Be warned! This review will cover aspects of the episode. Spoilers will lurk like groaning walkers..
For most of Sing Me A Song – not the Walking Dead musical episode you might have expected, sadly, we're right back in Negan's domain, the Sanctuary. And given the extended length of the episode, that means another batch of utterly excruciating scenes where Jeffrey Dean Morgan does his best to make the same old arrogant asshole Negan seem like a compelling villain. And by excruciating, we don't mean exquisite tension, but pummeling, pointless repetitive threatening jocularity. "But Empire," we hear you say, "isn't this finally a chance to peek properly inside how the Saviours' setup truly works?" That would be fine, except that we've already seen most of it thanks to the Darryl-centric Cell earlier in the season. There's not that much more to learn here, aside from Negan's harem, which was hinted at previously. Mostly what we witness this week, at least at the Sanctuary, you could have extrapolated. Even the points system, which makes Negan's pseudo feudal rule seem more like Weight watchers crossed with fascism. It would be fascinating if it wasn't so annoyingly similar to every other Negan scene so far. Chandler Riggs is allowed some scenes that aren't him moping around his father (or roller-skating with Enid), and he does well with what he's given as Carl shows more of his backbone when quickly captured by Negan's goons (seriously, kid, you couldn't have taken Negan out with that WEAPON and go out in a blaze of glory? We know your dad and your sister need, you, but what did you think might happen if Negan caught you?) Largely, it's Negan showing off his world and Carl looking miserable, forced to reveal his icky eye socket or learning what happens when you disobey the man in charge of his world right now. Attempts to humanise the big bad – claiming to feel sorry for hurting Carl's feelings, for one – are a nice stab at some development, but they don't truly land.
Even the peek at Negan's world rings a little hollow – he claims to rule with a fist of iron (and the damn baseball bat he loves so much he manages to forget in one scene), but if he's so skillfully in charge, why does he have to discipline one of his own this week much as he clearly previously did with Dwight? The iron scene is gruesome and typically well-crafted by the effects team, but how is this in any way enjoyable to watch? Pain, suffering, torture, terror... We know, we know, it's a post-apocalyptic situation, bad things happen all the time and we're clearly in the Empire Strikes Back period of the show, but when it's drawn out to this degree, it loses all power. And we're all for plots that take their time and develop characters or narratives, but the pace of the series now is beyond glacially slow. We can see hints of things to come, but for the time being all we can do is sit and suffer with our heroes. "We're not doing anything," Dwight tells ex-wife (and current Negan "wife") Sherry. The same could be said of this plot.
Outside of the Sanctuary's novel-length torture, it's mostly short stories of the other characters. Rick and Aaron discover what could be a potentially huge haul in a house protected by a lake of snarling walkers (another neat shot, but more for the effects work than story), Michonne piles dead walkers in the road to carjack a Saviour and demands she drive her to Negan (who, sadly, won't be home as he's too busy terrorising Alexandria once again – or looking like a suburban dad with Judith on his knee). Eugene and Rosita go to his ammo manufacturing plant and she demands he make her a bullet. There is some arguing, and, then... he makes the bullet. Glad we checked in. Spencer, meanwhile, discovers a cache of supplies and directions to others. It's the Spencer/Rick tension which holds the most promise here, with potential ramifications down the line. We're also glad to see that some of the extended run time was used to forward the other stories. Otherwise, this was just an extra-long exercise in the empty brutality the show is obsessed with right now. Can we just move it along, please?
How did Jesus evade discovery hiding on top of the truck?
He's a ninja, people. Or the actual Jesus. Either way, the lad is tricky.
Was this episode heavily based on the comics?
While we don't tend to get into discussing the source material here, yes, most of the Negan/Carl story was right out of issue 105.
Who gave Darryl the key at the end?
It was most likely Joseph – or "Fat Joseph", as Negan prefers to call him.
Read this season's previous reviews below...
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC in the States and Mondays at 9pm on Fox.