The State Is Negan, Part III

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The Walking Dead comic series and the television show based on it contain many themes which are of interest to the student of both libertarian philosophy and reactionary thought. The character Negan, who appears in the Season 6 finale and is the primary antagonist in Seasons 7 and 8, is one of the most obvious allegories in recent memory for the nature of the state. Let us examine the third part of his character arc to see how he and his underlings deal with a developing hostile challenge to their rule. As we will see, there are many lessons to be learned for those who seek either to abolish state power or to wield it oneself. This part of the article series will cover the time period following Rick’s decision to resist Negan (Episode 709) up to the battle in Alexandria (Episode 716).

Reluctant Warriors I

In Episode 709, Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom begin their resistance. The episode begins with Gabriel watching the gate in Alexandria at night. He leaves his post, fills crates with food and weapons, drops his Bible on the pantry floor loads them into a car, and leaves. A dark figure is seen in the passenger seat as Gabriel drives away.

Jesus and many people from Alexandria meet with Gregory in Hilltop. Gregory refuses to fight the Saviors, but upon leaving his office, the group finds others in Hilltop who will fight. The discussion turns to tactics. Daryl proposes bombing the Saviors’ compound, while Tara objects that this may kill innocent civilians. Rick suggests returning to Alexandria. Jesus reveals a walkie-talkie taken from the Saviors that can be used to spy on their movements, then proposes they visit the Kingdom, which they do. After meeting Richard and Alvaro, two Kingdom guards, the group enters the Kingdom. They are reunited with Morgan, who informs them that he found Carol but that she has gone. Rick’s group then meets King Ezekiel and his tiger Shiva. Rick makes the case for war while Morgan advises non-violence. Ezekiel invites them to stay the night while he deliberates.

During the night, Benjamin finds Carol in the woods, who gives him advice on being quiet and sends him home. Ezekiel puts Benjamin’s brother Henry to bed, then Benjamin asks Ezekiel to help fight the Saviors. The next morning, Ezekiel declines to fight but offers asylum to Daryl so that the Saviors will not find him. Dejected, the group leaves. Outside, Rick and Richard discuss matters, both realizing that while they lack numbers, they are making the Saviors stronger by paying tribute to them. Rick convinces Daryl to stay and try to change Ezekiel’s mind.

As the group returns to Alexandria, they encounter a roadblock of cars set by the Saviors, which they move. They then find a tripwire and explosives, which they appropriate for their own use. They hear on the walkie that Negan is looking for Daryl and see a large herd of zombies coming, so they hurry in order to get back home and avoid the zombies. Rick decides to keep the zombies on the highway in case they can be useful later. Accomplishing this endangers some of the group, but everyone survives and goes home.

Moments after returning home, Simon arrives with some Saviors and says he is looking for Daryl. They search and find nothing, noting only that the pantry looks bare. After the Saviors leave, Rick asks Aaron about the pantry. He and Tobin tell Rick about Gabriel’s actions. Rosita accuses Gabriel of theft, but Rick defends him. Rick finds Gabriel’s Bible on the floor, then finds a note from him in the inventory book that says “BOAT.” Rick and Aaron go to the boat where they found supplies earlier. They find a trail of footprints that lead to a parking lot. A large armed group surrounds them as Rick smiles.

* * * * *

Let us begin with Gregory, the weak and treacherous leader of Hilltop. He, like many people in positions of power today, is unfit for leadership on his own merits, and is accordingly the puppet of a higher authority. He knows on which side his bread is buttered, and that the people of Hilltop will probably remove him in favor of Maggie if not for the threat of what Negan might do to them if such removal were effected. Naturally, Rick’s group sets about building an alternative power structure to serve their interests.

Speaking of elites and rebellion, Jesus recognizes the need to have at least one more community leader on board with the plan, and so hopes to recruit Ezekiel. It is natural for someone in Ezekiel’s position to be cautious of such plots to overthrow the established order, as the Kingdom has a better deal with the Saviors than do the other communities. From his perspective, Rick is an unknown quantity who should not be entrusted with full allegiance as yet, but Ezekiel does offer a token gesture by protecting Daryl. Rick is wise to convince Daryl to stay and whisper in Ezekiel’s ear in the hopes of slowly warming him to the idea of revolution. Of course, a wise rebel leader will also work on the lieutenants of the elites that one hopes to bring on board, as Rick does with Richard. The decision to bring Morgan along was questionable, as his arguments for a nonviolent resolution both undermine the chances of bringing Ezekiel into their plot and are out of place in the ultraviolent context of Negan’s actions.

The discussion between Tara and Daryl is an important one that any serious revolution must contemplate. Will a war effort be total, or will there be rules of engagement that one will not cross, even if it means failing the mission? Many treatises have been written throughout history debating the merits and demerits of each position, and reaching a definite conclusion here is outside the scope of this article, but the particular context of The Walking Dead clearly indicates total war, as Negan is an existential threat.

The walkie that Jesus acquired from the Saviors demonstrates the importance of spying and gathering intelligence. Without this advantage, Rick’s group would not know how to stay away from Savior patrols. The group also shows good judgment in appropriating explosives and tripwires that the Saviors placed, as well as by using a zombie herd to block a road that the Saviors could use. It is important to impair the enemy in whatever way possible.

Finally, Rick trusts and defends Gabriel when others do not, treating him as innocent until proven guilty. This may come from his former life as a police officer or from his experience as leading the group; likely both. It is important to trust one’s subordinates to accomplish important tasks, even if they sometimes do so by questionable means.

Reluctant Warriors II

In Episode 710, the uneasiness before battle continues. The episode begins with a tribute meeting between Ezekiel and the Saviors. Gavin, the lead Savior, says their tribute is small but accepts it. Richard and Jared come to an armed standoff, but Richard backs down at Ezekiel’s command. Morgan stops Jared from attacking Richard again, then Jared attacks Morgan, then Benjamin attacks Jared. Ezekiel orders his people to stop fighting.

