The latest colony explored on The Walking Dead is Negan's dispiriting dictatorship, a world of gunmetal grays and muted greens and blues whose residents exude an air of beaten-dog obedience. Angela Kang's screenplay efficiently establishes both the riches that are available to the Santuary's elite and the price paid by one and all for their relative safety and comfort.
The stage setting starts with the opening scene, in which Dwight (Austin Amelio) moves through the compound to build a sandwich, taking bread from a group of chefs in a big kitchen, adding mustard so unnaturally yellow it can't be homemade, and passing by a bunch of chickens to get tomatoes and lettuce from a garden. The room where Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) receives people is a time capsule from the pre-walker world, with its comfy armchair, bookshelf, and matching kitchen cabinets. Luxuries like booze and cigarettes appear to be plentiful, at least for Negan and his inner circle.
But not even Negan can reanimate the telecommunications system, so the cell of this episode’s title doesn’t refer to anything as potentially transformational or hopeful as a functioning cellphone. It’s just another damn cage—in this case the windowless room where Negan has deputized Dwight to attempt to break Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) spirit by penning him up, feeding him dog-food sandwiches, and blasting peppy pop music at him 24/7.
The episode’s dialogue is often numbingly literal or unnecessary, like when a doctor assures Daryl that Negan will “take care of you.” There’s at least some ambiguity to that phrase, which could work as a promise or a threat, but either way it’s redundant, since it doesn’t tell us anything we already don’t know. And when Dwight and his wife, Sherry (Christine Evangelista), lie to each other about how well they’re doing, a scene that could have been poignant winds up feeling merely expository, thanks to on-the-nose dialogue like “We did the right thing. It’s a hell of a lot better than being dead.” The soundtrack choices can be a bit obvious too: When Daryl finally cries, overcome by the guilt-inducing Polaroid—depicting Glenn’s pulverized head—that Dwight tosses into the cell, he sobs to the sound of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.”
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