I’ve taken a couple days to sleep on it and have concluded that the hard truth many Walking Dead fans need to face is that a year or two after civilization has collapsed, it’s guys like Negan who are most likely going to be running the show. Rick and his crew, our main protagonists, are nice enough folks, always thinking that their key to safety and survival is joining up with the next group of survivors, fortifying a prison, negotiating, and hoping for the best. Every time their hopes get dashed when someone proves to be dishonest, there’s a little bit of cannibalism, or their neighbor drives a tank through their front door. Through it all, despite what they say, Rick’s crew seems desperate to want to believe the best about people. It’s constantly their undoing – and precisely why guys like Negan will triumph in the post-apocalypse.
Like any number of tribal chieftains of old, Negan maintains his rule and the stability of his followers through brutally enforced discipline. While this may seem abhorrent to us sitting comfortably in our homes tonight, it’s nothing new for most of human history. In fact, under the circumstances, it’s probably the group of survivors most likely to thrive in the face of the brave new world we’ve met yet in the Walking Dead universe.
Ponder for a moment if you will that Negan’s followers are highly organized and able to defend and expand their territory through better communications and tactics than those employed by Rick’s group. They’re well fed, clothed, and supplied, which indicates a relatively sophisticated economy based on the imperial model of commodity goods flowing towards the “mother country,” and finished goods and protection being furnished to the colonies. Unlike Rick, Negan doesn’t seem to shy away from his role as leader. As a result the command and control structure of his organization is very clear. He’s at the top, but he also indicated in this week’s premier that he has trusted lieutenants who he depends on. He may delight in dispensing rough justice, but his actions shouldn’t be a surprise – after all, he told our friends from Alexandria that bad behavior would be punished and then when they behaved badly he responded exactly as he said he would in order to establish a clear correlation between cause and effect.
I wouldn’t vote for Negan if he were running for president, but as a post-apocalyptic warlord, I think I’d quickly see the value of joining a group like his. This world they’ve created full of walking dead and the even more dangerous living is a violent place. The fact that violent men rise up to establish some kind of order shouldn’t surprise anyone. It was done like that in this world for a lot longer than we’ve been trying to master such societal niceties as peaceful transfers of power.