The Walking Dead 7.11: Hostiles and Calamities
David Leslie Johnson
After a couple of episodes that seemed to regain some momentum and point towards some victories for Team Grimes, the writers take a diversion back to the Sanctuary to put a spotlight on Eugene’s journey. For some, this time spent on Eugene is entirely welcome; after all, his decisions will eventually have an impact on Negan’s ability to repel Rick’s coup attempt. For others, this will feel like a complete regression, even if it is a fairly transparent way to give the other cast members a little bit of a break.
Much depends on exactly where Eugene is going in the larger narrative, because this episode could be viewed in two very different ways. The first option is that everything is exactly how it seems, and Eugene has capitulated entirely to Negan and the Saviors. In that case, Eugene has effectively learned nothing over the course of his time with Team Grimes, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for coming away from the episode liking Eugene even less than they did at the start.
However, there is an alternative interpretation, and that is a more subversive one. Eugene may be a coward and pathetic, but that doesn’t mean that he’s incapable of a bit of growth and clever thinking. What if Eugene is using his natural fear and cowardice to mask a long-term strategy? What if his intent is to play along (or appear to do so) while slowly but surely undermining Negan’s ability to protect himself? It’s a longshot, but it would make this episode a whole lot more interesting in retrospect.
It should be noted that Eugene’s current arc is, on the face of it, a far cry from the direction taken with the character in the source material. It’s the most substantial deviation from the original storyline since the beginning of the season, and as such, it’s nearly impossible to predict where the writers are going with Eugene. Will he eventually make decisions that bring him to the same endpoint? It’s hard to say when this episode goes very far to suggest he won’t.
And yet, as this episode reminds us, Eugene’s greatest survival tactic has been convincing others to protect him and accept the notion that he has skills that others don’t have. For example, he goes back to claiming that he’s a doctor that worked on the Human Genome Project, which serves absolutely no good purpose at this stage. Negan already wants him around for his skills with bullets. Why lie about his background to the wives?
It’s possible that Eugene was willing to put forward that front when it seemed like he needed to persuade the wives when he thought they wanted his help with Amber, and his turn against them when it came down to Negan’s survival suggests he is ultimately sincere about being a Savior. But I’m not entirely convinced. Eugene knows how to lie, even if he seems to fold whenever Negan comes calling. But how much of that was realizing that if the wives would lie to him, they would happily turn on him in the future if things went wrong? If Eugene has a long game in mind, as he has before (such as stringing everyone along to get to DC), then he would definitely not succumb to temptation of easy victory.
The unfortunate part is that if this supposition is true, and Eugene is playing a long con, the episode goes so far in convincing the audience otherwise that it may seem like a cheat. And perhaps more to the immediate point, the episode still manages to bring the momentum of the season to a grinding halt. Even as someone who appreciated the geeky references throughout the episode, it’s hard not to feel like this was a self-inflicted wound.
- Possibly the most measured Negan performance to date
- There is a possibility this is the beginning of Eugene’s latest “long con”
- The season comes to a grinding halt with an installment that definitely didn’t need to be extended