|Rick eyeballs Negan - and lives|
Slow as it can sometimes be, and frustrating as it has become, especially in the first half of the current series, the 7th!, it serves as a searing existential commentary on the human condition.
Each scene, each episode, each character asks the most important question of all - what lengths would you go to in order to survive?
There is a frustrating treadmill that the series needs to step away from at the moment. Group gets together again, finds a haven, calamity falls, haven disrupted, new depths are sunk, new depravity exposed, innocence and cowardice challenged, bad guys confronted and overcome - and on it goes.
I've also read the graphic novels, which sometimes dictate the plot trajectory, yet in other ways they walk a completely different path. The character of Andrea is central to the comics, but she died in series two. The character of Daryl (or Derl) isn't in the comics at all.
But we are up to a point now where the most complex and mesmerising bad ass of them all is on the scene - Negan. We first heard his name when a bunch of creepy bikers tried to rob Derl and Abraham, saying that their property "now belonged to Negan". Derl blew them up with a rocket launcher. As you do.
When we finally meet him - played with swagger and verve by Jeffrey Dean Morgan - it is with a violence rarely seen in mainstream TV. We see plenty of zombies being crushed, but not the actual skull of another human - especially not one of our most loved characters. Add to that, he rules over his community with draconian rules and extreme theatrical violence. He is a despicable sadistic villain, but he's also witty, charismatic and difficult to second guess what he's going to do next.
He's far more interesting than the Governor, played by David Morrissey and who dominated two seasons of gruesomeness. But though he swaggers and teases, claiming "I can be reasonable" he's also in command of a particularly nasty crew of bullies and sycophants who seem to delight in dishing out a kicking because they can, whereas Negan at least does so because, he says, he's been left with no choice.
Which brings me to the core moral flaw of the series and the accusation that the default fall back position for all groups is one form of fascism or another, as described in this piece from The Vulture website which makes the point thus:
"For years, both The Walking Dead and its spin-off series, Fear the Walking Dead, have portrayed survival in the post-apocalypse as a triumph of the will — a state of constant conflict in which the preservation of “our people,” however they may be defined, is paramount. The preservation of this in-group, and the destruction of all who threaten it, both living and dead, is the ultimate moral end. This end justifies — even necessitates — the most brutal means at each group’s disposal. Trusting others, treating others with mercy, is all but invariably portrayed as weak, stupid, self-destructive. In a world where the only moral barometer is survival, establishes a binary in which the only choice for Rick Grimes and his fellows is to kill or to be killed, to slaughter or to be slaughtered. deal from strength or get crushed every time."
I disagree. If anything, the choices facing the disparate communities who are bullied and threatened by Negan and his Saviours isn't to become like them, but to resist. The choice from our history isn't to face evil with evil, but to confront it for what it is and to pursue a better alternative. That choice is appeasement, or war.
Understandably, the American counter-narrative is seeking parallels with the President elect and the rise of intolerance. I don't see that. Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln, is building up to a role as a Churchill, not any kind of Trump or anti-Trump.
We've already seen glimpses of other adversaries with a far more animalistic sense of survival, contemplating violence as instinct, or accepting of the truly primal and desperate sense of the world and what it has become - think the cannibals of Terminus or the feral and desperate Wolves.
But no, bad as Negan is, powerful as he seems, there isn't even the beginnings of a moral debate to be had, just a practical one of weapons and tactics.