With the mid-season finale fast approaching and promises from producers of a shocking event to unfold, fans of the show are anxiously buzzing with sprawling questions. In episode seven, it appears that the characters themselves are just as scattered and on edge. Just about every community is experiencing a precipitated splintering of efforts and ideas. "Time for After" is permeated not only with wildly rogue, potentially deadly behavior, it is also rife with manipulation and deceit. It surely sets an ominous tone for this next pivotal finale. How does this deceit change specific characters and the war as a whole?
Of all the characters that have been on the show, few have told the magnitude of lies as well as crossed lines of betrayal as Eugene has done. Lying about being a doctor and knowing a cure, sabotaging their mission to get to the capitol, and, of course, falling in line with Negan are among his most unforgivable decisions. Despite some positive character growth and small acts of bravery since joining Rick's group seasons ago, the lies and cowardice of Eugene from the very start are too egregious for the group to entirely forgive and definitely not forget. Even in an apocalyptic world where people with his knowledge and skills are invaluable, his regrettable actions have placed him right near the bottom of the totem pole of power and respect in Alexandria. All things considered, why has his method of operation instead led him to what appears to be power at the Sanctuary? It has become clear that fear is the kernel of Eugene's motivations and actions. He will sacrifice the safety, loyalty, and friendship of people who have saved his life if it means he can avoid the terror of uncertainty in this world. But, what does this leave him with?
Since joining Negan and the Saviors, Eugene has gained a sense of security and value he has yet to experience in this new world. What does Negan see in Eugene that Rick does not? He definitely doesn't know about some of the major deceits in Eugene's past (and apparently not the ones of the present either), and this gives Eugene a clean slate in his new position. Negan, being a staunch pragmatist and a bit of a psychopath so to speak, might not even care much about who Eugene is as a person morally as long as he has unique skills he is willing to put to use. If he can keep his act up with Negan, he can remain secure and retain some power. If he can't, he will surely endure the utmost of Negan's wrath. This puts him in a completely unstable and fearful position. His relationship with the other Saviors is even more precarious.
It's ironic that he has become strangely connected yet dramatically at odds with another character known for his own deceit, desperation, and betrayals: Dwight. Bizarrely, they are more honest with each other than with anyone else at the sanctuary. Perhaps they have an understanding of each other on some level, and perhaps they keep each other's secrets out of a fear of mutually assured destruction. Either way, his dishonest and manipulative behavior mirrors Dwight's which is represented by Eugene being stained by the paint on Dwight's toy soldier chess piece. Eugene is strategizing and playing all those around him, which is what Dwight is also doing. His soldier chess set is representative of this trait in him. While Dwight seems to be edging toward the light, Eugene seems to be taking his place on the dark side. So, is this who Eugene has become? An increasingly amoral and cowardly villain controlled by fear and unravelling with stress and guilt? Does this mean his character arc is complete? With a big surprise coming up in the next episode (and during a finale, it can be safe to assume this means a major character death), does this mean the end of Eugene Porter? Is there anything on the other side of this war for the person he's become?
The character of Jadis seems to be the incarnation of the kind of amoral deceptiveness Eugene has now approached. It might be no mistake that her name sounds so similar to "Judas." She is a skilled and capable leader, but she is devoid of any kind of inherent connection, concern, or loyalty with anyone else. This simultaneously makes her a potential vital asset but also a massive gamble. Rick has already been played by her once. At this fractured moment for Rick's group as well as the rest of his allies, maybe Rick has no choice but to make that gamble and take the risk. How does Rick handle this strange, threatening, and unpredictable character?
He has learned that his impassioned persuasiveness about his vision for the future is a language she does not speak (and almost literally). Bringing her into the fold of his community is a currency he has offered but is one she does not recognize. In fact, she seems to feel superior to him and his emotionally motivated goals for a more humane and unified world. She has continuously smirked at and toyed with him for this, even intimidating him sexually for her own amusement. She takes this demeaning behavior to another level by imprisoning him, sexually harassing him, and, of course, threatening his life yet again in this episode. Despite all this, he still chooses to include her in his plan. Perhaps he is taking some kind of pragmatic hint from Negan. He's learned that all Jadis is concerned with is the bottom line of survival for her own group. To gain her cooperation, he uses basic reasoning and violent coercion rather than the promise of his inspiring ideals, and he is definitely more successful this time for doing so. And, perhaps including her at this point isn't really a choice for Rick. With so many of his fighters lost and with Daryl on a bit of a Rogue rampage, she could be a final and necessary hope, albeit a risky one, for his cause. Will history repeat and Jadis betray him again, or will she come through this time? If she does and it leads to a win, what place will she have in this world with Rick and his people after the war?
Referring to Daryl as deceitful just feels wrong, but he is toeing that line. Between his determined but reckless behavior and his defiance toward Rick, it would seem remiss not to at least touch on this character at this point. We've already seen him make a liar out of Rick by killing a surrendered Savior to whom Rick gave his word not to kill. He even physically attacks Rick when Daryl becomes impatient with his plan. Not even in Daryl's surly and tenuous beginnings with Rick have we seen him blatantly clock Rick in the face. And, in this episode, we see him make a deliberate move that very well may have dismantled all of their efforts so far. Yes, he got the walkers inside of the Sanctuary, but he also made it easier for the Savior's to kill them. Are the walkers still inside the compound wreaking havoc, or are they all dead and the threat keeping the Savior's tied down eliminated? Why would Daryl undermine the man he has become as close as brothers with and take such unwarranted risks?
Though Daryl seems to have taken a dark and cold turn, it's important to consider the deep, emotional energy that has always driven this character as well as the traumatic experiences of his distant and recent past. When the world turned, Daryl escaped a life filled with abuse which started in his childhood. Ironically, the loss of the "real" world was actually a gain for Daryl in this way. The consequences of that abuse are manifested in both his strengths and weaknesses, and though he is a formidable survivor and an inherently good person, the damage of that abuse remains. Anyone who is exposed to abuse must cope with the damage it causes, and they are prone to a resulting lifelong struggle with PTSD. When Daryl was tortured at the sanctuary, that torture could not be inflicted on a more damaged person than Daryl. Experiencing this torture and then triggering the emotions and memories of it when he stumbles upon another cell of torture during the war is more than likely what flipped the switch of pure rage in him. And, remember that Daryl currently believes that he closest confidante and connection, Carol, is dead.
Will this rage, though understandable, destroy their efforts -- and will it destroy Daryl? Is this shift in his personality and motivations a dark end to his character arc? If so, his legions of fans might be in for a terrible surprise this week. Or, could all this inner as well as outer conflict he is experiencing actually extend his character arc? It is a real toss up, and viewers are on the edge of their seats. What could Daryl's possible demise spell for the group (and the show)? If he comes out of this war alive and victorious, will this freshen his journey? In what ways will it change him, Rick, Carol, and the rest of the group?
At this point, viewers can speculate almost endlessly about possible deaths and how they might affect others in the next episode. There is intense drama, conflict, and tension among all of our major characters right now, and the stakes are high. What are the stakes, though, for you the viewer? What if a traditionally beloved character such as Daryl does die? How and why would the next death affect YOU?
Other Lingering Questions
Ciara Cerrato was a projectionist and curator at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, and she currently is a poet and freelance writer in New York.
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