Once back at the Kingdom, Ezekiel admonishes Benjamin for being too eager to fight. Daryl asks Morgan why he tolerates the Saviors, saying that Carol would want to fight if she knew about Negan’s murders of Glenn and Abraham. Morgan agrees, adding “that’s why she left.”

Later, Daryl and Richard discuss killing the Saviors while practicing archery. They leave for a hidden camper in the woods, where they discuss making war against the Saviors and moving Ezekiel to fight. Daryl discovers that Richard’s plan is to get Carol killed by Saviors in order to anger Ezekiel, which angers Daryl enough to threaten to kill Richard if this plan is enacted.

The episode then picks up where the last one left off at The Heaps, where Rick’s group is surrounded by the Scavengers, a new group. Rick speaks to Jadis, a woman who leads the Scavengers, asking to see Gabriel. He is brought out, and Rick says that killing his people will anger the Saviors. He asks for help against the Saviors, but Jadis refuses. After a fight breaks out, Jadis takes Rick to the top of a trash heap. Thus begins a test, as Rick is pushed down into a pit with a zombie that has been covered in armor and spikes. Rick sustains hand and leg wounds, but kills the zombie. Jadis throws Rick a rope to climb out of the pit, then agrees to help Rick fight in return for one third of the Saviors’ supplies. Scavengers load the supplies that Gabriel took into Rick’s car. Gabriel thanks Rick for the rescue and for believing in him. Rick responds that enemies can become friends. Rosita argues against going home, saying they need to find guns for the Scavengers. Tara responds that Rick and Aaron need medical attention. Michonne asks Rick about where to look for guns. Rick asks Tara, but she does not mention the armed women she met in Oceanside.

Ezekiel and Jerry deliver food to Carol. She tells them to go, then Daryl arrives, who she is much happier to see. Carol tells Daryl that she left because she didn’t want to lose anyone and wanted to stop killing, but she would have to kill the Saviors if they killed anyone she loved. Daryl decides not to tell her about Glenn and Abraham. After dinner, Daryl hugs her and leaves.

In the Kingdom, Daryl sits next to Shiva’s cage. He informs Morgan that he found Carol and asks him to convince Ezekiel to fight. Morgan refuses, after which Daryl decides to return to the Hilltop. The next morning, Morgan watches him leave and sees Richard watching as well.

* * * * *

Here, we witness further evidence that Negan is not a competent sovereign. Lack of respect for one’s vassals breeds discontent, and his lieutenants clearly treat the Kingdommers with contempt. The Saviors only get away with this for so long before matters escalate and Ezekiel decides that war must be waged, and oppression in the real world is no different. As Frederick Douglass wrote, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

The tension between Richard and Daryl illustrates a problem that is always present within revolutionary movements. People will make plans of their own, sometimes without consulting with their fellow revolutionaries and even throwing them under the bus in some cases, as Richard plans to do with Carol. This can not only disrupt long-term strategies, as will be seen later, but can lead to splinters within the revolution when fights over leadership occur or hostility over perceived or actual betrayals boils over.

When Rick deals with the Scavengers, we once again see a hesitant leader who wants proof of Rick’s mettle. Jadis is far more open and direct about what will bring her on board, while Ezekiel does not show his cards. Of course, one must always be cautious of the establishment, who may demonstrate greater character, resolve, or ability, or may simply make a better offer.

In any martial effort, it is natural for some people to have mental breakdowns. Horror at the sight of blood and guts can cause this, but this is all but absent this long after the apocalypse, with almost all such people being zombies or zombie food. However, slower-onset cases in which one sees so much death and destruction that one simply cannot handle any more still occur. It is important to recognize the signs of this and handle such people with care, as Daryl does for Carol.

Tara’s refusal to tell Rick about Oceanside and the useful weapons they possess is important, but will be discussed later when the issue resurfaces.

Enemy Camp

Episode 711 returns to the Sanctuary immediately following Daryl’s escape in Episode 708. A group of Saviors finds Fat Joey’s body. Dwight notices a missing motorcycle, runs to Daryl’s cell, and finds it empty. Dwight grabs his walkie from his apartment and finds Daryl’s prison clothes there. He also finds a note given to Daryl that says, “Go now.”

Negan returns from Alexandria with Eugene, who is terrified. Laura, a female Savior, walks him to an apartment as he begs for mercy. He is surprised to find that the apartment is for him. Laura says that Daryl escaped and asks Eugene if he has any leads. Eugene says no and that he would not lie about it. He is glad to find the refrigerator stocked and to learn that Laura can get him other food as well. After being denied lobster, he settles for canned pasta in tomato sauce but is disappointed by a lack of pickles available.

After examining the note, Saviors barge in and beat Dwight as Negan looks on. Dwight is put into the cell that had housed Daryl. Negan tells him that Sherry ran away, then questions whether she or Dwight helped Daryl escape. Dwight is released with orders to find and return Sherry. In the infirmary, Dr. Carson stitches Dwight’s wounds and says that Sherry probably helped Daryl. Dwight gets his gear from his apartment and leaves on a motorcycle. He rides through a suburb and parks at an abandoned house which used to be his. He finds Sherry’s wedding rings and a letter from her, in which she admits to freeing Daryl and apologizes for getting them into Negan’s system. Shaken, he puts the rings in his cigarette carton and leaves pretzels and beer next to a candle, in accordance with her letter. When Dwight returns, Dr. Carson tends his wounds again. Dwight lies, saying he killed Sherry.

