The Walking Dead Is Setting Up a Negan vs. Beta Smackdown

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Did you see that post the other day from Entertainment Weekly's Walking Dead guy Dalton Ross proclaiming that The Walking Dead is in the midst of a creative renaissance? I think that's true (I've been saying it since last season), and if you're reading this recap, chances are you think it's true, too. The other night I was talking to someone who still considered herself a fan, but checked out after Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) introduction. I recommended that she jump back in, skipping Seasons 7 and 8 and picking up with Season 9. The upside of this is avoiding a lot of misery and wheel-spinning. The downside would be a lack of context for where Negan is at in his character arc as of "Bonds," the sixth episode of Season 10. You don't need to see Negan's reign of terror and eventual downfall to understand the semi-redeemed character he is now, but it would help. It's probably not worth the hours spent watching him intimidate Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and play mind games with Carl (Chandler Riggs), though. He's finally fun to watch now.

Ross described Negan in a pithier way than I've been able to articulate this season: "The producers keep taking great pains to not make Negan too nice, which is a welcome change from television's often unbelievable transformations." Negan may not be the dictator he once was, but he's still a dick. Every time he does something positive, he undermines it with his mouth. Ross pointed out the moment in last week's episode where he bonded with an isolated kid by teaching him a game where you flick your friend in the balls. A nice thing done in a not so nice way. The writers are being very careful about showing the ways Negan has changed while still keeping his essential Negan-ness.

His Negan-ness was on great display this week. There is seemingly no one less capable of being a Whisperer than Negan, who can't stop talking in the loudest voice possible about how great he is for even a minute, and yet he apparently wants to be a Whisperer now. "Look at you guys!" he said. "Cool-ass outfits, the whole back-to-nature paleo vibe, you are a survivalist's wet dream." Beta (Ryan Hurst) wanted to kill him just to get some peace and quiet, but then he revealed who he is and he came from and said that he'd spill every secret he knew about Alexandria so long as Beta took him to his leader.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Ryan Hurst, <em>The Walking Dead</em>Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Ryan Hurst, The Walking Dead

Beta didn't think it was a good idea to let Negan see how the Whisperers lived, but Alpha (Samantha Morton) seemed very curious about him and told Beta to test him by seeing what value he could bring to the community. He proved himself by doing all kinds of grunt work, including helping kill and cook a wild boar, but then Beta wouldn't let him eat any of the bacon. Beta and Negan are just not compatible dudes. "You will never be one of us," Beta said. "You are too loud, too weak, too full of ego." Negan answered that it didn't matter what Beta thought, because he was only here for Alpha.

And Alpha is kinda into him. After Negan dispatched a bunch of walkers Beta forced him to kill, he approached the Whisperer leader, announced that he was ready to get fitted for a skin suit — as long as it had room for his big balls — and knelt down and pledged fealty to her. In response, she sniffed him, and he smiled his devilish smile. It's still unclear what his plan is here — he's definitely up to something, because unlike what he said at the beginning of the episode, he's definitely not a joiner — and it will be fun to see Alpha, Beta, and Negan dance around each other. Hopefully we see a Negan vs. Beta smackdown before the end of this half-season.

Elsewhere in the episode, lonely Eugene at Hilltop made a friend over the radio. We don't know anything about her in terms of name or location, but we know Eugene feels like he can trust her. She might turn out to be a foe, but for now, she's a faraway friend.

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Also, a virus swept through Alexandria and overburdened the infirmary run by Siddiq (Avi Nash) and Dante (Juan Javier Cardenas). I'm worried about Rosita, because Christian Serratos might be leaving to play Selena.

And Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) went out into the woods. Their stated mission was to look for Negan, but Carol was there to try to find and destroy Alpha's walker horde, and Daryl was there to keep an eye on her because he's worried about her mental and emotional state. And it turned out she wasn't even telling the truth about the horde. She was there to retrieve a Whisperer she took prisoner at some earlier date. She told Daryl she caught him right then, but Daryl knew she was lying. Carol is being very reckless, crossing the border willy-nilly and carrying a loaded gun on the off-chance she sees Alpha again. If a war starts, Carol will have fired the first shot.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.

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