UK TV review: The Walking Dead: Season 10, Episode 5 (What It Always Is)
“I am Negan”9
Neil Brazier | On 04, Nov 2019Reading time: 7 mins
This is a spoiler-free review of Episode 5 of Season 10. Already seen the episode? Read on for full spoilers after its UK broadcast.
Halloween is over, the pumpkins are starting to rot on our garden paths, but there is someone in the world of the Walking Dead who has a costume ready for a monster to wear.
Out in the wilderness, a familiar whistle returns to the wind, bringing with it haunting memories of past atrocities. Filled with violence from a former life, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) will be tested more than he ever has been before in this episode. If being locked in a cell for the best part of a decade hasn’t broken him, it may have made him more ferocious than ever.
Tensions are still rife at the Hilltop – they know that the tree was no accident, that it was healthy with good roots and, ever since, walkers have been appearing more and more. Kelly (Angel Theory) goes missing while on a hunt and Magna (Nadia Hilker) is behaving oddly since her relationship with Yumiko (Elanor Matsuura) hit a spat.
Usually, The Walking Dead is very good at using music to heighten scenes, however as Magna behaves childishly, the song playing becomes far too blatant and lessens the drama from this section. In fact, it seems this whole group storyline is used only to bring Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Connie (Lauren Ridloff) closer together, and while they make a cute couple, we all know the rules about happiness on this show.
This is mere filler in comparison to the main meat of the episode: Negan. Unlocatable, he’s been freed from his cell and escaped with Brandon (Blaine Kern III) – who has appeared in the background of a couple of episodes this season. His father was a former Saviour and this has caused him to develop a vendetta against Alexandria, despite being only a child when the war was won and Negan was first imprisoned. He has a desperation to relive the good old days and that starts by finding a new basecamp and reforming the group that terrorized the survivors for so long.
Brandon thinks that Negan is still Negan and that he can be a loyal subject worthy enough to call himself Negan too. His first act? Presenting his idol with his old leather jacket and a new bat, gift-wrapped in barbwire. But here lies the crux of the episode: Negan is a changed man. He was broken by being locked away, he begged Maggie to kill him because he wasn’t strong enough to do it himself. Now, he’s happy and content to pick tomatoes and keep out of trouble.
Brandon refuses to believe it. The pair encounter some walkers and Negan disposes of them in the most violent – and yet visually beautiful – way. The skull-crushing, brain-stomping aggression that Brandon sees and wants to release still lives inside of Negan.
Not knowing what mask he wears flows throughout the episode and keeps it alive with intrigue. As well as seeing the horrific side of him, we also see the playful, paternal side – the one who made spaghetti for Carl and who helps Judith with her algebra. For a moment, we also see the Negan that turned many viewers off the character, the one whose constant phallic references feel a little inappropriate, but mostly, we see the Negan who carries so much screen presence, who can move you from joy to dread from just the look in his eye.
The old Negan was very one-dimensional, but New Negan comes in a variety of flavours. His next chapter is already undoubtedly painted in earnest interest, no matter what costume he chooses to wear.
The Walking Dead Season 10 premieres on FOX UK at 9pm on Mondays. Don’t have pay-TV? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, for £8.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial. (An Entertainment Pass auto-renews at £8.99 a month until 1st September 2020, £9.99 thereafter unless cancelled.) Seasons 1 to 9 are available on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV until November 2019.
Innards and entrails (spoilers)
If you are familiar with the comics, then you will know where this story with Negan is heading. Negan is off to see the Whisperers and at the end of the episode he has already run into Beta (Ryan Hurst). The TV series has changed the Negan character – he actually shows more remorse and compassion here – but if he is to lie down with the Whisperers, then it might be a good thing that he has put back on his costume and holds an old familiar in his hands. The last scene with Negan swinging his bat will delight fans as it harks back to his old self, but we like the new Negan with the layers and the empathy. Can a hybrid Negan exist? And will Negan follow through on his comic-book counterpart’s actions?
King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) has been keeping a secret. Both his grandmother and his father suffered with thyroid cancer and now the King has a swollen thyroid. With the world being what it is, Ezekiel has resigned himself to death. Siddiq (Avi Nash) tries to offer his help and the pair discuss their worries, but the King still cannot bring himself to tell his former Queen. This could be the start of Siddiq’s redemption; having suffered from the nightmares of the barn, where he watched his friends get decapitated, he can no longer keep a steady hand. By opening up to Ezekiel, maybe Siddiq will be able to save the King. We haven’t seen health problems for a while – as well as the virus that turns the survivors into the undead, other nasty bugs and strains must still exist. Ezekiel has much to resolve and even though he may have hung up his crown, he is still a fun character. If the series hasn’t learned yet from the unwarranted deaths of the past just for mid-season ratings, this is one ailment they need to overcome.
The survivors’ instincts were right. Alpha (Samantha Morton) has changed the rules and the zombie waves and fallen tree were all part of her devilish plot to break the survivors’ will. She believes they will soon come to see that her way of life is the right way and those that don’t will perish, but there are still some detractors in her camp that she must make an example of to keep her place as Alpha. This is what distinguishes the Whisperers: they have lost all taste of humanity and are savages, as we are reminded here.
Perhaps Gamma (Thora Birch) isn’t as loyal as she first appeared. Having witnessed the brutality of Alpha first hand, Gamma takes out some frustrations on her guardian as she pollutes the water supply with entrails of the undead. Gamma is so aggressive, stabbing the corpse over and over, that she eventually causes herself an injury. Fortunately, Aaron (Ross Marquand) is nearby and offers her a bandage.
When this is told to Alpha, a new plan is concocted that will see Gamma wear a different type of mask. Hopefully, Alpha is thinking of sending Gamma in as a spy to the enemy camp, because if she thinks Gamma is going to win Aaron’s heart, she’s mistaken. Either way, it will be good to see more of Birch, who has created a new compelling character despite her little screen time thus far.
If it weren’t for the misplaced nut-tapping conversation with a child, this would have been a perfect Negan episode. The brutality of his walker kills and even that of Brandon resonated so strongly with the character who bashed in Glenn’s skull back in season seven. It is the action of smashing in a walker’s head, as opposed to stabbing it, that makes Negan such an enigma. Yes, he killed to survive and to take out someone who was a murderous psychopath – he killed for the right reasons. But the way he killed? Negan might say that if you have to do it, have fun with it, but the sheer aggression and brutality is what makes Negan so dangerous and why Alexandria kept him locked up for so long.