The Walking Dead comic series and the television show based on it contain many themes which are of interest to the student of libertarian philosophy. The character Negan, who was mentioned throughout Season 6 of the show and makes his entrance in the season finale, is one of the most obvious allegories in recent memory for the nature of the state. Let us examine the first part of his character arc to see how Negan uses the cult of personality around him to influence others, as well as how he makes a first impression on those whom he wishes to subjugate. As we will see, there are many lessons to be learned not only for those who would wield state power, but for those who seek its abolition. This part of the article series will cover the time period from the introduction of the Saviors (Episode 606) up to the conclusion of Rick’s meeting with Negan (Episode 701).
The Saviors first appear in Episode 606, and Negan is first mentioned a few hours later in the storyline in Episode 608, when some of his underlings attack Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha. They claim that their truck and their guns now belong to Negan, then take their sidearms. In Episode 609, the leader of these underlings orders a subordinate to take Daryl to the back of the truck and inspect its cargo. The leader threatens to shoot Abraham and Sasha, but Daryl kills the gang with an RPG after fighting one of them behind the truck.
In retrospect, this incident shows that the first encounter that a group of free people have with a state apparatus is not substantively different from a first encounter with organized crime. Negan’s underlings act much like mafia members who carry out a shakedown, but unlike most targets of organized crime, Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha are strong enough to militarily defeat them and are unaware of the larger context in which they are operating. As we will see, this sets in motion an escalation of force until one side dominates the other, as happens in real-world conflicts between groups of armed people.
In Episode 611, Rick’s group learns of a deal imposed on Hilltop, a community with which his community in Alexandria is trading, by the Saviors. Negan wants half of what Hilltop produces in exchange for protection, which in reality means not attacking them. This works exactly like a protection racket; an extortion threat in which the criminals are paid not to cause the very problem that they claim to be preventing. Negan kills two Hilltop members, kidnaps another, and makes another go back to Hilltop to stab Gregory, the Hilltop leader, because they brought him too little.
Rick’s group intervenes, killing the man who stabbed Gregory and making an alternative offer: half of Hilltop’s supplies once in exchange for wiping out the Saviors. Jesus, the Hilltop second in command, informs Rick of Negan’s actions toward them, which included beating one of their members to death when they first met. Gregory, recovering from his wound, agrees to the offer because Negan is draining Hilltop dry.
This illustrates a possible means of dealing with organized crime through market protection services. There is no perfect solution in such a case, but giving up half of one’s supplies once to a friendlier organization is better than continually being coercively taxed at 50 percent by a much more aggressive organization. The problems in this case are information and power asymmetry; Rick’s group and Gregory greatly underestimate the Saviors’ strength, and this will be their undoing. A real-world private defense agency would have to be better informed about and prepared for the nature of the threats being defended against.
In Episode 612, Rick’s group strikes a Savior outpost. They use a decoy walker head that looks like Gregory to distract the guards, then kill the guards quietly to sneak into the base. Once inside, they see photographic evidence of Savior atrocities and kill several Saviors who are sleeping. One Savior manages to get to a fire alarm and pull it before Rick’s group can kill him, and a shootout begins. When all is done, at least two dozen Saviors have been killed without any losses on Alexandria’s side. But then they hear on their radio that two of their people have been captured by another cell of Saviors.
In Episode 613, the capture of Carol and Maggie by four Saviors who lived at the base but were not present for the massacre is shown. They are taken to a safe house where more Saviors will come, and Rick’s group must find this place before more Saviors arrive. The Saviors treat Maggie more favorably upon finding out that she is pregnant, and Carol pulls off a convincing ruse to get the Saviors to believe that she is far less dangerous than she really is. This shows that they do have a shred of humanity left despite their brutality, and can thus be emotionally manipulated. In a conversation about Negan, one of the Saviors says, “We are all Negan.” Carol and Maggie manage to escape their restraints and begin working to kill their captors. One dies from a gunshot wound that Carol inflicted before their capture, and they use his reanimated remains to bite another captor and finish her off. The remaining two saviors are killed in a fight with Carol and Maggie, then the other Saviors arrive. Carol lures them into a trap and kills them, after which Rick’s group arrives. One captured Savior that Rick brought along also claims to be Negan, and is promptly executed by Rick. Alexandria and Hilltop falsely believe they have won.
