The State Is Negan, Part II
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 appears in the Season 6 finale and is the primary antagonist in Season 7, is one of the most obvious allegories in recent memory for the nature of the state. Let us examine the second part of his character arc to see the extent to which his behavior mimics those of historical dictators, and how his underlings and subjects react to him. 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 immediately following Rick’s introduction to Negan (Episode 702) up to Rick’s decision to stop living under Negan’s rule and fight him (Episode 708).
A New Community
In Episode 702, we meet another community that is plagued by Savior rule to a somewhat lesser extent. The men that found Carol and Morgan belong to a place called the Kingdom, ruled over by an eccentric former zookeeper who has a pet tiger. They all go back there so Carol can recover. When Carol is well enough to meet King Ezekiel, she feigns awe but tells Morgan later that it is a circus and vows to leave.
A team of Kingdomers leave to hunt pigs, corralling them into a building where a zombie awaits. The Kingdomers feed zombies to pigs, then slaughter the pigs and give the meat to the Saviors. A Kingdomer tells Morgan that he wants their bellies full of rot. Ezekiel is impressed by Morgan’s skill with a staff and asks him to train Benjamin, which he does. When the Saviors come, they are pleased to find the pigs larger than last time, but antagonize Richard, a Kingdomer. The Saviors say that next week is produce week and threaten to kill Richard if the shipment is too small.
Back in the Kingdom, Benjamin explains that Ezekiel deals with the Saviors because although many in the Kingdom would want to fight, they lack the means to defeat them in battle. Morgan was once against killing people, but says, “Sometimes we change our minds.”
Ezekiel catches Carol trying to sneak away, and they have a meeting of the minds. Ezekiel confesses his true background; he puts on an act because people wanted a larger-than-life figure to follow because it makes them feel safer. Carol still wants to leave, but Ezekiel convinces her to stay in a house just outside the Kingdom.
* * * * *
There is an important lesson for those who practice statecraft in the scenes about the pigs. While the Kingdomers do work under the coercion of the Saviors, they do so in a contemptuous manner. Just like the Chinese shipbuilders who were forced to work for the Mongols, they did a poor job on purpose in an effort to sabotage the efforts of their conquerors. In the Mongols’ case, it resulted in massive losses when they tried to cross the sea to invade Japan. In the Saviors’ case, the effect of eating pigs that are fed with zombies and all of the disease and decay inherent in them remains to be seen, but one must imagine that it would be hazardous to one’s health. The lesson is that it is far better to hire people to work voluntarily than to force them.
In some ways, Ezekiel is the good counterpart to Negan. While Negan exploits the desire to be led, Ezekiel tries to use it to help people. While Negan’s cult of personality is based on fear and violence, Ezekiel’s is built on love and respect. While Negan demands half of what everyone produces and offers far less value in return, Ezekiel only demands that one “replenish the well” if one “drinks from the well.” If one understands the state as a perversion of beneficial impulses in people, this makes perfect sense.
Inside The Beast I
Episode 703 gives us a look at many of the internal dynamics of the Savior compound. The entire Savior social order is one of the strong doing what they can and the weak suffering what they must. Because Dwight is a high-ranking subordinate of Negan, he can cut in line and grab a large amount of food. Meanwhile, a low-ranking Savior is beaten to death. Dwight then raids his room to steal food as his son and pregnant widow watch helplessly. After getting more food elsewhere, Dwight and others kneel as Negan walks by. Dwight makes a sandwich with everything he has gathered while watching two workers chain a walker to the compound’s outer fence.
Since the confrontation in Episode 701, Daryl has been naked and locked in a dark, empty cell where music plays to keep him from sleeping. Dwight regularly feeds him sandwiches with dog food in them. Finally, Dwight gives him some clothes and takes him to Dr. Carson’s office. The doctor examines Daryl’s shoulder injury from Episode 615 and says that Negan will take care of him. Dwight then shows Daryl the fence with walkers and says that Daryl will have to work out there if he makes wrong choices. Back in his cell, Daryl says he will never kneel for Negan, but Dwight says that he once said the same thing. The cell is shut and the loud music resumes.
Negan commends Dwight for his efforts with Daryl, then offers him sex with one of the women in his harem, including Sherry, Dwight’s wife. Dwight declines, which angers Negan. A voice on Dwight’s walkie mentions a runaway worker. Negan tells Dwight to send a subordinate, but Dwight goes to take care of it himself. Dwight finds the runaway worker, who begs Dwight to shoot him. He wonders why no one will overthrow Negan and initially refuses to return, but agrees to come back after Dwight threatens his relatives. Dwight kills him and brings his remains back, and his zombified corpse is added to the fence.
