[WARNING – This article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 7, episode 3.]

The Walking Dead was already one of the most consistently bleak shows on television. But it has received a frightening injection of nihilistic brutality with the arrival of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the tyrannical, disturbingly charming psychopath who reigns over The Saviors and their stronghold known as The Sanctuary. One of the more undeveloped yet crucial storylines of The Walking Dead’s seventh season has been Negan’s attempt to break Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) for good, and based on his actions in the shocking season 7 premiere, he’s doing a pretty good job at it so far.

Negan is strongly motivated by power and his ability to psychologically grind people down to the point of submitting to him, using the threat of his barbed-wire bat Lucille as a tool of intimidation. He is impressed by Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) resistance to his attempts at breaking him down in episode three, “The Cell.” A new clip from Sunday’s fourth episode, “Service,” reveals that Negan takes his business back to Grimes earlier than expected – with a surprise guest in tow.

In an exclusive clip released by Entertainment Weekly, Negan arrives at the main group’s safe haven of Alexandria. His arrival was already known through the post-episode preview from last Sunday night, but the extended clip shows that he came back earlier than the week he promised to Rick. After smashing the skull of a nearby walker with a typically boisterous flourish, Negan proclaims, “Alright everybody, let’s get started.” The camera pans over his accompanying Saviors to reveal Daryl as part of the group, which also includes Dwight (Austin Amelio).

Daryl is still wearing the spray-painted rags he wore as Negan’s prisoner at The Sanctuary throughout the previous episode. The last you see of Daryl in the episode is him still locked away in the same cell where he had been subject to brutal torture and the threat of being tossed into a fenced-in yard infested with walkers that used to be prisoners themselves. The reasons for his presence on Negan’s journey back to Alexandria are unknown to viewers at this point.

Perhaps Negan has successfully broken Daryl and indoctrinated him into The Saviors, but that would not explain why he’s still dressed like a prisoner. Negan clearly has an uncommon level of respect for Daryl and his mental toughness in the face of his relentless psychological bludgeoning, but his true motivations with Daryl are unclear to this point for TV viewers.

There’s also been speculation that Daryl’s role in “The Cell” changed a key storyline from Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels, which would leave his future largely unknown and leave an air of uncertainty as to how the season will culminate, especially as it relates to Kirkman’s secret source material. But for a seventh season of The Walking Dead that has spent much of its three episodes world-building and establishing key new faces, it would be most welcome for the season to really kick into another gear as Negan and Rick meet again.

The Walking Dead continues with ‘Service’ on Sunday night @9pm on AMC.

Source: Entertainment Weekly