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TV Review: The Walking Dead - Season 8, Episode 5

Season 8, Episode 5: The Big Scary U

PLOT: Pieces of Negan's back story are revealed while the Saviors try to figure out how to handle the strikes against them.

REVIEW: If the villainous Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) could receive text messages during the zombie apocalypse, someone at some point might have referred to him as "the Big Scary U", but the title of The Walking Dead season 8's fifth episode isn't actually a text speak way of letting someone know they're frightening - the U in question is the unknown. In that case, "the Big Scary U" could have been used to describe the history of Negan, but by the time this episode comes to an end Negan's back story isn't completely unknown anymore. While trapped with Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) in a trailer surrounded by flesh-hungry zombies, Negan reveals some details about the man he was before all the community enslaving and head bashing we've seen him get up to since he entered the show as the leader of the community known as the Saviors.

I've seen a lot of fans express the opinion that The Walking Dead jumped the shark when it introduced Negan, but I feel the opposite. For me, the presence of the Negan and his Saviors in the seventh season reinvigorated the show, making it more interesting than it had been in a while. After four episodes of The Walking Dead's more noble characters engaging in shootout after uninvolving shootout with Saviors, it was a relief that this season finally calmed down a bit with this longer-than-usual episode and decided to show us how Negan and his people are dealing with the war that's being waged against them. Finally we get a break from valiant speeches and heroic actions, digging into the dirt with the assortment of sleazeballs and douchebags Negan hangs out with. I couldn't have been happier to be getting an episode that starts out with a meeting between Negan, his right hand man Simon (Steven Ogg), and the Hilltop community's cowardly leader Gregory (Xander Berkeley). Let the slime ooze off the screen.

This meeting occurs moments before the attack on the Saviors' home base as seen in the first episode of this season, and it's not the only Saviors meeting we see in The Big Scary U. Later, after the bullets have started flying and zombies are at their door, Saviors higher-ups Simon, Dwight (Austin Amelio), Gavin (Jayson Warner Smith), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), and Regina (Traci Dinwiddie) discuss how to handle the situation now that Negan appears to be dead - unaware that he's busy talking about his past with Father Gabriel. The Walking Dead threw me for a loop when it introduced Regina as one of Negan's lieutenants in the season premiere. The Saviors have been around for all this time and we've never seen this woman before, even though she's apparently a major player in the community? For a while I was thinking that Regina was a replacement for Negan's lackey Arat, since the actress who plays Arat (Elizabeth Ludlow) had signed on for a role in Michael Dougherty's upcoming GODZILLA sequel. Maybe there was some kind of scheduling issue? But no, The Big Scary U shows us that Arat is still around, and while she lurks in the background Regina is establishing herself as a worthy, hateful addition to the cast. She's one of those Saviors viewers will love to see get their comeuppance somewhere down the line.

We need Saviors we can root against wholeheartedly, as I find Negan too entertaining to want to see him get a comeuppance that would remove him from the show. I don't think the producers are in any hurry to get rid of him, either. After spending an entire season building up to the hero characters striking back against him, drawing things out so long that viewers got desperate for all-out war to begin, the show is taking efforts to humanize Negan now that the war is underway. We now have an idea of his former occupation, know about his "real" wife, and have gotten further insight on his personal philosophies. These seem like steps on a road to redemption to me.

I would have been content to spend the entire episode at the Saviors' Sanctuary, but there were also some unexpected cutaways to Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) out in the battlefield. The Big Scary U doesn't contain any extensive shootouts (something to be thankful for as we enter the week of Thanksgiving), but it does have Rick and Daryl engaging in a fight... with each other! And this fight leads to a callback to one of my favorite lines in Walking Dead history, a line from the first season that was one of the first things I ever loved about this show.

There's another callback when characters slather zombie guts on themselves so they can walk among the living dead without being attacked. This was a tactic first seen in the first season, and it's somewhat surprising how little it has been put to use since then (although The Walking Dead's companion series Fear the Walking Dead was overusing it in a major way for a while). As it turns out, rubbing zombie guts on yourself might have dire consequences. Those Fear the Walking Dead people got lucky.

I haven't been having a great time with The Walking Dead's eighth season so far, and I found this episode to be a welcome change of pace. Less gunfire and more Negan is exactly what I've been hoping for, and while delivering that The Big Scary U also managed to include some very intriguing set-ups for things to come.

BEST ZOMBIE MOMENT: Negan and Father Gabriel slap on some zombie guts so they can get out of the trailer, but their escape attempt doesn't go very smoothly.

GORY GLORY: Those guts the escape artists were covered in looked nice and disgusting.

FAVORITE SCENE: Negan, Simon, and Gregory sitting around a table, exchanging dialogue.

FINAL VERDICT

Extra Tidbit: What did you think of The Big Scary U?

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