‘The Walking Dead’ Season 7, Episode 11: Are They Really Negan?

So far, the second half of Season 7 of “The Walking Dead” has been about Rick recruiting other groups to join the coming fight against Negan and the Saviors. Sunday’s episode, however, was about another kind of alliance, an unspoken one between two very different men.

At least that’s what I suspect we saw at the end of this week’s installment, a cleverly structured hour that shuttled between the parallel stories of Eugene and Dwight but didn’t have them meet up until the final scene.

Although the hour was superficially about those two men committing strongly to the Saviors, each man spent it broadly deceiving the Sanctuary and actively betraying certain members. (For Eugene, it was the wives; for Dwight, the luckless Dr. Carson.) Kari Skogland, the episode director, emphasized the hidden, with plenty of shots of revealing expressions — Eugene’s smirks, Dwight’s looks of angst — that the Saviors couldn’t see. All of it trained us to believe the opposite of what we saw in the final scene:

“We are Negan,” Eugene said.

“Yeah,” Dwight replied.

Could it have been a sort of audience double-cross, so strongly implying ulterior motives in order to trick us into buying them? Possibly, and part of me would prefer to believe what the men showed us and their fellow members of the Sanctuary: that Dwight had embraced his inner flunky and Eugene his inner turncoat coward. The more surprising move would be to turn our sympathies against Eugene, one of the most beloved characters on the show.

But I don’t think that’s what happened. Rather, I think the episode furthered the trending disintegration of Negan’s strength. More symbolically, note the prominence of the Atari classic “Yars’ Revenge,” in which a vengeful infiltrator eats away at the monster’s defenses, like so many gifted pickles, until it is vulnerable enough to destroy.

The episode picked up moments after events from the midseason finale, specifically Daryl’s flight from the Sanctuary and Eugene’s capture at Alexandria. The Saviors discovered the dead Fat Joey, and Dwight determined, from the note’s handwriting, that it was Sherry who had let Daryl go. At the same time, Eugene arrived as a prisoner in the Savior stronghold.

From there, both men played the angles. For Dwight that involved both covering for Sherry — he told Negan that she wasn’t the one who let Daryl out — and convincing Negan somehow to let him go after her by himself. (A bit of a stretch after the initial beating and suspicion of Dwight, but it’s perhaps more evidence that Negan’s overconfidence has become a liability.)

For Eugene, it was…