Laura takes Eugene on a tour of the factory floor, explaining the points system and that it does not apply to Eugene. She takes a pickle jar and gives it to Eugene. Outside, Negan orders Simon to lead a party to Alexandra to find Daryl. Eugene is brought out and intimidated by the Saviors. As he commonly does, Negan asks for everyone’s name. Eugene gives his own name, then everyone else says “Negan” together. Negan shows Eugene what his bullet did to Lucille, then asks if he is a “smarty pants.” Eugene lies as he did to Abraham long ago, saying that he has multiple doctoral degrees and was part of the Human Genome Project. Negan tests him by asking how to better preserve their fence-line zombies. Eugene proposes pouring molten metal on them, which will harden into armor. Negan is impressed, offering to send several of his wives to Eugene’s apartment and nicknaming him “Dr. Smarty Pants.”

Eugene plays video games while Tanya, Frankie, and Amber, three of Negan’s wives, are with him. One of them jokes about making a bomb, and Eugene lists the ingredients he would need. He walks outside with them, mixes ingredients, and ignites a balloon filled with hydrogen, to their delight. Later, Tanya and Frankie visit him again, saying that Amber wants to kill herself. Eugene agrees to make pills for her. He uses his rank to cut in line at the points market, getting cold capsules and a stuffed toy. Back at his apartment, he makes the pills.

Laura brings Eugene to the factory floor, where a crowd has gathered around the furnace. Negan tells Eugene to pay close attention to what is about to happen. Negan hits Dr. Carson with Lucille, accusing him of helping Daryl escape. Dwight had clipped part of Sherry’s farewell letter and planted it in Dr. Carson’s desk, framing him. Dr. Carson accuses Dwight of lying, but confesses under the threat of Negan’s hot iron. Negan throws Dr. Carson face-first into the furnace. After the execution, Negan stares at Eugene and remarks to Dwight, “Good thing we have a spare Dr. Carson.”

When Tanya and Frankie come to Eugene for the pills, he correctly guesses that they intend to kill Negan and refuses to help. Tanya calls him a coward before leaving. Negan then stops by, telling Eugene not to be afraid anymore. Negan asks Eugene for his name, and he eagerly says, “Negan.”

Eugene oversees the workers as they carry out his metallic upgrade of the fence zombies. Dwight joins him and asks if he is on board. Eugene apologizes for attacking Dwight in Episode 614, then says, “We are Negan.” Dwight reluctantly agrees.

* * * * *

Like many people who are captured and forced to work for the enemy, there is a delicate balance that Eugene must walk between doing enough legitimate work to fit in and engaging in whatever subterfuge is possible while saying what one must in order to survive. For the rest of the war, Eugene will have to deal with this, but he partly realizes that subterfuge must wait until he can gain Negan’s trust and partly is too scared to try anything just yet. This is evidenced by his unwillingness to help Negan’s wives assassinate him and his eventual willingness to take on Negan’s name. As for Negan’s side of this interaction, he is more perceptive than most people and knows how to make others believe that he knows more than he does, which both helps keep people in line in the short-term but makes him vulnerable to betrayal by his closest associates in the long-term. His tactic of bringing in resourceful people from the other side makes more sense than letting them keep working for the enemy, but he does not have the overall temperament to prevent eventual defection.

As for saying what one must, Dwight does this both to cover for Sherry and to spare himself Negan’s wrath. In a totalitarian regime, someone must always be to blame, which leads to Dwight’s use of Dr. Carson as a scapegoat. This is a natural tendency rooted in the instinct of self-preservation, and Negan’s treatment of Dr. Carson shows that this instinct is well-honed. But again, Negan takes ultraviolence too far. Making a public spectacle of shoving someone’s head into a furnace because a prisoner escaped just to have someone to blame is the behavior of someone whose power is insecure; secure rulers have made their example and do not need to regularly brutalize their own people. This helps explain the desire of Tanya and Frankie to kill Negan, along with his mistreatment of their former partners and his callous domination of them.

War Materiel

In Episode 712, the hunt for weapons begins. Rick and Michonne look for guns to fulfill their deal with the Scavengers. They find some Saviors playing golf in a field and manage to sneak over to their truck in order to use batteries inside to power their walkie. Driving their van, Michonne sees that Rick has fallen asleep. She pulls over, makes coffee, spots a deer in the woods, and grabs a gun. Rick wakes up and joins the hunt. They lose the deer but find an abandoned school in the distance. They approach, bang on the fence, and dispatch a zombie drawn by the sound. They see shell casings and guess that powerful guns are nearby. They climb onto the roof for a better view, seeing carnival rides and zombies carrying guns. The waterlogged roof caves in, dropping Rick and Michonne into the school. They get lucky, landing on a bed. Inside, they find many food rations and other supplies. Rick and Michonne discuss their future plans and what to do with the resources they found, deciding to give one third of the food as tribute to the Saviors and some of the guns to the Scavengers.

The next day, Rick and Michonne make a plan to kill the zombies outside. A zombie with a machine gun gets stuck in some re-bar in such a way as to make the gun fire at them. They take cover in a car, then escape through the sunroof as zombies swarm it. They split up to divide the zombies. Rick spots a deer and tries to shoot it from a Ferris wheel, but it cannot hold him. Zombies close in on him, and Michonne thinks he may be dead. She is glad to see him when he emerges. Rick sees Michonne crying as they gather guns from the fallen zombies. On the way home, Rick warns her that they will lose people in the fight against Negan, possibly each other. He says that such sacrifices will be worth it and that the struggle is about the future, not about them. He asks her to lead if he dies.

In Alexandria, Rosita is removing stitches from the cut on her face. Tara tells her that they have enough people but need more weapons. Rosita leaves to look for guns. She finds a toy gun and almost gets bitten by a zombie, which infuriates her. She returns to Alexandria and visits Gabriel. She yells at him for trying to discourage her from shooting at Negan. Gabriel remains calm, arguing that the rest of the group needs her alive.

