negative. Well, maybe next time. Sherry cautions Daryl to do whatever the others tell him. Carson tells Daryl that Negan will take care of him. He’ll heal up in no time.
As the two leave, they run right into Negan, who needs to talk with Dwight. All Daryl can do is sit and wait until Dwight returns. When he does, he takes Daryl outside to see various other men in jumpsuits fending off walkers. Dwight’s at least getting better with the crossbow. He pushes Daryl up to the gate and gives him a choice: he can be like the men in the gates or like him.
Back in his cell, Dwight tells Daryl, who refuses to kneel, that he really doesn’t know what’s going on, but he will. As Dwight leaves, that fucking song begins to play again. This song, turns out, is “Easy Street” by Collapsible Hearts Club. You can thank AMC for that one. Anyway, the song gets to Daryl to the point that he starts kicking at his door.
Negan and Dwight talk about Daryl’s condition. It’s working slow, but Negan knows that it takes longer to break others. Since Dwight is doing so well, Negan asks Dwight if he wants to have a blast from the past. It’s a joke, but Negan can pick whomever he wants as long as she says yes. Remember that. Negan then asks Dwight if his penis is working right. It’s not down for the count, but Dwight won’t be partaking tonight.
And Negan wonders why Dwight would turn down free pussy. Dwight claims it’s because he hasn’t finished the job with Daryl, so he hasn’t earned the pussy yet. Negan disagrees, saying that you earn what you take. The talk is interrupted by a message on the radio from other Saviors.
As Dwight prepares to head out, Negan tells him that he wants his shit back, but doing this grunt work shouldn’t be left to Dwight. However, Dwight says that he prefers it.
So while Dwight heads out to an overpass, another Savior is left to watch over Daryl, who is still happy to take any food that he’s given. When the Savior leaves, though, he doesn’t realize that he’s left the door unlocked. When the coast is clear, Daryl sneaks out and makes his way around the compound.
Back at the overpass, Dwight finds the road littered with walkers in what looks like a truly fucked up accident. But then Dwight looks up and runs just as a walker is falls over the edge. Dwight, now surrounded, begins shooting at the walkers approaching him.
Back at the Sanctuary, Sherry discovers Dwight and tells him to go back while he can. Whatever has been done to Daryl, there’s always more. And Daryl won’t get away. Should Daryl end up back, things will just be worse.
Daryl doesn’t heed the advice and continues his escape until he finds a number of motorcycles. Before he can do anything, he’s surrounded on all sides by Saviors. Among them is Negan.
As Negan asks each of the Saviors who they are, they all responds that they are Negan. The point, Negan is everywhere. Daryl failed to realize that point. Life might have been cooler for Daryl, but not anymore. He reminds Daryl that Dwight gave him options.
Negan breaks it down: one, Daryl can end up on a spike and work for Negan as a dead man. Two, he ends up out of his cell and work for points, but he’ll wish he was dead, or three, he works for Negan and lives like a king.
There is no door number four. This is the only way for Daryl. But Daryl doesn’t respond, no matter how hard Negan tries to get into his head or when he almost takes a shot at him. In fact, Negan loves that Daryl doesn’t scare easy. But that pisses off Lucille. She finds that disrespectful. Luckily, Lucille isn’t feeling thirsty today, but Negan is, so he…goes off to get a drink. As Negan leaves, the remaining Saviors gang up on Daryl.
He’s returned to his cell, where Sherry calls out to him from the other side. She tells him that back in the woods, after she lost Tina and when she and Dwight robbed him, she reminds him that Daryl said they were going to be sorry. Turns out that she is.
Dwight soon finds a man, Gordon, played by Michael Scialabba, struggling with a walker. He tackles him to the ground and tells him that he’s going back and will owe more. Gordon pleads to be let free, but Dwight won’t allow him to flee. Even at gunpoint, Gordon is defiant, reminding Dwight that he used to be friendly. After everything that Negan did to Dwight and Sherry, Dwight changed.
So Dwight tells Gordon that everything belongs to Negan or it will soon. Gordon refuses to walk- in fact, he’s ready for Dwight to kill him. Hell, he even wants him to do it. Gordon says that there’s more to life than what Negan wants. There are more people than him, sure, but now, the Saviors aren’t losing. Gordon says that after he and his wife, Maria, survived for a few months, they thought being at the Sanctuary would be fine.
