The Walking Dead: Service
Boy, that sure didn’t take long. When The Walking Dead finally introduced the charismatic Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the villain Negan, it gave the show a much-needed jolt of energy. By this point in the show’s long run, our main cast has encountered so many malicious groups that they have all become kind of faceless. Morgan’s confident, sneering strut was at least memorable. But after less than a handful of appearances, Negan’s already worn out his welcome.
The last time we saw Rick, he had been humbled by Negan and his men. After killing Glenn and Abraham brutally, Negan nearly forced Rick to cut his son’s hand off. For the audience, this all happened three weeks ago, but for the characters on the show mere days have passed. As promised, Negan has come to Alexandria to collect half of their belongings. “Half” is a relative term where Negan is concerned. He’ll take what he wants and call it half.
The entire episode – which has been stretched needlessly to 90 minutes – consists of Negan rubbing his power in Rick’s face. When someone else defies Negan, Rick intervenes and gets them to tow the line. The entire extra-long episode is intended to drive home the point that Rick has been broken. He denounces his own leadership and weakly does Negan’s bidding. The season premiere made this same point for the duration of its hour-long run time three weeks ago.
Viewers are being asked to believe that Negan and the Saviors are completely different from every other human threat we have seen on the show so far. But the thing is, they are not. This being a television show, we know that Negan will not remain unopposed indefinitely. That’s not how serialized narratives work. We’re being told that this time it’s different, but no matter how much Morgan preens and sneers, we know better.
Remember last season when Rick and his gang repeatedly embarrassed the Saviors every time they encountered them? Now we’re suddenly supposed to believe that this same group that seemed so inept last season is an unstoppable force and that submission is the only possible response. But just as quickly as the Saviors were transformed from inept losers into dominating bullies, their fates will turn again when the plot demands it.
At this point, I’m going to address the elephant in the room. It’s hard not to see the parallels between this episode and the current political situation. Whether you believe it or not, a lot of people view our president elect as a charismatic bully not that far removed from Negan. Watching him lord his position over Rick and the citizens of Alexandria echos the despair a lot of people felt following last week’s shocking election results. As in the real world, there are small and seemingly futile attempts at defiance that will probably grow in intensity.
I realize some readers are going to reject this comparison. Obviously, the creative team behind The Walking Dead had no idea when they made this episode of any real world comparisons. The character of Negan was created for the comic book long before the 2016 presidential election ever played out. But watching the episode at this specific period in time, it was impossible for me not to make the connection. It probably didn’t help that the episode itself was so thin that I was also debating current events on Facebook while I was watching the show.
There wasn’t a whole lot else to draw viewers in. Michonne has fully taken over Andrea’s storyline from the comic book in that she is involved with Rick and training to be a sharpshooter. Rosita is attempting to build a secret cache of weapons with Eugene forging ammo. Father Gabriel is unnaturally optimistic in the face of unending gloom. And Rick, for reasons that are only known to the writers, tells Michonne that Judith is not his biological daughter.
This reveal is a real headscratcher. For one thing, it has absolutely nothing to do with the situation at hand. It seems to have been shoehorned in to give viewers something to talk about. But while there has always been reason to doubt Judith’s parentage, unless he’s found Maury Povich in the apocalypse, Rick cannot be certain one way or another. Either way, it’s a moot point. Shane is dead and Rick is the only father Judith will ever have.
With seasons of The Walking Dead split in two, we’re now halfway through the “A” half of the season. So far, the show has done a bit of world building while hitting the same hopeless note over and over again often within the same episode. It’s time to move on because this is getting terribly tedious.