Tara babysits Judith and debates whether to tell Rick about Oceanside or keep her promise to its residents to keep their existence a secret.

Rick’s group delivers 63 guns to Jadis, who says that she needs twice that many. This angers Rosita. Jadis agrees to let Rick keep 20 to help his group get more. When they return, Rick asks Tara if she has seen Rosita. Tara decides to tell Rick about Oceanside.

Rosita goes to Hilltop to see Sasha, asking for help with killing Negan. Sasha agrees to help as long as she gets to take the shot. Rosita says that she remembers Daryl’s and Carl’s descriptions of the Sanctuary, while Sasha has a map of the exterior from Jesus. They both acknowledge that it is probably a suicide mission, but decide to go anyway.

* * * * *

When building a revolutionary movement, it is important to avoid taking stupid risks. Rick and Michonne became far too careless in pursuit of their objective. Had a bed not been located in an implausibly lucky location, they would have been either killed or mortally wounded by their fall through the roof. In real life, this would have been the end for both of them. Their plan to escape the school almost fails, then Rick’s ill-advised attempt to hunt deer from a rusted Ferris wheel almost gets him killed again.

Once the two of them apparently wise up, they discuss the important realizations that they will lose people in the fight and that there must be a leadership plan if Rick dies. Many revolutionary movements lose their original leaders, especially if the revolution drags on for many years. That people will die fighting is obvious in principle but still difficult when it hits close to home, but the manner of Negan’s rule leaves them with nothing to lose. Another aspect of revolutions is that a victory easily won is hardly valued, whereas a victory that costs a great amount of blood and treasure will be defended more vigorously against later threats out of a desire that one’s friends and riches not be ultimately lost in vain.

Tara finally decides to help her own group instead of keep her word to outsiders by telling Rick of Oceanside’s weapons. The desire to keep one’s word to neutrals is generally a virtue, but out-group preference loses wars. Anyone in such a situation is best advised to share all available intelligence with one’s leader to help the war effort. Neutrals can usually be made to understand or brought to heel as needed, but leaving a resource untapped against an enemy like Negan is no way to win.

Once more, we witness splinter factions within Rick’s group jumping the gun and attempting their own private missions. Rick’s plans are moving too slowly for Rosita and Sasha, who believe they can carry out a targeted assassination against Negan. While such a plan may work in this case, it is not generally possible to remove a totalitarian regime from power by assassinating the head of state. The result is usually “the king is dead, long live the king” or “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.

Uneasy Peace

In Episode 713, the Kingdom inches closer to conflict with the Saviors. The episode begins with several Kingdommers loading a blood-stained cantaloupe onto a truck. Morgan teaches Henry how to fight with a staff as Benjamin watches.

Carol wakes up, gets out of bed, and leaves her house for the Kingdom. She incapacitates a zombie but does not finish it off. Once at the Kingdom gate, she kills five zombies. The guards let her in, after which she goes to see Morgan. She wants to know why Rick’s group came to the Kingdom and if everyone in Alexandra is alright. Morgan tells her to ask Daryl and offers to return to Alexandria with her. She leaves. On her way out, Benjamin asks her to teach him to fight, and she refuses. Carol then finds that the zombie she did not finish off earlier has been killed. A shadow is seen watching her from a distance.

Richard digs a hole to bury a child’s backpack, which has the name “Katy” written on it. One of the Kingdom residents informs Ezekiel that a crop has weevils and must be burned. She assures him that it will grow back. Benjamin gives Morgan a painting.

Several Kingdommers load cantaloupes onto a truck for another tribute. Richard apologizes to Morgan, then warns him that someday he will have to kill. On their way, Ezekiel’s crew encounters a barricade of shopping carts in the road. They search the area as Richard covers the group from behind, and find an open grave that Richard dug earlier with a sign saying, “Bury me here.” They remove the roadblock and continue to the tribute meeting. Gavin reprimands Ezekiel for arriving late and will hear no excuses. Jerry tells Gavin not to interrupt, and gets hit by Jared with Morgan’s staff for his trouble. Benjamin mutters under his breath, which Jared hears. Gavin inspects the cantaloupes, then demands their guns. The groups draw on each other. Gavin says they have the same choice they have always had; try to use their guns or not. Richard advises Ezekiel to submit and is mocked by Jared. Ezekiel complies. Gavin says they are short one cantaloupe, but Ezekiel insists that all twelve are there. Gavin says he will teach them a lesson. Jared points his gun at Richard, who tells him to shoot. He shoots Benjamin twice in the legs instead. Gavin orders Jared to return Morgan’s staff, and orders Ezekiel to bring the last cantaloupe the next day. The crew loads a bleeding-out Benjamin onto the truck and leaves for Carol’s cottage. They try to save Benjamin, but he dies.

Morgan walks alone at the urban lot where the roadblock was. He sees visions of his past and considers suicide. He kicks a box and finds the twelfth cantaloupe. He deduces that Richard hid the cantaloupe on purpose. Morgan goes back to the Kingdom to confront Richard. Richard says that he was supposed to die, hoping that his death over something so petty would push Ezekiel to war. Richard tells Morgan about losing his wife and daughter, blaming himself for inaction then. Richard proposes they regain the Saviors’ trust, then destroy them with help from Alexandria and Hilltop. Morgan goes to his room and thinks about his next move.

The next scene returns to the beginning of the episode, as the last cantaloupe is loaded. At the meeting, Gavin asks about Benjamin, then realizes that he died. He angrily orders Jared to walk home, threatening to kill him if he disobeys. Richard brings the cantaloupe to Gavin, but Morgan beats Richard with his staff and strangles him to death, shocking everyone present. He explains what Richard had done and assures Gavin that their tribute relationship will be honored going forward. The Saviors leave. Morgan tells Ezekiel what Richard told him, but refers to Benjamin as Duane, his deceased son’s name. This confuses Ezekiel, who attempts to console him. A crying Morgan tells Ezekiel to leave him alone. Ezekiel leaves, then Morgan stabs Richard so he will not reanimate. Morgan drags Richard’s corpse to the open grave and buries him. He buries Katy’s backpack with him, then goes around killing zombies.

