Last week’s episode offered a brief reprieve from heartbreak — what with the jovial introduction of chivalrous King Ezekiel and all — so I suppose we should have expected the darkness that was to come with this week’s episode of The Walking Dead.
Spoiler alert, y’all! We’re about to talk about some seriously effed up stuff that happened to a character we all know and love, so avert your gaze if you haven’t yet watched “The Cell.”
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let us return our attention to its proper focus: Daryl. When we last saw our favorite roughneck, he was being dragged away by Negan’s cronies. He wasn’t dead, which was a plus, but we knew Negan had nefarious plans for him.
As it turns out, Negan has actually taken quite the shine to our boy. Some speculate this may mean Daryl, the TV version, is assuming the role of Carl, the comic series version — which is to say that Negan kind of develops a soft spot for him and takes him under his wing.
Hopefully, that isn’t the case, and by episode’s end, it certainly didn’t seem like Daryl was going to break. Of course, that isn’t for lack of trying on Negan’s part. In several gut-wrenching scenes, we see Daryl bound (and sometimes naked) in a tiny room being forced to eat dog food and listen to excessively loud and cheery music on repeat.
Sidebar: Does this remind anyone else of what Wednesday Addams went through at Camp Chippewa in Addams Family Values? You know, sans the dog food and nudity.
The henchman who Negan assigns the task of breaking Daryl’s spirit is none other than Dwight, the shifty guy who stole Daryl’s bike and crossbow back in Season 6. We do not like Dwight. He killed Denise by shooting an arrow through her eye. He’s no bueno.
At least that’s what I tried to remember throughout this episode as little slivers of Dwight’s thoroughly concealed humanity starting peeking through.
For starters, he seems conflicted about torturing Daryl. I think he respects him and senses something of a kindred spirit. Before all this started, outside of this state of the world, they might have run in the same circles.
Then, we see a scene in which Dwight comes across a fellow Savior trying to flee. When the man — who is apparently an old friend — pleads with Dwight to take his life since “there is nothing left,” Dwight genuinely resists. He looks pained even at the thought of taking this man’s life.
Of course, he does shoot the dude in the back about five minutes later, but you get the sense he did it because that’s what he knew the man really wanted.
But the big bombshell came from Negan. After a particularly horrible scene in which Daryl breaks down and starts crying in his cell over a picture of Glenn’s decimated body (someone hold me), Dwight takes him to see Negan. In trying to convince Daryl to submit to his will, the villain finally reveals the backstory of his relationship with Dwight.
As it turns out, Negan was going to marry Dwight’s sister-in-law in exchange for the medicine she needed to save her life. Rather than watch it happen, Dwight stole the meds and fled with his wife, Sherry, and his sick sister-in-law. We first met the trio at that point, when their paths crossed Daryl’s.
Naturally, though, Negan’s men caught up to the “fugitives.” Negan was going to kill Dwight, but Sherry offered to marry him if he would agree to spare Dwight’s life. Wow. Seeing as how Sherry is now at the Sanctuary being rather kind to Daryl, she must be a pretty decent person. The fact that she was married to Dwight and loved him enough to sacrifice herself for him kind of makes you look at him in a slightly different light.
We also learn that’s when Dwight got the burns on his face — to teach him a lesson (before taking his wife), Negan took a hot iron to Dwight’s face.
In that moment when Negan tells this story and says he and Dwight are “totally cool,” just how not cool it is pierces through Dwight’s fixed gaze. And when Daryl refuses to bend to Negan’s will, Dwight is visibly frustrated. “You’re gonna wind up in that room or hanging on the fence!” he yells at Daryl.
What follows is just at gutting, perhaps, as the scenes where Daryl is being tortured: He empathizes with Dwight. “I get why you did it. Why you took it. You were thinking about someone else. That’s why I can’t.” Daryl understands him. He has people who need him too, he is him.
This brings us to this uncomfortable realization that we kinda-maybe-sorta might be starting to like Dwight. Gah, what am I saying?
Still, I think we have to ask ourselves WWDD? And the answer, based on that last haunting scene, is to realize that Dwight is no different from any other person with blood on their hands in this zombocalypse — he’s just another someone trying to survive.