Joey brings a sandwich to Daryl, but leaves his door unlocked. Daryl escapes, but is warned by Sherry to go back. He ignores her and ends up getting stopped by a group of Saviors led by Negan, including Joey. Negan asks his followers who they are, and all respond, “Negan.” Negan tells Daryl he has failed to prove himself, and presents him with three options: die and be a zombie on their fence, work in their points system to survive, or serve under Negan and live like a king. Negan tries to intimidate Daryl with Lucille, which does not work, then leaves his followers to beat Daryl.
Dwight and Sherry have a moment alone to smoke and talk. “We did the right thing,” he tells her, “it’s a hell of a lot better than being dead.” Back in Daryl’s cell, Sherry apologizes for stealing his motorcycle and crossbow back in Episode 606. Dwight brings him food, but he refuses to eat. Dwight then gives him a photo of Glenn’s dead body, which reduces Daryl to tears. Dwight smiles slightly and leaves.
Later, Dwight leads Daryl to an apartment where Negan awaits. Negan tells Daryl the story of Dwight, Sherry, and Tina. They used to work for points, but Tina fell behind, so Negan asked her to join the harem. In response, the three of them ran away. Tina died, then they returned. Negan agreed to let Dwight and Sherry live in exchange for Sherry joining the harem and Dwight getting burned on the face with a hot iron, a common punishment for serious offenses under Negan’s rule. Dwight has been a top lieutenant ever since. Negan says Daryl can be a top man and live in the apartment, but only if Daryl says that he is Negan. Daryl responds to Negan’s query of “Who are you?” with his own name.
Back in Daryl’s cell, Dwight yells at him for his choice, but Daryl replies, “I get why you did it, why you took it. You were thinking about someone else. That’s why I can’t.”
* * * * *
With the torturing of Daryl, we see the lengths to which an authoritarian regime will go in order to break the will of dissidents. The tactics of sleep deprivation, malnourishment, physical abuse, threats of extreme punishment, reminders of past injustices committed by the regime, and promises of great rewards just for surrendering one’s will to the state are all used against Daryl. Whether Joey leaving the door unlocked was an oversight or a test is unclear, but Negan uses it as a test.
The conversation between Dwight and Negan, as well as the scene where all of Negan’s followers declare that they are him, demonstrates several important lessons. As discussed in Part I, Negan has developed a cult of personality, just like many real-world dictators. 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. Another tactic that Negan uses is the mastery of body language. When he converses with someone, he makes consistent eye contact, staring down the other person. He also makes a point to invade that person’s personal space unless that person is a trusted direct subordinate. The other person is not allowed to do this back to Negan, under pain of the various punishments he uses. Third, Negan can read people very well, and he uses this toward psychopathic ends. It is likely that Negan gave Dwight the idea to give Daryl a picture of Glenn’s battered remains, knowing that reminding Daryl of the murder of one of his best friends would be one of the most devastating means of torturing Daryl.
Negan makes the rules clear in his regime, so that everyone knows for certain what will get them punished and what will get them rewarded. These rules are kept as simple as possible so that almost anyone can abide by them in theory if not in practice. Like most dictators, Negan has a clear circle of top lieutenants who serve the purposes of carrying out his will and projecting his power farther than he could himself. Negan takes good care of these lieutenants, for it is their loyalty that ultimately allows him to stay in power and govern his state.
The runaway worker incident shows that running away from the state is ultimately a fool’s errand. The state will eventually catch up to those who attempt to evade its grasp and punish them harshly. The only effective means of resistance are to undermine the system from within or destroy the system from without.
Finally, we learn what happened to Dwight between Episodes 606 and 615, including the explanation for his disfigurement. As occurs in many criminal gangs and more corrupt states, female members have an additional avenue of gaining entry or righting wrongs that male members do not have in the form of sexually servicing the dominant males of the power structure. Negan demonstrates this twice; first with Tina for going into debt, and then with Sherry for fleeing. The hot iron punishment serves as a powerful deterrent to disobedience, particularly because it is performed for public consumption and is excessively cruel. But needlessly cruel punishments also breed resentment, and the earlier refusal of Negan’s gift along with his decision to kill his friend rather than return him alive to face Negan’s punishment indicates that Dwight may not be fully loyal.
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