You may have tuned into this week's episode of The Walking Dead looking to share some terrible times in the zombie apocalypse with your favorites characters, but that didn't happen. Instead you got an hour with Dwight (Austin Amelio). Who the heck is Dwight?
A henchman of Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Dwight is the guy we first met in the sixth episode of Season 6 when he stole Daryl's bike, and he's popped up a few times since then to scowl at Daryl (Norman Reedus) and turn Denise (Merritt Wever) into a cyclops.
Focusing an entire episode on a character who could at best be called minor was an interesting decision, particularly for a show that still has big problems developing its main characters. "The Cell" wasn't that great of an episode overall — that may be generous, even — but I actually think it was a step in the right direction for the future of the series. Shifting the perspective of the Walking Dead universe to some of the "bad" guys enriches the world and helps us understand it. And at this point, this wacky zombified world of misery and violence — one of the big "characters" of the show — could use a bit more understanding.
What we know of this world from six-plus seasons is that Rick's group will find a place to camp and take baby steps towards normalcy before some yahoo comes along and threatens to kill them all with his or her weapon of choice. It's been said over and over again that life is hard for Rick and his friends as they struggle to adapt to this new world order, and if what we've seen these last seven years is any indication, we'll hear it over and over again until The Walking Dead finally gets canceled after Season 152.
But what if The Walking Dead did something so crazy that it just might work? What if we got more episodes like "The Cell" that showed what made these total maniacs — likely regular Joes, truck drivers and pencil pushers in the pre-zombie world — become who they were once society fell? We learned a lot about Dwight in "The Cell": he first ended up with Negan for survival, he betrayed Daryl because he felt betrayed before, he went back to Negan because he feared for his wife's life, his wife married Negan to save his life, and he got a face full of hot iron for the trouble. It paints a much different picture of Dwight as we knew him, and now at least on some level we can look at Dwight and say, "Ahh, I get it."
What if we could do that for other Walking Dead villains? What if we had a better understanding of these evil people than what we've been given, which right now is "this guy is a huge jerk"? What if, instead of seeing Negan through Rick's eyes, we saw how Negan dealt with things on a day-to-day basis? Anything to give these characters more depth and understanding, since they're just as much of an attraction as anything else in the series.
I want to know more about Negan than just what I can glean from exposition. I want to understand why Gareth (Andrew J. West) decided to start eating people, and it's going to take more than a fireside chat to explain that. And beyond that, I want to figure out why these villains have so many followers and why these henchmen would continue to serve such loathsome fellas.
This isn't unprecedented, either. The Walking Dead comic has some success with this idea with The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor, an illuminating standalone that detailed the evolution of the Governor (David Morrissey), and was mined for some material with him in the TV series.
There are so many more interesting stories out there if The Walking Dead is willing to tell them. It would mean taking the spotlight off of Rick and pals, but we're not getting anything new out of them lately, and the most interesting story they've produced recently was when the series had the balls to breach the subject of whether or not they were the villains when they entered Alexandria.
The Walking Dead loves its concept about how the world changes when the reset button is pressed by an undead finger, and we've learned a lot about how "good guys" have to bend their morals to survive. To better understand the world, it's only fair to see how guys like The Governor, Negan or Gareth went from their pre-apocalypse lives to taking advantage of a world without any boundaries. Did they grab the opportunity to rule with zeal, eager to live out their twisted fantasies? Or were they forced into it through circumstance? Do they make humanizing tough decisions that we don't get to see, or are they the one-dimensional maniacs who spout macho dialogue who they appear to be? For a show in need of new character stories to tell, there's a treasure trove of potentially fascinating tales in the bad guys.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on AMC.