[WARNING - This article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 7, episode 3 and the comics.]
As an adaptation, The Walking Dead has never strived to be faithful to its source material. The intention was always for The Walking Dead television series to exist like an alternate universe to the comics, allowing for characters who died in one version to live on in the other and for the story to be selective in which events it chose to adapt.
However, since arriving at Alexandria in season 6, AMC's The Walking Dead has begun adhering closer and closer to The Walking Dead comics. This isn't to suggest the series has been following the events of the comics beat for beat, but for anyone familiar with the comics, the trajectory of this season is clear -- Rick unites Alexandria, The Hilltop, and The Kingdom against Negan and The Saviors. Just how the television series builds to this remains to be seen, but judging by the events of its most recent episode, 'The Cell', we have a guess at how this all might come together.
'The Cell' primarily dealt with Daryl's imprisonment and torture at the hands of Negan's right-hand man, Dwight. Through both Daryl and Dwight's experiences -- and most importantly, their interactions with Negan -- came our first look at The Sanctuary (The Savior's compound) and the way life operates there. Negan is, of course, top dog, and everyone else is placed into a hierarchy based on their usefulness and obedience. There are strict rules which Negan expects to be followed, and when they're not, there's punishment. Follow the rules and do your work, though, and points are earned which can be exchanged for food, clothing, and other supplies. It's a fair society, but by no means a forgiving one.
In the comics, The Sanctuary is introduced to readers in a similar fashion -- only not through the eyes of Negan's prisoner but his guest. After the confrontation that leaves Glenn dead, The Saviors in the comics don't take anyone prisoner like they do with Daryl on the TV series. (And as a reminder, Daryl is a character who only exists on the TV series.) Instead, when Negan and his men arrive at Alexandria demanding their supplies, it's Carl -- angry with his father for acting so subservient to Negan -- who steals a gun and sneaks on to one of The Savior's vans. Upon arriving back at The Sanctuary, Carl opens fire, killing several Saviors. And though we'd expect Negan to kill Carl right then and there, he doesn't; instead, he's so impressed with Carl's attitude that he invites him in and shows him around the compound.
Daryl and Carl's experiences at The Sanctuary are quite different. Negan plays mind games with Carl, but doesn't subject him to anything like what Daryl endures. Still, what impresses Negan about both characters is their fearlessness -- in Daryl's case, his unflinching reaction to Lucille, and for Carl, his repeated threats of wanting to kill Negan (tough words for a kid who, in the comics, is only nine or ten.) Plus, Negan is absolutely captivated by Carl's gaping eye socket, thinking it makes him look like a badass and forbidding him from covering it.
There's still plenty of time for the TV series to explore something similar with Carl, but having had Daryl already serve a role that's similar in some significant ways, it seems unlikely. Additionally, the TV series has laid more groundwork to explore a strange camaraderie between Daryl and Dwight than it has for Daryl and Negan. And if the TV series is, in fact, sticking more closely to the comics this season, then further exploring Daryl and Dwight's relationship would neatly set up events still to come.
A Man on the Inside
For as much as Daryl's imprisonment in some ways mirrored Carl's visit to The Sanctuary -- namely, by introducing the facility and his earning of Negan's twisted admiration -- 'The Cell' did more work in setting up Dwight's eventual betrayal of Negan. In the comics, it isn't long after Carl's visit that Dwight chooses to betray Negan, having endured the humiliation of Negan taking his wife Sherry for too long. And not to suggest it's a turn of events that comes from nowhere, but it certainly isn't paid the attention in the comics that the TV series is giving it.
The Walking Dead TV series has spent a lot of time developing Dwight and his tragic backstory -- far more time than the comics ever did. Because of this, his eventual decision to betray Negan will likely be a more rewarding moment -- and one which will almost certainly involve Daryl. He may not be able to outright free Daryl, because that would only look suspicious. But if Negan uses Daryl in as similar manner as he uses Carl in the comics, returning him but using it as moment to further lord his power over Rick, then Dwight doesn't need to free Daryl. He just needs to earn Daryl's trust and convince him that he'll help them take down Negan, working as their man on the inside.
What do you think? Is Daryl's storyline in 'The Cell' meant as a substitute for Carl's visit in the comics? And does it more firmly set up Dwight's betrayal, hinting at a team-up between him and Daryl? Hit us with your thoughts in the comments!
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with the super-sized episode ‘Service’ @9pm on AMC.