Morgan visits Carol and tells her about killing Richard. He then tells Carol the truth about Glenn, Abraham, Spencer, and Olivia. He explains that Rick came to the Kingdom looking for allies against the Saviors. Carol returns to the Kingdom, finding Ezekiel with Henry. She says that she is moving in to help them fight, and Ezekiel agrees, adding that the fight will not be immediate. Carol, Ezekiel, and Henry replant the burned crops.

Morgan sits on Carol’s porch, whittling the end of Benjamin’s staff into a spear.

* * * * *

With the confrontation at the tribute delivery, we see the age-old dilemma that every armed people facing oppressors has: submit and be disarmed, or try to use one’s arms. We also see the Kingdommers give the incorrect answer, as many oppressed people do. As is frequently the case in real life, one of the oppressed who does not make war against tyranny winds up dead anyway, for those who would disarm people seek to do to them what could not be done if they were armed.

Though it was Richard’s intention to get himself killed as a means of starting the war, intentions are irrelevant compared to results. One can never be sure of who will be lost in war; only that some people will be, so war is only worth waging once it is clear that some people will also be lost without war, as is the case under Negan. Note that Richard originally intended to get Carol killed to start the war.

Many people make sacrifices in order to keep the peace, even if the peace is phony. The Kingdommers give up their guns, and Morgan kills Richard just to maintain this false peace of subjugation and oppression. But the truth is becoming increasingly unavoidable, as it always does, leading Morgan to symbolically sharpen his stick into a spear. That the last holdout who seeks peace at any cost is now preparing for war foreshadows the coming breaking point. In any revolution, there tends to be “a long train of abuses and usurpations” by the establishment that will continue until enough opposing elites find revolution to be preferable. Morgan also tells Carol the truth about the Alexandrians that Negan killed, knowing that she will join the fight.

As always, timing is everything. If one waits too long, then tributes and sacrifices may make a revolution too weak to succeed. If one strikes too soon, then the people and resources needed for a successful revolution may not be gathered. Ezekiel wants to wait perhaps too long; Rick wants to strike once they are ready; Richard and others in Rick’s group want to strike too soon. There is a window of opportunity, and any successful revolution must have leaders who can recognize its boundaries.

Plans Interrupted

In Episode 714, plans unfold at the Hilltop while Saviors visit. Maggie teaches the residents how to throw knives. She works with Jesus on future plans. Sasha draws a floor plan of the Sanctuary. Enid sees Jesus hand his map to Sasha. Maggie sees Daryl sitting alone, so she brings him food. Gregory watches with suspicion as a group of Hilltoppers congregates in the courtyard. Rosita arrives and tells Sasha that she needs her help to kill Negan. Maggie apologizes to Jesus for taking over his trailer, but he says that he likes having her, Sasha, and Enid there. Maggie goes to see the blacksmith about making spears for trading with the Kingdom. Jesus begs Sasha to delay her mission, but she refuses. Enid tells Sasha that she will inform Maggie but give them ten minutes to get a head start.

Just then, a guard alarms them that a group of Saviors have come. Sasha and Rosita make for a secret escape hatch that leads them out of Hilltop. Maggie does not have time to make it to the hatch, so Enid guides her and Daryl to a root cellar to hide. Daryl looks out from the cellar, and Maggie calls him over to a dark hiding place. Sasha and Rosita escape through the woods.

Gregory greets Simon, who tells him that Negan wants one of the Hilltop residents. In the medical trailer, Simon tells Dr. Carson that his services are needed at the Sanctuary. This informs him that his brother has died, though not that Negan killed him. Simon gives Gregory a crate of aspirin. Gregory then pulls Simon aside. He assures Simon of his loyalty, then explains that he may have an insurgency on his hands. Simon gives Gregory a pass into the Sanctuary in case he needs Negan’s help with quelling a rebellion.

Roy, a Savior, walks toward the cellar doors and enters, despite Enid’s efforts to distract him, to which he responds in a rather creepy manner. Daryl is enraged, but stays hidden. Roy searches the cellar, and Daryl readies his knife. Maggie holds him back. Roy takes some supplies and leaves. Maggie senses Daryl’s anger and tells him that she also wanted to kill Roy, but it would have been counterproductive. Daryl apologizes for his role in Glenn’s death, and Maggie responds that Daryl is not to blame.

The Hilltoppers gather and watch the Saviors leave with their doctor. Gregory is uncomfortable.

Rosita fails to hot-wire a car. She notices Sasha’s necklace and says that she made it for Abraham, renewing tension between the two over their common ex. Sasha suggests sniping Negan, while Rosita wants to enter Sanctuary and kill Negan up close. Rosita burns a car to distract zombies in the area, then they climb a fence into the lot. Rosita successfully hot-wires a car, and they drive to Sanctuary. They enter an empty building near the Sanctuary, where Sasha discovers Eugene overseeing some Saviors. She tells Rosita, who believes Eugene must be pretending to be a Savior. While waiting for Negan, Rosita and Sasha discuss Abraham and their pasts, making peace with each other. The truck from Hilltop arrives and Negan walks out, but Sasha cannot get a clear shot before Negan goes back inside. Then they hear Eugene ordering Saviors to strengthen fence security. Sasha and Rosita decide to go in.

Back at Hilltop, Gregory summons Jesus. They quarrel over job assignments for the newcomers from Alexandria. Outside, Daryl asks Jesus where Rosita and Sasha went.