They believed that they knew how to fight monsters. Gordon drops to his knees and refuses to rise. This is the last time that he’s going to kneel. Dwight tells Gordon what he plans to do, even if it means digging up Gordon’s dead wife. Gordon soon tells Dwight that he won. He rises, saying that there’s nothing left. With that, Gordon begins walking again. After composing himself, Dwight raises his gun and fires.
Later, Dwight returns to the Sanctuary and runs into Sherry, who gives him a cigarette. He asks Sherry if Negan is good to her. She says that he is, and that’s a good thing in Dwight’s mind. Dwight maintains that he did the right thing, saying that it’s a hell of a lot better than being dead.
Daryl, though, is still listening to that godforsaken song as he stews in his cell, but the music soon stops. Dwight opens the door and tells Daryl to eat his sandwich. After all, he got his friend killed. Daryl shouldn’t pretend that he doesn’t know the score. In response, Daryl chucks the sandwich at Dwight, who tells Daryl that he should be dead. Negan, though, has taken a liking to Daryl, so he should remember.
And just before Dwight leaves, he puts a Polaroid on the wall. Daryl tosses it down, but as he turns it around, he sees that it’s a photo of Glenn’s corpse. And that’s when a new song starts: this time it’s “Crying” by Roy Orbison. And Daryl does indeed begin to cry. Dwight remains on the other side of the door long enough to hear Daryl crying before he heads off.
He later returns and brings Daryl to meet Negan, who tells Daryl that Carson will fix him up. Negan tells Daryl that a man like Dwight hustles. Things weren’t always cool between them, though. Dwight used to work for points- him and his wife, Shelly. But Shelly’s sister, Tina, who needed medicine, fell behind on points, so Negan asked her to marry him. He would take care of her because he’s a standup guy.
But Tina said that she would think about it. Then Dwight took the medication and fled with both Sherry and Tina. So Negan sent his men after Dwight because something like that cannot stand. There are rules. It cost a lot to go after Dwight, but he still got away. However, Dwight manned up, returned, and asked for forgiveness, which got Negan’s attention. However, Lucille is a stickler for the rules.
So Dwight begged Negan to not kill Sherry, which Negan found cute. Instead, Negan would have killed Dwight, but Sherry offered to marry Negan if Dwight lived. It was a start, but not enough, so Dwight got the iron and then Negan married Dwight’s now ex-wife. Through all of that, Dwight is one of Negan’s top men and the two are tight. Point is that Daryl might be ready to be that guy.
All that Negan offers can be Daryl’s if he just answers one question: who is he? Daryl doesn’t answer right away, so Negan asks again. Eventually, Daryl responds with his own name, not Negan. And Negan isn’t bothered. It’s not his problem if Daryl made a dumbass choice.
Dwight returns Daryl to his cell, telling him that he can wind up in the room or end up on the fence. Daryl, though, now knows why Dwight took the medication: he was thinking of someone else. It’s why Daryl can, too.
Dwight goes back outside and spots the newest addition to the fence: a reanimated Gordon, who eyes Dwight from a distance. Dwight stares back for a moment before returning inside the compound as the episode comes to a close.
So we’re given another contained episode with “The Cell” and it manages to be brutal at times, but not as brutal as the premiere. From a narrative structure, this makes sense, as apparently this episode was originally meant to follow “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be.” Ezekiel’s debut would have been this week, but that would mean the show goes from Abraham and Glenn’s brutal deaths to Daryl being tortured in the Sanctuary.
Sometimes it helps to lighten things up, as we’ve seen with “The Next World” coming right after “No Way Out.” The Cell shows us some of the inner workings of the Sanctuary, let us catch up with Daryl and process what he’s going through in light of what happened to Glenn, and revealed what became of Dwight and Sherry after their encounter with Daryl in “Always Accountable.”
And that includes what life at the Sanctuary has been since they returned. I like how even though we’re at the Sanctuary, we don’t see much of it. I wager more of that will come in future episodes, but it was nice to see how Negan’s stronghold contrasts with other communities.
Life here is much harsher than those communities based off of the points system alone, and given what we’ve seen of the Saviors, life is hell for those at the bottom of the food chain. However, I do hope that we get to see more of this place from an outsider’s perspective. Seeing it through Dwight’s eyes isn’t as memorable as it would be through Daryl’s eyes because Dwight knows this place- Daryl doesn’t.
