TWD Season 7: When Negan Comes Around

the-walking-dead-season-5-trailerRecently, I read TWD viewing is somehow associated with political party, with the prevailing thought being that Republicans like the show and Democrats don’t. Then, I read an article about how the show is actually an embodiment of fascism. I don’t agree with this at all.

First, this article is one of many; others go down different paths, assigning political values and mores to TWD.  This assigning of a particular value system to the TV show is limiting. For instance, I am a democrat and prior to season 7 (and with the exception of Live Bait, the episode where Phillip Blake wanders around for what seemed like ten, boring years), I thought the show was pretty good. I know plenty of folks who watch TWD AND Game of Thrones.  I definitely don’t agree that Talking Dead exists only to “teach [me] how to praise the show“. Talking patronizing, Sean Collins, should be everyone’s response to that bit of nonsense in your article. My beef with Sean Collins’s article, beyond his condescension, is that calling everyone, every TV character or movie show that you don’t like, “fascist” undermines when there is a real fascist to worry about.  That type of criticism also doesn’t make sense because we can’t really apply our own ideas about governance, in relatively peaceful times, to this situation. I mean, Negan is awful (not Jeffrey Dean Morgan — I like him and he’s doing the best he can with what is arguably a terrible character and not just because Negan’s a murderous asshole). But, Negan is still trying to survive in an actual crisis, not just a “crisis” in the way in which we use the word (My hair is flat! It’s a CRISIS! It took me four hours to get home from the gym! It’s a CRISIS!). So, calling the actions of these survivors fascist or republican or any modern conception of politics doesn’t fit into the circumstances of the show.

Just because I don’t think that the show is some vehicle for fascism doesn’t mean that I don’t have a critique of the show. I do. But my critique has to do with the show based on its own set of rules, keeping with some level of verisimilitude. I’m currently reading Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, and this book has a much more sensible approach to presenting how society will react to the end of the world, and, like TWD, it doesn’t stray away from violence. Stephenson makes a key point in this book that is really proving to be a fatal flaw of TWD– when the end of the world comes, we will protect women, not out of chivalry, but out of the need for survival. After all, it takes men 2 minutes to create more life, and one man can create many lives. It takes women at minimum 40 weeks, and they typically create one life at a time. And, real survival comes not from having a cool horse painting, but from having CHILDREN.

giphyWhich is where Negan comes in. TWD has set up one strongman, badman antagonist after another. Each of them has had a reckless disregard for human life (Shane included here, but progressing to the ultimate in Negan).  During this time, though, society has begun to rebuild. There are communities. The communities have begun to set up rudimentary trade routes. Judith provides us with some level of a timeline, so we know that Season 7 is set about 3 years post-apocalypse. Negan is evidence that the zombies are no longer the problem; re-building society is. Negan acts as though he is the zombie police, but all the communities found a way to fight the zombies just fine before he makes it to the show. And, Negan is the ONLY antagonist so far who seemingly does not care about sustaining life.

forget-sasha-checks-out-a-gun-olivia-asks-her-about-bringing-back-a-boars-legThis leads me to my critique. There are too many men on this show. I mean, I get it. We are following the lives of the most active, aggressive characters because they are the most interesting in terms of storytelling. And, because of my above point about the relative expendability of men (not all men, just that humanity will survive with less men rather than less women), we will naturally follow along with the more aggressive characters, than the ones who are re-building society by gardening or sewing, who would most likely be more women. This is not sexist; it’s math (2 min vs 40 weeks).  The focus on mostly male characters or mostly aggressive  female characters (Carol, Andrea, Michonne, Maggie, Rosita, Sasha, etc…) makes sense within the rules that TWD has set up for itself.  But, Negan breaks the rules of the show and make us question what is really going on in TWD.  The best example of this is that Negan allows Arat to kill Olivia. Olivia represents a less interesting character, but not a less important one.

Negan is aware of the importance of society — he names his men “the saviors” because he sees himself as the savior of society.

But you can’t save society without women. Women like Olivia. For every Michonne, Rosita, Carol, Sasha, and even Maggie, there need to be 10 Olivias who are, literally, taking stock and keeping the pantry full. People like Olivia, who is willing to put herself into danger in order to protect the one child we’ve seen born post-apocalypse (Judith), represents an absolutely necessary part of re-building society.

This child, Judith, and this emphasis on protecting children is why it makes sense that Rick would protect his home and family from Negan. After all, isn’t that an essential part of society? But that means that Negan DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. I mean, he’s got a harem of wives… but no babies? Negan puts himself and his society in danger and wastes other men who could be capable of providing (Glenn and Abraham) for society just to prove a point? He thinks violence and mayhem is a sustainable plan, even as it is clear that others, like Rick, will fight back and will fight well? We’re supposed to think that Negan is just evil; he’s not given a backstory on the TV series so far (the comics present him as a kind of teacher/coach/philosopher with a fucked up sense of ethics). Negan is presented by the TV show as a soulless visionary. A ruthless, merciless visionary, but a visionary nonetheless.

His vision, though, just plain DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. There are too many men who have memories of a just society, and too many opportunities to take out the tyrant. This whole “we are all Negan” is supposed to explain their behavior away. It doesn’t. For example, Dwight, an obviously caring protector with many survival skills, would find a way to kill Negan in order to get back his wife and his chance to have children and, therefore, advance society. That is a basic, common instinct of humanity.

Basically, Negan is killing TWD because he killed one father, Glenn, and subjugated another, Rick,  at the beginning of the season and reminded us all that fathers and mothers are what society is about. Not just survival for yourself, but survival for your children. Each episode makes that clearer and clearer, but Negan does not fit into this ethos, which makes his violence not just abhorrent, but aberrant. As Stephenson points out, “Fighting isn’t about knowing how. It’s about deciding to.”

And, at this point in the story, who would still be deciding to fight, other than those fighting against Negan? But, my argument is that Negan choosing to fight doesn’t make sense. You could, perhaps, convince me that Negan kills Abraham to stop Rick from fighting him and to force Rick and the Alexandrians to submit to his societal rule. That flies. Until he kills Glenn for a brief moment of rebellion from Daryl. Until he threatens Maggie, pregnant Maggie, while she is potentially losing a precious, in the absolute meaning of that word, post-apocalypse child. Until we learn that Dwight allows his wife to be taken from him. Until Olivia is shot for no real reason.

If we’re supposed to see politics in TWD and make sense of it, Negan just doesn’t fit with the rest of the show and its viewpoint.  Now, I’m giving the rest of Season 7 a chance because there is SOME indication that Rick and crew have finally realized that Negan represents chaos on a level that is unacceptable. Maybe they will realize that Negan is just a man “going ’round taking names” (“Man Comes Around,” Johnny Cash). TWD has a chance to keep me watching. But only if they keep their cornerstone viewpoint — that humanity can survive, that Rick and his crew can keep their hearts beating, and that chaos will not take over the world. If not, then really, and I mean this, what’s the point of watching? If Negan doesn’t make sense and he continues to take over the narrative of the show, as he has thus far, then the show is riding that pale horse to its own end.