After nightfall, Eugene discusses security with a Savior, then Rosita and Sasha kill the Savior. They ask Eugene to escape with them, but he tells them to leave and goes inside. They cut through the fence. Sasha goes through and tells Rosita to keep watch. Sasha locks Rosita out and tells her that Alexandria still needs her. Sasha kills another Savior and goes into the Sanctuary. Rosita cries, then flees as Saviors approach and guns fire. She notices a dark figure with a crossbow watching her.

* * * * *

Gregory’s weakness and treachery is already well-established, and he behaves as one may predict in recruiting Simon to help him save his hide from a mutiny. It is interesting that Gregory does not reveal to Simon that Maggie is alive, but he probably realizes that this would get him killed by someone at Hilltop. Many puppet rulers eventually find themselves in such a situation, and their behavior can be difficult to predict, as they are eventually doomed regardless of what choices they make.

As for Maggie, her leadership qualities are on display. It is important to know one’s limitations and refuse to fight the establishment on their terms, such as when Saviors are in Hilltop. She shows this by restraining Daryl, who could have caused great trouble for himself and everyone else in Hilltop by killing Roy rather than staying hidden. Meanwhile, Enid demonstrates the importance of knowing the terrain. Without her knowledge of their community, Maggie and Daryl may not have been able to hide. Those who know the lay of the land have a decisive advantage over those who do not.

Again, there are members of the resistance who are making and executing their own plans outside of leadership. While there is some virtue to stating an overall goal and allowing for freedom in execution, this can easily go too far and compromise the greater strategy of the revolutionaries. Finally, there is Sasha’s willingness to sacrifice herself for the group. Almost all revolutions have their martyrs, and this one is no different. Some people are drawn to suicide missions out of a sense of civic duty, some believe there is no other way to accomplish their goals, while others are simply tired of living and want to go out with a bang. Still others are thrill seekers who believe they can defy the odds and be a hero. Regardless of the motivation, individual sacrifices can be powerful motivational propaganda to fuel a revolution.

Alternate Plans

In Episode 715, the gun hunt resumes and power dynamics continue to shift. Tara tells Rick about Oceanside, so they lead a group there. Meanwhile, a group of zombies moves down the shoreline to Oceanside. Rick’s group gets into position outside Oceanside: Michonne climbs a tree with her rifle, Jesus and Daryl plant explosives, and Aaron and Eric keep watch. Eric tells Aaron that he understands his resolve to fight the Saviors.

At Hilltop, Maggie offers farming advice to Eduardo as Gregory observes. He is unsettled by Eduardo calling Maggie “boss lady.” Maggie plans to transplant a blueberry bush into Hilltop from outside, explaining that they can produce for decades and that they should be making long-term plans. Jesus chastises himself for not stopping Rosita and Sasha, but Daryl reassures him and guesses that they could have returned already.

We learn that they did not; Sasha was captured and is in a cell much like Daryl’s. David enters to find her arms and legs bound. She asks for water, to which he responds by telling her that he will bring her water in exchange for sex. He tries to sexually assault her, but Negan interrupts. He says that rape is forbidden and executes David. Negan apologizes for the incident and orders a Savior to bring her a new shirt. He asks if Rick sent her, and she says no. Negan then unties her wrists, leaves her a knife, and leaves her with a proposal: let David reanimate and kill her, or stab David to prevent that, after which she must join his cause. Eugene comes later to bring Sasha a blanket and pillow. He tells her that he joined Negan because meeting him was the scariest time of his life and he never wanted to feel that way again. He advises her to join Negan, and she demands that he leave. Once Eugene is gone, David starts to reanimate. Later, Negan goes to Sasha’s cell to find that she saved herself. She agrees to join him, and he retrieves his knife. He says that she must do more to demonstrate her loyalty. He tells her that he knows Rick is plotting against him and wants her to help him stop Rick.

Maggie and Gregory go outside to get the blueberry bush. He contemplates killing Maggie from behind, but decides not to. A zombie comes at them, which Gregory fails to kill. Maggie kills it as a second zombie attacks Gregory. She has to save him again, as a passing group of Hilltoppers watches. One of them remarks that Gregory exaggerated his zombie-killing experience. After returning to Hilltop, Gregory takes out Simon’s note, studies a map, and calls for Kal to pack a bag and prepare to drive him somewhere.

In Oceanside, Tara sneaks into Natania’s home and holds her and Cyndie at gunpoint. She asks them to join their resistance, but says they are taking their guns regardless. The others detonate the explosives. Beatrice and Kathy are captured by Daryl and Jesus as others flee. Cyndie and Natania manage to subdue Tara, then Tara reveals that her gun was unloaded. Rick’s group rounds up the Oceansiders. Rick tells them that he does not want to hurt anyone. Natania appears, holding Tara at gunpoint. Cyndie and Beatrice both suggest joining the fight, but Natania refuses. Zombies approach, and Cyndie knocks out Natania. The groups work together to kill the zombies. Beatrice and Rick shake hands, and Natania concedes. She lets Rick’s group take the guns, but will not join the fight. Gabriel wonders whether they need all of Oceanside’s guns, but Rick says it is necessary. Cyndie thanks Tara for fighting but says that Natania has forbidden Oceansiders from joining them.

Eugene visits Sasha again. He assures her that she chose correctly, but she cries, worried that she will now be used against Rick. She begs for a weapon to kill herself, and Eugene says he will consider it. Later, he brings her the pill he made for Frankie and Tanya, but Sasha really wanted a weapon to use against Negan.

Late at night, Rick’s group returns home. Jesus asks about Sasha, but Rosita just says they have a visitor. She leads them to the Alexandria prison, where Dwight awaits. Daryl charges at him, but Rick and Michonne restrain him. Rosita says that Dwight wants to help. Rick holds Dwight at gunpoint and orders him to kneel.

