Season Seven is the most faithful The Walking Dead has ever been to the comic books, and Sing Me a Song might just be the most accurate episode yet; at times, almost a panel-for-panel recreation of Carl’s meeting with Negan. It’s an arc from the comic books that I was almost certain they would cut out or repurpose for someone else, given how rarely Riggs seems to be entrusted with anything particularly meaty in terms of drama and story. And yet here it is – Carl hits the Saviours base, making a doomed attempt upon Negan’s life. Swiftly captured, he gets a grand tour of the camp from Negan himself, before the pair sit down for a typically lengthy chat. Naturally, it’s Negan who does all of the talking.
In many ways, Sing Me a Song is a massive improvement on recent episodes. While it’s longer than most, it doesn’t feel as drawn out as the last extended episode. It splits its time between various characters and locations, avoiding the ‘bottle episode’ feel that so much of Season Seven has suffered from recently. Stuff (and things) actually happen. And, best of all, Negan finally comes close to being scary. Or at least effective.
As with previous episodes, this one is essentially just another series of lengthy Negan monologues. Here, at least there are shades of other emotions and a variety to Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance that isn’t just him looking at people with a cocked head and saying ‘well look at you’ (although this is still a thing that happens at least twice). As in the books, Negan’s interrogation of Carl extends to bullying the kid into removing his eyepatch and making fun of the mess beneath. Chandler Riggs is visibly older than his comic book counterpart was at this point, but the impact remains the same, and Negan’s (allegedly) real regret at bullying a child to tears is an interesting change of pace. Is it genuine? Morgan plays the moment as though it might not be, continuing to struggle with a character who remains more cartoon than man, like someone has plopped Rick Sanchez down in the middle of The Walking Dead universe.
The attempt is appreciated, though, our first glimpse at the man behind the swaggering, loquacious façade. Playfully toying with what to do with Carl, it’s the most menacing Negan has been since the end of Season Six, feeling genuinely dangerous for a moment or two. And then he goes and spoils it all by saying something ridiculous like ‘sing for me’, and spends the next two minutes huffing like an idiot and swinging his bat at thin air. Sigh.
Had we not already been given the grand tour of Negan’s compound in The Cell, the specifics of all this might have been even more effective. There’s even a line about ‘déjà vu’ as Negan leads Carl about the Saviours’ base, showing him his harem of wives, his personal quarters and how exactly he deals with traitors. Daryl is there in the background too, moping, avoiding walkers and shunted from post to post by Dwight, who continues to waver between sympathetic and slimy. Keep an eye out for Jesus too, who is a little more subtle in his Saviour hunt than silly Carl and his (admittedly cool) M16.
Yes, there are other characters in Sing Me a Song, even outside of the Saviours’ camp. Rick and Aaron hit the road in search of supplies, as do Rosita and Eugene, and Spencer and Father Gabriel. Michonne, meanwhile, has her own plans, which give us the episode’s best moments. Surprisingly, Rick and Aaron are afforded the least in their story, the stoic leader and the affable recruiter getting along just fine in their hunt for goodies. The others fight, argue and bicker in a manner I didn’t realise I’d missed until now; with everyone split up and spread out, there hasn’t been much room for character interaction. And so Rosita calls Eugene out on being a coward, and Father Gabriel calls Spencer a ‘shit.’ We’re clearly supposed to hate Spencer, but I can’t help myself agreeing with him when it comes to Rick, who is an awful leader and has brought the survivors nothing but trouble since arriving in Alexandria. You would have thought that Father Gabriel would have been at least a little more understanding, seeing how his own opinions of Rick were pretty similar until recently.
Not just a bad leader, but a bad dad too: as if losing Carl wasn’t bad enough (fair play, he’d left Alexandria by the time Carl jumped the wall), daughter Judith continues to be left in rooms alone, ignored by even the babysitter. Dropping Carl off at Alexandria, Negan is delighted at this discovery – giving his most cock-headed ‘well look at you’ yet – before taking the kid in his arms. Villainous bastard he may be, but it’s the most hands-on parenting Judith has gotten since Carol and Tyreese in Season Four.
Sing Me a Song is an above-average episode with enough interesting or fun little moments to remind us why we keep coming back (Michonne! Negan getting slapped in the chops! Father Gabriel!) It’s not enough to have me (sigh) singing its praises from the rooftops, but it is a step back onto the right track.