The combat operations shown are rather typical in nature (aside from the undead, of course). Just like in the real world, a small band of determined guerrillas can create a nightmare for a state apparatus, even defeating local branches of it. But this tends to do only enough damage to provoke a greater response by the state, as its leaders know that such behavior can abolish the governing apparatus if it is not stopped. More force is required to remove a state from power, as Rick’s group will soon learn the hard way.
The self-identification of the Saviors with Negan is the other important element here. Negan has developed a cult of personality, just like many real-world dictators. His top lieutenants identify with Negan to a perhaps greater extent than Negan identifies with himself, just as Malcolm X describes the house slaves of old. And just like the field slaves of old and the average person living under a totalitarian regime, most of the lower-ranking Saviors play along because they know that as bad as things are for them, not playing along or trying to escape would likely be even worse. The tactic of training people to identify themselves as Negan is used to protect the real Negan and create a sense of collective identity. This sense is so strong that Negan’s underlings come to behave as he would have them behave without him needing to be present, which is what every dictator wants from his administrators. What Negan provides (or at least pretends to provide) in return will be discussed in Part II.
False Normalcy Shattered
Episode 614 takes place one week after the raid, hostage situation, and rescue. But the threat is not ended; another group of Saviors kills an Alexandrian who is on a supply run and captures Eugene. The group of Saviors is led by Dwight, whose face has been disfigured since Daryl encountered him in Episode 606. Dwight demands that they let his group plunder Alexandria, but several members of Rick’s group who are present fight off the Saviors and rescue Eugene. After losing most of his force, Dwight signals a retreat. Shortly thereafter in Episode 615, Carol is stopped by several Saviors on the road, but she manages to kill all but two and leaves one for dead, with one still pursuing her. Rick finishes off the one that Carol left, realizing that the threat is greater than he thought. Dwight’s group manages to capture Glenn and Michonne, then captures Daryl and Rosita. Maggie has complications with her pregnancy and needs to see a doctor in Hilltop, setting into motion the events that will lead Rick’s group to meet Negan.
Most of the lessons here are better illustrated elsewhere, and the disfigurement of Dwight will be explained in Part II, so let us move on.
The Man Himself I
Episode 616 begins with another group of survivors from a library in the area being murdered by Saviors for trying to resist their rule. They capture and beat the last member of that group. The Saviors set up increasingly elaborate roadblocks as Rick’s group try to take Maggie to Hilltop. At the first one, Simon (Negan’s second in command) tells Rick to give up his supplies. Rick retorts in kind, and then leaves instead of fighting it out. The next roadblocks are larger with increasing numbers of people. At the last roadblock, the last member of the library group is hung by Simon as he verbally intimidates Rick.
Meanwhile, the surviving Savior from the attack on Carol finds and wounds her with a bullet. Morgan arrives and rescues her, then two men on horseback approach and offer help.
The Saviors herd Rick’s group into some woods where the rest of his group has been captured and taken. Negan finally appears, introduces himself, says that Rick’s group have killed more Saviors than he feels comfortable with, declares that Rick’s group works for him now, lays claim to half of their belongings, decides to kill one of them with Lucille (the name he has given to his barbed-wire baseball bat), and threatens to have Carl’s one remaining eye removed and fed to Rick if anyone resists. The season ends with a member of Rick’s group being killed, with the revelation of who it is being left as a cliffhanger.