* * * * *

The incident with David shows that even evil has standards. Negan engages in many forms of cruelty, but rape is one crime that he will not abide, even if his conduct toward his wives could be construed as such. This is perhaps best understood as the general hypocrisy of tyrants; many totalitarian rulers engage in behaviors that they criminalize for others. This provides insight into the purpose of such governance structures; they are meant to free those at the top by binding those beneath, which can be seen in Negan’s system more generally.

Gregory continues to be treacherous, even to the point of wanting to kill someone who ends up saving his life, but there is nothing to discuss about him that has not already been covered. Meanwhile, Maggie again shows herself to be the real and more capable leader of Hilltop, both in facing the ever-present threat of zombies and in making long-term plans. A revolutionary movement must have not only an endgame, but an after-game in which people live free from tyranny and build a new order that is better suited to their well-being. However, Natania demonstrates the opposite qualities. Her spirit is broken by the death and destruction that Negan brought to her community, and this impairs everyone in Oceanside. The younger women could be valuable fighters in the resistance, but they will not disobey Natania’s orders to stay at Oceanside.

Fools rush in, and Sasha’s Leeroy Jenkins-style strategy is a textbook example. Her myopic plan helps the enemy, as Negan now has her as a bargaining chip against Rick. This places her in a difficult position, although it is curious that she does not attempt to stab Negan once she has killed David. Almost any real person who has been captured, has a weapon, and knows the enemy leader is coming would lie in ambush. It is important to take advantage of any opportunity once captured by the enemy.

The end of the episode deals with one of the most important aspects of a revolution: how to handle enemy defectors. Though killing Dwight is tempting, Rick’s group correctly realizes that an enemy lieutenant working to undermine Negan can provide the edge that they need. Of course, any despot knows this, so one must always handle such cases with care, never trusting anyone without verification of a switch in loyalty. In the long run, bringing hostile elites over to one’s cause can be even more important than securing support from neutral elites, especially if the hostile elite is foreign. The Saviors will need new leadership if Negan is deposed, and Dwight could be a friendly leader.

The War Begins

In Episode 716, the uneasy peace can no longer hold. The episode begins with Sasha in a dark place listening to an iPod. She sees Abraham in a flashback, thinking back to Episode 616 just before everyone met Negan. Sasha asks him to stay, but he says he must go to Hilltop with Maggie and the others. In the present, Negan brings food to Sasha in her cell. He says that someone from Rick’s group must die, but it does not have to be her. She asks him what he needs from her. A second flashback shows Sasha with Maggie in a field.

Rick and company interrogate Dwight in their prison. Tara accosts him for murdering Denise in Episode 614, to which he says that she was not his intended target. Daryl slams Dwight against the wall and holds a knife to his neck. Dwight offers to work with them, saying that Sherry is gone, so he has no more reason to stay with the Saviors. Tara says to kill Dwight, but Daryl backs down. Dwight warns that Negan is coming the next day and presents a plan. He suggests attacking Negan and his crew in Alexandria, then using their trucks to go to the Sanctuary. Dwight will radio back that everything is normal, which will lead to the Saviors being caught off guard when Rick’s group comes out of the trucks instead of Negan’s group. Then, they can rally the workers to overthrow Negan’s lieutenants. Rick agrees, then Dwight leaves. Daryl vows to kill Dwight after Negan is defeated.

Sasha is shown in the dark place listening to music again. Her flashbacks with Abraham and Maggie continue. She tells Abraham that she dreamed that he died. In the present, Negan tells Sasha of his plans for her. He insists on killing three Alexandrians, but she bargains him down to one. Negan does not know that she means herself.

Maggie, Enid, and Jesus review Dwight’s plan. She considers whether to join the fight. Jesus says that he is glad she is deciding instead of Gregory.

Carol leads some Kingdommers toward Alexandria. They find the shopping carts and an unstable Morgan. He wants to hunt Saviors alone, but Ezekiel convinces him to join them as they continue toward Alexandria.

The Scavengers come to Alexandria with bicycles and garbage trucks. Rick greets Jadis. She propositions him, but he rejects her advances. Aaron, Daryl, and Rosita set up explosives near the gate. A Scavenger watches Tara set up a blockade near the gate. On a balcony, Michonne gives instructions to Farron, a Scavenger, and hands her a sniper rifle. Farron says, “We win.”

Dwight secretly fells some trees onto the road to delay the Saviors. Negan’s crew works to remove them, and Negan suspects that Alexandrians are responsible. He reminds Simon that they have a second plan. Eugene asks to negotiate with Rick to try to avoid war.

Sasha is shown in the dark with her headphones a third time. She struggles to stay conscious. In one of her flashbacks, she tells Abraham that in her dream, he drowned while swimming at the beach. He jokes that he hates the beach and gets up to leave. She asks for them to stay, but to no avail. In the other, she watches the sunrise with Maggie. In the present, the Saviors prepare to leave for Alexandria. Eugene tries to talk her out of using the suicide pill, but she is determined.

The Saviors arrive at Alexandria. Rick takes position at the front gate, with Jadis hidden next to him. Eugene steps out and asks Rick to surrender. He asks where Negan is, and Eugene says that he is Negan. Rick signals Rosita to detonate the explosives, but nothing happens. The Scavengers then betray the Alexandrians, with Jadis pointing her gun at Rick and the other Scavengers turning their guns on the other Alexandrians. Negan emerges to taunt Rick as other Saviors open the truck with the explosives. Michonne tries to leave her balcony, but Farron stops her. Dwight and Simon remove a coffin from their truck. Negan announces that Sasha is inside and offers to let her live if they surrender their weapons, lemonade, pool table, and Daryl in addition to someone of Rick’s choosing being executed. Otherwise, Negan will kill everyone. Rick insists on seeing Sasha, and Negan taps Lucille on the casket.

