The Walking Dead: Sing Me A Song
“Sing Me a Song” is the penultimate episode of the “A” half of the seventh season of The Walking Dead. It’s an extra-sized 90-minute episode which I think we all know has more to do with ad revenue than it does story-telling. This episode doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know from the last over-sized episode. Negan is a bad dude. He puts on a smile and he never shuts up. So far this season, we have probably spent more time listening to Negan prattle on than we have spent with any other character including Rick – the show’s de facto protagonist. In “The Cell”, viewers got an extended look inside the Savior’s compound from the points of view of Dwight and Daryl. This episode is more of the same as seen by a recently captured Carl.
When last we saw Carl, he was riding in the back of a supply truck with the intent – but no actual plan – to kill Negan. To say this is a bad idea would be an understatement. There is no chance of Carl completing his objective and he should know that. This plot point is lifted directly from the comic book where it made a little more sense because comic book Carl is significantly younger than his TV counter-part played by an actor who is preparing to go to college. Carl of the comics is, I don’t know, maybe 12. You expect that sort of short-sighted thinking from a twelve-year-old. It starts to look like stupidity coming from someone with a few more years of cognitive development.
In the comic, Negan takes a liking to Carl because for a kid his age, he’s such a badass. Once again, the realities of having a 17-year-old Carl on the show changes the way this plays out. Just last week, we heard that the Saviors killed every male in the Oceanside Community over the age of 10 in order to keep them from posing a threat. Negan suddenly taking a nearly adult Carl under his wing makes less sense than him being impressed with the courage of a tween who traveled to his secret compound with murderous intent. This Carl is more dumb than brave and he poses a more significant threat than in the original story.
We can wave some of that away with suspension of disbelief. But it’s hard to justify Negan’s interest in Carl beyond his relationship with Rick. Chandler Riggs doesn’t captivate. The bulk of this ninety-minute episode hinges on us buying that Negan is so impressed with Carl that he exempts him from the kind of treatment he doles out to just about everyone else – including his own men. After lecturing about the importance of rules and burning the face of an underling, it’s a little hard to swallow that Negan let’s Carl off with a song.
Much of the Carl-Negan exchange came directly from the source material. To give you a sense of the shift in tone brought about by a more mature Carl, here are some panels from the comic book:
I don’t want to harp on this point too much because realistically, there’s nothing much the show can do at this point. They took seven years to reach this part of the story and in that time the actor they cast as a child has grown up. I suppose it would have been nice if they hadn’t padded out the narrative to this point. But it is what it is.
The purpose of all of this is to humanize Negan a little bit. We get some insight into how he keeps his people in line. Perform well, and you are rewarded with fresh vegetables at dinner. Break a rule, no matter how arbitrary, and he will press a hot iron into your face. Of course the problem is that Negan is still such an unpredictable sadist that it’s nearly impossible to believe his own men wouldn’t rise up against him, but that is the nature of these characters.
Another problem is that Negan has basically shot his wad. When we met him, he brutally killed Glenn and Abraham as a signal to the audience that he is a bigger threat than most of the show’s villains. But Negan can’t go around killing major characters every episode. So he has to find reasons to keep Carl, Rick and Daryl alive no matter how they defy him while punishing minor character like Henchman Mark and a character to be named later (probably in the midseason finale).
The truth is, for all his speechifying, Negan’s not special. They just gave the Governor a little more bluster and a signature weapon. But the end effect is basically the same.
Unlike most episodes this season, “Sing Me A Song” did cut away to advance a couple of B-plots. Probably not the ones you were interested in. (Hey writers, it’s been five weeks since we had an update on the Kingdom!!) Instead, we see Rick and Aaron on a supply run, Spencer and Father Gabriel on a supply run, and Rosita shaming Eugene into making the bullet he already agreed to make last time we saw him. Presumably, some of this stuff is going to pay off in the future. But most of it – especially the scenes with Rosita and Eugene which took a step backwards just to end up in exactly the same spot – felt like padding to reach the 90 minute runtime.
Potential spoilers: I have a bit more to say about Spencer and his criticisms of Rick, but I’m going to save that subject for next week as I think that will play into the midseason finale. For now, I’ll just say we have seen what happens to people who criticize Rick on this show even when they are 100% right.