While last episode of The Walking Dead did strike me as somewhat lackluster, this one, “Hostiles and Calamities,” makes up for it in force. By focusing in on two characters rather than the vast multitude, the show truly shines.
1. Extended Look at the Sanctuary
One thing that stood out is the fact that, by using Eugene and Dwight as the central characters of this episode, we finally see the full breadth of Savior society. Eugene is shown what it means to be “Negan,” including favors from the man himself, access to video games and food, and more. On the other hand, he is also shown the lower and middle classes, and we finally see how the point system works, rather than just referring to it offhand.
On the other hand, Dwight’s focus shows how a more stable fixture of the Saviors acts, one who knows the entire system and how to manipulate it, rather than a newcomer who is awed by it all.
2. Attempted Rebellion of the Wives
As another side effect of the focus, we have increased characterization of Negan’s “wives,” namely Sherry, Amber, Frankie, and Tanya. I admit, I had trouble distinguishing the personalities of Tanya and Frankie, who seem to just be “those wives who aren’t Amber or Sherry,” but the fact that they were characterized at all is still an increase from their complete lack of lines earlier in the season, in “Sing Me a Song.” They apparently chose their status as wives, rather than being forced to by their circumstances, like Amber, or out of altruism, like Sherry. As a result, the only real rebellion they seem to want any part in is an attempt to euthanize Amber, who is alcoholic and suicidal as is.
Not shown, but still characterized, is Sherry. She is not only revealed as the one who released Daryl, but her reasoning is as well. Interestingly, she holds herself accountable for Dwight’s evil, saying that he only turned this bad after he had to kill someone, which was presumably after the attempt to escape from the Saviors. Her decision to write that she will not be coming back, and the mention in her note that she is not sure if he would kill her or not, seems to have actually had the effect of further solidifying Dwight’s turn toward good once more. She claims that she released Daryl because he is a reminder of how Dwight once was that she does not want to burden him with, but was her true goal an attempt at reverse psychology? Either way, the writing of the scene effectively characterized both Dwight and Sherry in a single scene, using only voiceover and his own reactions to the letter.
3. ”Doctor” Eugene
In order to solidify his position at first in Negan’s inner circle, Eugene brought back his old lie about being a government scientist with multiple Ph.D.s. It was a familiar route that had been well trod, but it still worked well, as we actually learned some new methods of how to use Walkers as defensive measures through the use of molten metal as a kind of body armor. Was this method used to make Winslow’s armor in last episode? Unclear, but unlikely given the lack of an obvious heat source to melt metal. Regardless, Eugene seems to appreciate the opportunity to use his scientific knowledge more, even smiling after being complimented on his smarts by Negan himself.
In a humorous scene, he even used some science to make a high school science experiment with two hydrogen balloons and a formula to create a “volcanic” eruption. Was this his history, much like in the source material? The scene makes it seem likely, but his clinical demeanor makes thinking about him as that kind of person, good with kids, seem very unlikely.
4. Dwight’s Betrayal
In a further development of Dwight’s character, he actually turns on Doctor Emmett Carson, betraying him by placing a note from Sherry in his desk to make him appear to have let Sherry go in the first place. His reasons for this seem to be rather clear: Carson had said that people in the Saviors, or at least those in the post-apocalyptic world, “don’t get to have big hearts,” in contrast to how he had once been and how the note had made him start to turn. This shown even more when Negan acknowledges that if Dwight was lying about Sherry’s connection to Carson, he would kill him with the iron to the other side of his face, a fact that, to Dwight’s credit, didn’t even make him flinch.Continued below
The method of Carson’s execution was rather brutal, though by no means graphic for the standards of this show. Being thrown into the furnace headfirst up to the waist was a swift death, admittedly with a lot of screaming, but does not seem likely to cause reanimation as a Walker. Besides, Lucille has done far worse. Still, Negan’s execution of him seems to be motivated both by his rage (Sherry was his favorite) and by his thoughts of Carson as expendable (believing Eugene’s lie about being a doctor). How will he react when he learns that Eugene is lying to him? Only time will tell.
5. Reversal of Character
The best part of this episode seems to have been the complete inversion of two characters, both of whom have been developing steadily over the show so far. Eugene goes from a coward who tries to get people to do what he wants to a coward who is willing to work for others for some recognition, as well as further developing his acting skills. Dwight on the other hand goes further from the cruel world of Sanctuary, even beginning his rebellion in his own small ways such as betraying Doctor Carson for insinuating he has to be cruel to survive.
The final lines of the episode exemplify the theme of the switched positions rather well. While Eugene notes, in his calm way, “we are Negan,” accepting his role in the Saviors rather than with the Alexandria Safe-Zone, Dwight’s response is a more nervous, noncommittal “…yeah.” Eugene seems to have found his place, one where he can be respected for his scientific knowledge rather than belittled and barely given anything to do, as he was with Rick. On the contrary, Dwight seems to have lost his way, and has no idea what to do with himself now beyond attempting to be good again.