It's been over six months since the season finale of The Walking Dead left us with the daft premise of this season's première; the new villain, Negan, ruler of a feudal network of tributary settlements, captures our heroes, the people who've been systematically killing Negan's people, and decides only to kill one or two of them instead of all of them. How well do you think it would have worked if, when the U.S. tracked down Osama Bin Laden, Obama decided to see if he could get Bin Laden to work for us by killing his friends? Perhaps because he was aware of how far-fetched this idea is, writer Scott M. Gimple carefully tries to create a situation in this episode to explain why Negan thinks he can do what he's doing. But Gimple ended up making something that seemed like twenty minutes worth of story dragged out for forty five minutes with ultraviolence thrown in.
Spoilers after the screenshot
It's twenty five minutes, around halfway through the episode, that we finally get the answer to who Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) killed--well, half the answer. He kills Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) first and then a little later he kills Glenn (Steven Yeun) after Daryl (Norman Reedus) acts up. I hear Glenn is who died here in the comics (I haven't read them myself) and Abraham had been killed some time earlier so both of these make sense in steering the show's course back to the comics. In terms of the show, Glenn really ought to have died earlier in season six when he very improbably survived the zombie horde around the dumpster. After all the feelings surrounding his presumed death it's weird when his actual death comes the show doesn't deem it worth dwelling on how the other characters deal with it. By not revealing to us who was killed in the beginning, the show takes us out of Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) point of view and we're led outside the show as we realise the suspense is like a trivia game show: name the character who was killed at the beginning of Walking Dead season 4! And then there's the focus on Negan's endless strutting. How much better this time could have been spent.
And I get it--this is the show trying to show us how someone like Negan psychologically beats someone like Rick into submission. But, much as Ramsay Bolton cutting off Theon's genitals didn't really make sense as far as making Theon his slave, how Negan thinks Rick isn't forever going to be hatching a scheme to get revenge on him is beyond me. In both cases, the antagonist seems to go to great pains to prove there's nothing for the victim to lose by killing him. Well, I guess in Negan's case he does still have some of Rick's friends to use as leverage, but still, this is not how you rule an empire. My professor for a class I'm taking on early English Drama brought up a few weeks ago, when discussing The Jew of Malta, that people often quote Machiavelli's advice to rulers that it's better to be feared than loved. But they often forget the rest of Machiavelli's advice:
Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated
I increasingly get the impression that writers don't have the imagination to see why ruthlessness does not equal power. As Machiavelli also says, a little cruelty might be expected in a new ruler but obviously Negan has an established army and kingdom he's presumably built over a long time. He wouldn't have gotten this far by being this stupid.
I do still like the concept of Negan. And I look forward to seeing the plot with Carol and Morgan next week. I just wish the makers of the show would see the potential in exploring other aspects of human nature in this environment beyond this one-upsmanship machismo.
Twitter Sonnet #925
Eclipsing flowers fought in devil's masques.
Vertical light encased the wings of veins.
Unbidden barley brings us mem'ry's flasks.
Assembled keys contain the semblant pains.
Suspicious sweaters extra elbows jab.
Pullovers vacant recant bodies gone.
In hallways grey and black the spiders grab.
A syrup spreads across envisioned dawn.
The olive stomach held an oil thumb.
Across the boulder belts betook its weight.
Anonymous, the sheets are ghosts too dumb.
The echoed lesson parsed the lengthened fate.
The wild metal bees renew a debt.
The spiralled clouds reproved the boiled bet.