There are several lessons here. First, the lead-up to this confrontation shows that try as one might to avoid the state, it will find those who run from it sooner or later. Trying to avoid it rather than submit to it or fight it only delays the inevitable and makes civilized life all but impossible. Second, just as statists found long ago that slavery is more profitable than cannibalism or genocide, Negan has learned that it is more profitable to take half of what people earn than to simply eliminate them. Third, Negan’s policy of killing one member of a new group that he encounters in order to make the point that he is in charge and that punishment for defying him is real is also a common theme among statists. This is a theme that may be termed ultraviolence, which may be defined as violence which is overly gratuitous, done for the purpose of being seen by others, used to make an example out of a problematic person or group, and utilized in the hope of subjugating an enemy so as to use a lesser amount of violence against them over the long-term. The penalty for disobeying Negan is always death if one resists to a sufficient extent, and the state is no different. Just like the real world, the Saviors find that this is not always effective; some people choose to resist to the death, and just like historical dictators, Negan and his lieutenants have no problem with exterminating such groups. Fifth, contrary to appearances, the lesson here is not that resistance is futile; only that resistance requires a critical mass of defensive force and should not be attempted when one cannot bring nearly that much force to bear.
The Man Himself II
Episode 701 picks up where the previous season finale left off, and we learn that Abraham, Rick’s second in command, was murdered by Negan. Daryl responds by rising up and punching Negan, who retaliates by murdering Glenn with Lucille. Rick declares that someday, he will kill Negan for what he has done. Negan takes Rick away to an RV for some one-on-one time. Along the way, Negan dares Rick to kill him with an axe but stops Rick with a rifle, ordering him to drop it. Rick complies and Negan starts driving the RV. Eventually, the RV gets surrounded by walkers. Negan throws the axe outside and demands that Rick go get it. Rick nearly dies in the process, but manages to retrieve it as Negan begins shooting walkers to save Rick. Negan drives Rick back to his group, informs Rick that he is no longer in charge, and hands Rick the axe. Rick still looks at Negan the same way, so Negan orders Rick to either cut off his son’s arm with the axe or watch his whole group die. Carl finally tells Rick to cut off his arm, and Rick starts to, but Negan stops him and says, “You answer to me, you provide for me, you belong to me, right?” he asks. Rick agrees, Negan says that this is the look that he wanted Rick to give him, and takes back the axe. Negan tells Dwight to take Daryl away and threatens that Rick will have to mutilate him if Rick resists further. Negan leaves Rick’s group a truck for gathering tribute, and says they have one week to collect an offering. After the Saviors leave, Maggie continues on to Hilltop, and the others take their dead for burial and return to Alexandria.
This episode illustrates how far an authoritarian ruler is willing to go in order to gain compliance. Negan tolerates no threat to his rule, shutting it down promptly with a second display of ultraviolence. Also of interest is Negan’s investment of time and effort into breaking Rick. He does this because it is difficult for a ruler to control a large number of people directly. In order to rule over Alexandria, Negan needs Rick to do so for him, so he goes as far as he must in order to make Rick subservient to him. This also explains why Negan saves Rick from being killed by walkers.
The matter of when and where to violently resist a state apparatus is another important consideration here. Up until this point, Rick’s group had been engaging the Saviors either at times and places of their choosing or on neutral ground. They had mixed results on neutral ground and favorable results when fighting on their own terms. But when David tries to fight Goliath on Goliath’s terms, David has almost no chance, as shown by the fruitless token resistances offered by members of Rick’s group when surrounded by Negan and a large number of Saviors.
Finally, let us consider the truck that Negan leaves behind. The truck will make it easier for Rick’s group to conduct their affairs, but its main purpose is to make their exploitation by Negan more profitable. Like everything that a government provides to its subjects, it is provided not for the betterment of the subjects, but to help the subjects to be more productive. Any betterment that occurs is only a beneficial side effect about which the state is apathetic.
The first part of Negan’s arc presents him as a mysterious figure who is not known to actually exist in physical form, much like the state. The individuals who believe in the state and act upon this belief exist, the buildings, vehicles, and guns involved exist, and so on, but there is no physical form we can point to or touch and say, “This is the state.” But it seems real enough for the people who are on the receiving end of the violence, which is all that matters for those who operate and benefit from the apparatus. Unlike the state, Negan actually does exist directly, which may make dealing with him a different challenge going forward. In the second part, we will examine the time period after Rick’s meeting with Negan (Episode 702) up to the decision to stop living under Negan’s rule and fight him (Episode 708).