Another flashback of Sasha is shown. She kisses Abraham, then he reminds her that Maggie and her baby are the future of their group. They leave for their journey to Hilltop that was interrupted by Negan.

Before leaving for Alexandria, Sasha confirms with Eugene that the trip will take hours. Eugene gives her an iPod. Sasha asks for a bottle of water and to travel in the casket to rest. He agrees and thanks her for cooperating. In the coffin, she listens to “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway and takes the suicide pill.

In the present, Negan opens the casket to find a zombie Sasha who attacks him. The Alexandrians turn their guns on the Scavengers. Michonne and Farron fight, Alexandrians on the guard posts fire on the Saviors, and Rosita is shot and helped away by Tara. Jadis holds Rick at gunpoint. Roy saves Negan, and zombie Sasha kills him instead. Negan yells to Simon to use Plan B. Rick tries to negotiate with Jadis, but she shoots him and pushes him off the platform. Farron beats up Michonne and pushes her to the edge of the balcony.

The Saviors and Scavengers gain the upper hand in the street fighting. Several Alexandrians are killed and several more are captured. Jadis takes Rick to Negan and makes him kneel next to Carl. We learn that Negan learned of Rick’s deal with Jadis and turned her with a better deal. Negan had offered her twelve people in exchange for their help, but he bargains Jadis down to ten. Rick and Carl think they see Michonne thrown to her death. Negan says he will kill Carl, then cut off Rick’s hand. Rick, fearless, declares that he will kill Negan.

Before Negan can kill Carl, Shiva suddenly appears and mauls a Scavenger. Forces from the Hilltop and Kingdom arrive, catching the Saviors and Scavengers by surprise. Negan orders a retreat and is surprised to see Maggie alive and well, commanding Hilltop forces. Numerous Saviors and Scavengers are killed in the battle as Alexandria, Hilltop, and Kingdom forces push their enemies out of Alexandria. The Saviors escape in their vehicles as the Scavengers throw smoke bombs to obscure their exit.

With the battle won, Carl and Rick go to Michonne’s station and are relieved to find a dead Farron on the ground. Michonne is badly beaten inside the building next to the balcony.

With the battle lost, the Saviors prepare their next move. Dwight and Simon inform Negan that preparations are underway. Negan asks Eugene how Sasha died, suspecting subterfuge. Eugene supposes that she ran out of air. Negan doubts this but cannot prove anything. Later, Negan addresses his crowd and tells them that they are going to war.

Maggie and Jesus carry out the emotional task of going into the woods to put down zombie Sasha. Gabriel presides over Sasha’s funeral, then the alliance celebrates their victory. Morgan seems to have regained stability. Dwight left a figurine by the front gate that says “Didn’t know”, which Daryl finds. Tara sits with Rosita in the infirmary, and Rick stays with Michonne as she rests.

The final flashback shows Maggie and Sasha smiling as they watch the sunrise together. The episode ends with Rick, Maggie, and Ezekiel addressing their communities.

* * * * *

The handling of an enemy defector continues, and Dwight is put to the test. As with any such person, action is required for judgment. The action is inconclusive thus far and will continue in Part IV.

In Hilltop, we see the process of a shadow government coming to power, as Gregory is reduced to the figurehead for the Saviors. Building such alternative institutions and offering the masses a better governance structure is the most effective means of taking power away from tyrants and their vassals. Maggie and Jesus are doing this well.

As mentioned before, war can push unstable people to the breaking point. It is important to help unstable members of one’s group channel their impulses productively, as Ezekiel does for Carol and they both do for Morgan.

Negan apparently continues to misjudge the situation, as rule with an iron fist is the only method he understands. Had he made a better offer to Rick’s group from the beginning or at any time thereafter, he might have been able to bring them on board. To make an offer that requires Rick to surrender so much seems destined to fail, but perhaps that is the point. Negan massacred all of the men from Oceanside, and may wish to do something similar to Alexandria, so an offer they will certainly refuse is a way for him to justify an atrocity.

One must always be wary of mercenaries. Rick had no idea what Jadis was doing when his people were not around the Scavengers, and they found out too late that Negan was aware of their plans. Pure mercenaries in an environment in which reputation ratings are unavailable are best left out of a conflict unless one has no other options, and the Alexandrians learned this lesson the hard way.

In Sasha’s final acts, she becomes the weapon against Negan, as it is her only move remaining. Though it is best to avoid maneuvering oneself into a position in which suicide is the only outcome, it is commendable to strike at the enemy with one’s last breath once one is out of other options rather than simply die for nothing. Like a terrorist attack in the real world, her surprise attack on Negan gives the Alexandrians a much-needed advantage in a tough situation.

Just as state forces in the real world can be defeated with irregular tactics and the element of surprise, Negan’s forces must retreat when an unexpected attack comes from Hilltop and the Kingdom. But victory in battle and victory in war are two very different things, which both sides, to their credit, realize.

Conclusion

The third part of Negan’s story showcases his strengths and weaknesses as a statesman. He is adept at converting potential threats into allies, keeping his regime in order, and keeping himself enough steps ahead of his enemies. However, he engages in needlessly excessive brutality that can prevent people from perceiving a benefit from living under his rule. He also allows his rivals to have an unnecessary amount of contact that they can use to plot against him. Ultimately, these flaws prevented him from bringing Alexandria under his wing while encouraging the Hilltop and the Kingdom to make war against him. In the fourth part, we will examine the time period from the beginning of war between the Saviors and the alliance of Alexandria, Hilltop, and Kingdom (Episode 801) to the destruction of Alexandria (Episode 808).

<<<Part II                                                                                                 Part IV>>>

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