So many questions still plague our minds about what happens to our group after Negan’s deadly power play. The episode last week, although not as action-packed as we all were hoping for, gave us a glimpse of what life is like inside The Kingdom “ruled” by King Ezekiel. However, The Cell shows us a different kind of kingdom. It is a stark contrast from Ezekiel’s Kingdom. With Ezekiel you get part of a fantasy. He wants to keep the “good” for people. The Sanctuary, on the other hand offers a juxtaposed view. People kneel for Negan when he walks down the halls, not out of admiration, but out of pure, unadulterated fear (that Negan gets off on).
This episode offers us a look at what Daryl is enduring as he is being held as a prisoner at The Sanctuary. In a musical montage, the episode opens with “Who’s the Boss” playing on the television and Dwight making himself a sandwich. As the montage plays we see the sandwich come together, each piece placed beautifully joined by mustard and fresh lettuce and tomatoes. As Dwight takes the first bite of the sandwich, the musical montage stops and the sounds of walker snarls and growls take its place. Dwight makes another sandwich; this time opening a can of dog food and slabbing it on two pieces of bread. He opens a door and there he is. It’s Daryl; completely naked and sitting on a cold concrete floor. The building looks very familiar, like the one that Carol and Maggie were held in last season.
We get another musical montage of Dwight bringing Daryl these dog food sandwiches. The music here is “Easy Street” by Collapsible Hearts Club. But this time is different. We realize (when the music stops for a few seconds) that it is being used to psychologically abuse and manipulate Daryl. For those brief few seconds Daryl tries to close his eyes for some sleep. Unfortunately the music begins blasting again. The process of brainwashing is simple. You take away sleep and dignity. Then, with what looks like an act of kindness, you give little things like food and sleep as rewards for good behavior. It’s classically Pavlovian. Negan is attempting to break Daryl and brainwash him into becoming a part of their group. He even orchestrates a trap for Daryl to see if he is ready. When Dwight goes in search of a “code orange” who has fled, “Fat Joey” leaves the door to Daryl’s cell unlocked and he tries to escape. Mistake. As he runs for the motorcycles, Negan and a group encircle him. Negan has the group spout off one by one, answering, “I am Negan” when asked, “who are you.” Daryl is beaten and thrown back into his cell.
Outside the compound, Dwight searches for the “grab and go” who fled the group. On his way he sees several walkers, some of which were involved in a car accident. He carefully walks the motorcycle through them. He goes very slowly–almost too slow. Walkers start falling from the overpass above. He struggles, but eventually frees himself and sees Gordon, the runaway man. Gordon pleads with Dwight, citing examples from Dwight’ life to try to elicit an emotional response. Dwight points his gun at him and tells him that he’ll put everyone he knows on the walker fence if he doesn’t go back. Gordon tries to ask him why, with so many people, do they not mutiny. Dwight shoots him in the back and takes him back to the Sanctuary where he puts him on the walker fence anyway.
Once again Daryl is given the opportunity to become a member of The Saviors because, as Dwight says, “Negan has taken a shine to him.” In one of the last visits that Dwight pays to Daryl, he gives him a picture of Glenn’s lifeless, bludgeoned body. Out of reaction, Daryl throws it on the ground. Another song plays this time, this time it’s Roy Orbison’s “I’ve Been Crying Over You.” Daryl picks up the picture now out of sadness, loneliness and regret. He begins to cry. And there it is. Broken. Dwight waits outside listening.
Negan once again brings Daryl out. He tempts him almost biblically, just like Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. He offers him everything, all he has to do is tell him who he is. Instead of taking the bait, Daryl refuses to answer “Negan.” He answers, “Daryl.” Negan immediately sends him back to his torture cell.
In one last conversation, Daryl tells Dwight, “I get it, I know why you did it.” He knows that their motivations are the same. But just as Dwight went back to Negan for someone, Daryl will not submit to Negan. For somebody. And, at this point, we come full circle. The question posed in the beginning of the episode, “Who’s the Boss?”