And part of that is the comic fan in me wanting to view certain aspects of the Sanctuary as they are brought to life, but things like Negan’s harem or the iron ritual are things I would refer to see rather than be told about them.
Granted, seeing all of that might have taken away from Daryl’s story and his struggle after Glenn’s death, but if we’re spending the majority of the episode here, it would be nice to see more of the Sanctuary along with him outside of a few rooms, the gate, and some hallways. But hey, this probably won’t be the last time we see the Sanctuary.
But we see that, unlike the other communities, being in the Sanctuary, more so if you’re working for points, is like living under a constant sentence of death, and you never know when your time will come. Hell, it may never come, but it could also be anytime. As Dwight tells Gordon, everything belongs to Negan or will soon. Or, to go further back, it’s similar to the Hunters’ philosophy of being the butcher or the cattle.
It’s a brutal life, but regardless of your choice, there’s no escape. You can sacrifice whatever worth or dignity you have to live under Negan’s rule, but have a chance a chance at survival, or take your chances and wind up never escaping his reign, as seen when Dwight brings Gordon back to the Sanctuary as a walker and adds him to the gates. Even if Gordon wanted out, at the end of the day, he remained a prisoner.
This episode helped make Dwight a bit more sympathetic. He’s done terrible things, yes, but he made an effort to help Tina and now he’s paying for it. Not just by losing Sherry to Negan, but also whatever remaining remnants he had of his former self. For now, at least.
Gordon reminded Dwight that he used to be much different and there’s still a good man behind all of the bad things that Dwight has done. But rather than reclaim his life, as Gordon wanted for himself, Dwight has given into Negan’s rule and is willing to do and say whatever is necessary to prove his loyalty.
But there’s clear doubt on Dwight’s part. It’s not helped by Negan mocking him whenever given the chance or admitting that he now owns Shelly.
There are clear parallels between Dwight and Daryl, yes. Both made a risky move to help a friend, someone ended up dead in the process, and they are now dealing with the consequences. The difference is that while Daryl refuses to bend the knee, Dwight kneels because he knows that it’s easier than dying. That and he can bide his time while getting in Negan’s good graces.
But not Daryl. The guilt of Glenn’s death is eating away at him and while he’s not completely broken, he’s not trying to punch Negan right now. It’s like he’s been tamed, but still won’t blindly commit to his master. Daryl feels that this is his penance, and Dwight showing him the Polaroid of Glenn is salt in the wound.
Even though he’s trapped, at least Daryl took an opportunity to escape when given the chance, even though it may have just been a setup. Though Daryl is surrounded without allies, he’s not 100 percent resigned to his fate and won’t just stew in his cell all day like a trapped animal.
Despite Daryl’s shitty situation, he did end up vindicated in one regard. He told Sherry and Dwight that they would be sorry, and that’s what happened with Sherry’s sacrificial move to marry Negan in order to save Dwight- who ended up getting the iron anyway.
I feel that this was done to make Sherry seem sympathetic as well. Like Dwight, she’s making the most of a shitty situation, but she’s chosen dependency through Negan instead of returning to Dwight, as that would have meant survival in order to get points. With Negan, there’s no need for that since he provides security. So like Dwight, Shelly takes the easy way out.
But again, living in the Sanctuary, even under Negan’s protection, is a hellhole since, as Shelly tells Daryl, things will get worse, no matter how bad they are. And as we’ve seen for them, Gordon, and probably countless others, they do.
Although Negan isn’t in this episode very long, his presence is felt throughout and Jeffrey Dean Morgan makes good with what little screen-time Negan has. Even though we’re at the Sanctuary, it would have been easy to give us too much Negan, but I’m fine with what we got here. Plus, given how the Saviors appear to be headed for Alexandria next, I’m sure that he will get more to do in episodes to come.
“The Cell” was a good look at some of the inner workings of the Sanctuary, but I hope we see more of it from a newcomer’s perspective as we learn more about life under Negan. It gave us a slightly broken, but not defeated Daryl trying his damnedest to survive while being tormented from every side.
The episode did a good job showing how hard things have been for Shelly and Dwight since they returned to Negan, proving that no matter how much you want to escape, and even if you get away, there is nowhere to run when everything you have and all that you are belongs to Negan.