At long last, The Walking Dead brings us back to the action. After weeks of side-character meandering, the show refocuses on the characters that matter. There’s not as much action in this episode, aside from some torture on Negan’s part. However, the continued build towards a larger conflict works, as there’s something the audience can really become invested in.
The new look into Negan isn’t quite as compelling, but it is important context. The Walking Dead has made it clear that Negan is bloodthirsty and merciless. This new look at his leadership inside his kingdom explain how he maintains dominance. As twisted as his actions may be, there are still elements of humanity to him. He can put the beat down on people, but he also knows how to mess with people’s heads. Both Dwight and his wife are firmly under Negan’s control, despite how much they hate him. It’s the same sort of characterization that made The Governor exciting, thankfully without Andrea. It’s a welcome new dynamic that justifies Negan becoming so central to the show.
“Sing me a Song” also beefs up the resistance to Negan. Carl’s immature anger leads to capture by Negan, which helps him see more from his father’s view (at least halfway). Rosita, whose importance is steadily growing, continues to assemble her arsenal. Rick and Michonne have an evolving dynamic, as they don’t see eye to eye on how to handle Negan. Their relationship still feels like fan service, but it’s good to see it hasn’t changed who they are fundamentally. Now this stronger look at the leaders highlights the weaknesses in the sidekicks. Scott and Gabriel aren’t all that interesting, and Eugene has reverted back his original big-word goofball character. However, since “Sing Me A Song” focuses on the characters that matter most, rather than the side cast, it feels like it all matters.
The idea that Negan could take Carl, or even Judith, also adds more stakes than character deaths. Event deaths are nothing new for the show, though maybe not on the scale of Abraham and Glenn. But such big deaths are a cornerstone of The Walking Dead. Now that Negan’s open to taking other avenues of cruelty, it makes him more unpredictable. The prospect of another big death during the midseason finale isn’t nearly as exciting as Rick literally fighting to save his family. The Walking Dead has raised interest again with such a dynamic antagonist, but now it has the chance to capitalize off it.