REVIEW: The Walking Dead 703 – “The Cell”

Well, well, well. This was a unique episode in the context of this season. It might be my favorite Daryl-centered episode since “This Sorrowful Life.”

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“The Cell” features one of the strangest, most feel good cold openings in TWD history. It’s a beautiful contradiction that works perfectly — almost like Carol baking cookies for Alexandria. This is the kind of genre subversion that works well for the series — and the kind of levity I saw in the comics over the show. I’m hoping this tone continues.

One of TWD’s strongest areas is its excellence in displaying “new rules” for its various communities. The Sanctuary is brilliantly developed as a complete counter culture to The Kingdom. It doesn’t seem particularly bad for the men (other than Daryl), while the women (like Sherry) are virtual concubines.

It’s weird seeing a “walker wall” in context of TWD after seeing it a few weeks earlier in FTWD. I know these things are written and shot by two different teams in two different locations, but it feels like deja vu… even more so if you include the similar setup our group had in season 3 with the prison.

The Dwight B-story culminates in an event that should be emotionally affecting, but we have little context to Dwight’s history. It comes off feeling like a tacked on emotional beat meant to makes us sympathize with the Saviors as a whole (at least the ones that are a little more morally gray than their leader). On the other hand, it’s awesome hearing the story of Dwight attempted escape from The Sanctuary via Negan’s perspective.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan continues to prove that he’s the show’s long lost light. Negan is so delightfully charming that I can’t hate him at all. Others will find his dark humor infuriating, but I can’t help but smile every time he’s onscreen. His charisma is addictive.

The repeated “Easy Street” gag never failed to get a chuckle out of me. I anticipated the songs to change, but the continued use of it really sells Daryl’s slow descent into total, silent madness.

This is one of Reedus’ strongest performances as Daryl, saying far more with his actions and expressions than he ever could do verbally. Watching him cry with the same intensity as he did when Merle died truly hurts… regardless of how you feel about Daryl himself. It’s also nice to see him turn the tables on Dwight at the end, breaking him down in return.

(Random aside: I’m curious to see how the saga of the Dr. Carsons unfolds. One Carson being at “House Hilltop” while the other is obviously deep in the Negan brainwashing.)

Overall, the episode didn’t feel as “tacked on” as last week’s diversion to The Kingdom, but it still felt largely unnecessary. Next week will be the real indicator as to whether or not the two-episode buildup to another Rick/Negan encounter was all worth it. I definitely would agree that the show needed to “breathe” after the heaviness of the premiere, but I think these last two episodes are gasps. While strong, they both fail to capture the simmering intensity that the “opening lick” seemed to have. Should I blame the hype? I don’t think so. I also don’t know if it would’ve been possible to combine “The Well” and “The Cell” into a single episode — possibly a 90 minute one. The contrast between The Kingdom and The Sanctuary would’ve been more readily apparent and striking in terms of juxtaposition, and the wait for something new after the “Lucille Incident” would be closer (and not happening halfway through the mid-season).

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