Season 10, Episode 5 of The Walking Dead did something the show has done before by showing Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) journey after escaping from jail, but it was different this time, showing the ways the character has changed — andthe ways he hasn't. Negan may not want to be a dictator anymore, but he's still a killer and a bad MF-er. At this point, he has evolved into the show's most complex character. How much does he have to change in order to be redeemed, if he can be? Can he be a "good guy" while still being a bad guy? What are his motives in his escape? Interesting questions, all!
After escaping from Alexandria in "Silence the Whisperers" (it's still unknown who let him free), Negan was followed into the woods by Brandon (Blaine Kern), his one-time prison guard who was the son of deceased Saviors and wanted to restore Negan to his former glory. He practiced the Savior whistle and even brought Negan his trademark leather jacket and Lucille, wrapped in a new strand of barbed wire. Negan had mixed feelings about the gesture. On the one hand, he was intrigued by the idea of going back to the old him; on the other hand, he was disgusted by Brandon, who was a pathetic little suck-up.
Negan agreed with Brandon's negative assessment of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), who killed his parents, dragged the surviving Saviors to Alexandria, and then had the nerve to lecture them all about community ("Can't argue that, it ain't bulls--t"). But he also bristled — and set the record straight — when Brandon said he'd heard Negan had Rick cut Carl's (Chandler Riggs) hand off and shot him. Negan really liked and cared about Carl, even if it was never exactly clear why (the writing in Seasons 7 and 8 was weak), and he clearly still misses the boy. "I would never kill a kid," Negan said, which is kinda true. Negan likes kids, and he's gone out of his way to be good to children over and over again on the show. On the other hand, when Simon (Steven Ogg) killed a bunch of kids in the Oceanside massacre, Negan was disgusted but still kept Simon as his right-hand man. The old Negantolerated the killing of children if he had a pragmatic reason to do so.
Negan then had an exchange with Brandon that showed that he has changed, but he's still Negan. Brandon said a female walker was "a 7," which skeeved Negan out a little bit. Brandon was like, "What, I thought that's what Saviors did," to which Negan replied, "I can't say that I remember rating walkers on hotness. Besides, she's clearly a 3." C'mon, duuude.
Negan and Brandon rescued a woman and her son from walkers, and when Brandon suggested following them to wherever they were hiding their "stash" and taking it, Negan told him to get lost. "It's a chick and a kid, Brandon," he said. "People are a resource." He told Brandon to go away. He could even go back to Alexandria and tell them exactly where Negan was. "I don't give a s--t, just as long as I don't have to see that pasty, creepy-ass face of yours ever again," he said.
Brandon left, and Negan bonded with the kid, Milo, who was about 9, by describing to him what it felt like to fly in an airplane and teaching him the male-bonding game of "nut-tapping." He said he would send them to Hilltop, as long as they didn't tell who sent them. He was going to take care of them. A little bit later, he was gathering wood when he heard the Savior whistle. He found Brandon, holding a tire iron and standing over the bodies of his new friends. Brandon thought that Negan sending him away was a test of his loyalty, and this was how he proved himself. But it really wasn't a test, and so Negan bashed Brandon to death with a rock. He destroyed his head like he once destroyed Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham's (Michael Cudlitz) heads. After he was done, he took Lucille and his jacket and walked away.
A few hours later, it was dark, and he was in the woods. He had his jacket on and was smacking walkers with Lucille. To call them to him, he was yelling "little pig, little pig" and calling himself the Big Bad Wolf, a vision he previously invoked the first time he came to Alexandria. At this point, he was fully Negan again. He crossed the border into Whisperer territory, and was apprehended by Beta (Ryan Hurst). "All right, you big-ass freak, let's do this," he said to the hulking Whisperer. Hard to say what his plan is, but it sounds like he has a plan. He's either going to join the Whisperers, infiltrate them, or try to cut some sort of deal with Alpha (Samantha Morton). We'll see. It kind of seems like it could be dangerous regression to the show's low point to make Negan a bad guy again, but the writers seem to have figured out the right the balance of good guy/bad guy in Negan.
Elsewhere in the episode, Ezekiel (Khary Payton) revealed to Siddiq (Avi Nash) the root of his depression: He has thyroid cancer. In the old pre-apocalypse days, he would have survived thanks to chemo, but now cancer is a death sentence. It's a sad turn, but a necessary acknowledgement that in the zombie apocalypse, people still just get sick they way they normally would, and that's just as fatal as a walker bite. Poor guy.
Magna (Nadia Hilker) has been stealing from Hilltop's pantry and stockpiling for an exit. This caused a final rift between her and Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), who told her to find somewhere else to sleep. And Gamma (Thora Birch) has been damming a creek with dead bodies on Alpha's orders. The Whisperers are waging low-intensity warfare on the communities, with the plugged, contaminated water supply, the encroaching borders, and dropping the tree on Hilltop but not taking credit for it. But Gamma seems to be growing uncomfortable with Alpha's brutality and feels guilty for killing her own sister, and when Aaron (Ross Marquand), observing her from his side of the creek, tossed her some gauze after she cut her hand, she accepted it. She didn't talk to him, and she ran away, but she took it. The groundwork for a defection is being laid.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.