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The Walking Dead – Service Review

“Service” was an interesting episode of The Walking Dead. Not interesting from a plot perspective, or even from a character perspective (although there were some nice character moments I will discuss a bit later), but interesting in that it exposed a great deal of the problems with the show as it currently stands.

I know many people were jazzed at the thought of Negan joining the show. I was one of them. I couldn’t wait to see an actor of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s caliber take on such a juicy part. But after watching four episodes that have focused heavily on Negan dating back to last season, well, I’d just as soon have him dispatched with and removed from the game board. I’m not sure if it’s a problem with the shows refusal to give Negan any sort of character development, or if the real problem is in Morgan’s portrayal, but Negan is not working for me. At all.

One of the major issues with Negan is that he is not scary. There is nothing menacing about Morgan in the role. Negan is just a bully who threatens violence while making really annoying speeches (what was once a borderline humorous character tag has now ventured into the plain trying and unpleasant to listen to). A great deal of this is on the show, as we know Negan isn’t going to kill off troves of the cast every other week so his threats of violence are hollow. And yes, if I were in the position of a character on the show, I’m sure I would be scared of Negan on some level. But as an audience member, he’s just a one-dimensional villain. He’s nothing special.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan – The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 4 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

And if this epic Big Bad isn’t scary, then one’s mind starts wandering while watching the show, wondering why someone doesn’t just kill Negan. Seriously, why doesn’t someone just do it? Is there any evidence that he has a power structure that will take up his mantle if he falls? From what we’ve seen throughout the season so far, he has plenty of lackeys, but no real lieutenants. Yes, his followers tell people they are Negan, but would they be able to organize themselves in his absence?

We also know that there are people within his organization who hate him. Who would be glad to be rid of him. I’m sure, when the inevitable battle happens between The Kingdom, Alexandria, and The Hilltop against the Saviors, these dissenters will be important to the fight against Negan, but we know Negan’s support isn’t as strong as it appears on the outside. So, each appearance of Negan where he continues to terrorize people just delays the inevitable. Which also makes Negan into a trying character to deal with, since we know the ultimate destination of this story arc.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan – The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 4 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Jeffery Dean Morgan is a very charismatic actor. He’s done a lot of good work throughout his career. But Negan is not a highlight. His delivery of every line is the same- smug laced with clearly fake menace. It’s exhausting to watch, and grating to listen to. And the defense of these poor acting choices (and, frankly, atrocious writing) isn’t to say it’s like that in the comic.

In the case of villains, comics and the screen have very different requirements to make the character work. Here, the writers and Morgan appear to have opted to simply recreate the comic villain on the screen. And that means layers of nuance that would be crucial to establishing this character as more than a ghoul without a purpose have been lost (or worse, never even explored on any level). There’s still time to rectify this oversight and build out the character. To give him a purpose, some depth, a story- anything, really. But that time is rapidly running short.

Austin Nichols as Spencer Monroe, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa – The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 4 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Final Thoughts:

— I did enjoy the few smart, interesting character beats the episode offered to Michonne, Rosita, and Father Gabriel. Having Gabriel be smart enough to see Negan’s strange and twisted interest in Maggie coming was a stroke of genius for a character the show has never really known what to do with. Having him remain strangely chipper in the face of long odds later in the episode was much less successful. Giving Michonne an arc that puts her at odds with Rick was also smart- Michonne has, for most of her apocalyptic life, been a loner who makes the hard choices. I’m glad the show is tapping back into this element of the character. Likewise Rosita, a character who was blatantly ignored in the season premiere, was given some agency in the episode. For the show to move forward and salvage something from the multiple missteps with the Saviors arc, the writers need to lean heavily on the supporting and undeveloped characters to build stories moving forward.

— But the character beats weren’t all successful. Oh Spencer, what an awful character on every level. I cannot wait for his inevitable death (his talking back to Rick had all the hallmarks of a minor character getting ready to meet his end).

— So far, out of three episodes that have included Negan this season, only one has been mostly successful. And that was the episode that focused on Daryl and Dwight more than Negan. In case you were wondering what math I was using to determine that the Negan elements of the show were the problem this year.

Rating
6.5
Pros
  • Good character beats from Michonne, Rosita, and Gabriel
  • Smart to move Maggie to The Hilltop to establish that group more
Cons
  • Negan isn't working as an antagonist
  • Spencer is just the worst

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About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeaniusIsMe on Twitter.

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