Mostly, it’s Negan.
Apparently viewing figures for AMC’s The Walking Dead have dropped off a cliff since the season 7 premiere- 17 million down to 11 million or so. Some attribute that to more people binge-watching on Netflix or Amazon, others say it’s down to the incredible violence of the premiere episode, while I say it’s because of Negan.
And that opens a whole bucket of worms. 7 worms, in fact.
1. The zombies are not the threat any more.
Wholly, squarely- the fault rests on Negan’s shoulders, and the reason for that is because, after Rick cleared Alexandria of zombies SINGLE-HANDEDLY in season 6 (an awesome episode), the entire weight of the show’s tension fell on his shoulders.
In earlier seasons it was always the zombies, and the zombies were implacable. They killed without any thought or reason, and every time we saw them there was a chance someone might die. Now we just don’t buy that. If any person now died from a regular zombie attack, we’d be dismayed. It would look ridiculous. They’re so slow. They can’t have eaten in years. You’d have to really back yourself into a damn tight corner to actually get killed by them. You’d have to try.
So we don’t fear them. They were always the go-to backup threat, if things with the Governor were chilling, if we were on the road to Terminus, if the prison-plague was getting you down, there was always the zombies. But not now. Now it has to be something else, and that something is Negan and his boys, and…
2. Negan is not the physical threat he should be.
There are so many reasons why Negan is failing us. Let’s take them one by one, stating with physique, which is easy. Jeffrey Dean Morgan used to be a bear of a man. In Watchmen he was huge. He had charm. Being huge AND having charm made him special. Being huge is important to physical power. But now he’s not huge.
He’s thin, like a hipster. He wears a scarf. He’s snake-hipped, dammit! Michonne could probably beat him in an arm-wrestling competition. He needs to impose with just his sheer mass. His childish taunts would carry way more weight if he didn’t look like such a boy delivering them.
If he had mass. If I believed for one second that he could stand down any physical threat from amongst his own people. Could Rick beat him in a straight fight? He shouldn’t be able to! That’s the whole point. But as is, my money would be on Rick. It’s that physical power PLUS the other stuff, the mental domination, that makes him scary. But on that note…
3. Negan is not the mental threat he should be.
In the season 7 premiere, Negan was amazing.
I could say that again, I so strongly believe it. It was awesome TV. After him mincing around at the season 6 finale, talking talking talking and killing no one, I thought he was a fail. Then he stormed in and killed two major characters. He mentally crushed Rick- all because he wanted to get that ‘look’ out of his eyes. He wanted Rick to be truly broken.
He knew what broken meant. He knew the importance of it. He insisted on it, dammit!
Then, pfft, that went away. What the hell, episodes 3 and 4?
The threat backing up his clown-act never materialized. The fact that Darryl kept eyeballing him, kept defying him, it’s just dumb. Hasn’t Darryl learnt a damn thing yet? I believe he would have. And I believe Negan wouldn’t have approached Darryl with his offer until Darryl really was broken. Did he really thing a few days in solitary would break a man like Darrly?
But they can’t let Negan do anything to Darryl. Or to anyone, it seems, certainly not to a major character. And that is a fault of the writers.
4. The writers aren’t writing Negan correctly.
It’s the only answer.
A true Negan would have killed a lot more people already. Look at this man and what we’re supposed to believe about him. He killed every male in a village, and for what? Almost certainly for lesser crimes than Rick’s group committed. He hung a guy off a bridge as an example to Rick in season 6. He said he would make Rick cut off his son’s arm just to get the look out of his eyes!
And then he does nothing. I know the argument – Negan is just fascinated with Rick because he’s so defiant. That’s why Rick et al are still alive. But that is such BS. It’s a huge inner flaw in Negan, too big and too obvious. It means our characters are not going to beat Negan- he’s going to beat himself, and where is the fun in that? Villains who self-collapse, it’s such a terrible bit of writing. It’s also not true.
The bad guy doesn’t just wilt and die because you want it. You have to beat him, to death, with his own bat. But the writer’s turbo-powered Negan so much, there is no way to beat him without weakening him first.
No. Make Rick et al stronger. That is the only acceptable way.
5. Negan should be far worse.
So what should Negan be doing? Look at the examples.
Darryl mouths off – He should already be on that walker fence, doing whatever those walkers are doing. Or he should have had his arm cut off. Negan should have made Rick do it, or made Darryl do it himself.
Spenser stink-eyes Negan at the gate to Alexandria – Are you kidding me? This guy is a no-brainer to die. Make Rick do it with Lucille. Obviously. Negan rolls up and sees defiance in some E-list dude. Look what he did to crush that look out of Rick- is he really gonna accept it from some nobody? He’d make Rick his lieutenant. He’d make Rick kill him. And Rick would do it. How much more awesome would that be? Give us a good reason to feel for Rick. A good reason to hate Negan even more.
Guns missing – Kill the stock room woman at once. Just kill her. Or get Rick to do it. Or have him cut off an arm. Then look for guns.
Carl shoots at Negan’s man – Again, are you kidding? Negan explained this whole thing once already. Carl loses an arm. It would happen. Clearly these people are not cowed. What Carl says- you should be afraid of us or some such guff, are you f-ing serious? Negan would be on that in a hot second. Carl on the ground, at minimum Rick cuts off his arm. At minimum. Instead he just lets it slide? It’s not the Negan of the premiere, not at all.
Rosita stink-eyes Negan and Negan’s men – Same thing. We know Negan doesn’t like hurting women, but we also know he has no problem hurting them emotionally- even reveling in their suffering when their male partners die. He obviously did it en masse to the Amazon ladies. He squeezed joy out of Maggie and Rosita’s suffering. Surely he would do something similar here. Just pick a random male to suffer for their stink-eye.
I can see the arguments against him being so hard in Alexandria. People will say this is his judgment, his finesse. It’s not always about violence. So that should be true. But the impression it left in the Alexandrians’ minds was of a guy they should be fighting against. Somehow, they didn’t get the message when Rick, the very hardest of them, came back broken.
Good judgment would tell him he needs to break them directly. He’s broken worse for less before. At least get them all to kneel!
6. Negan rolls to Alexandria not in force.
The trouble here is, he was in force. He had all his boys with him. But it would have been so easy for the Alexandrians to make a war of it, and win. They could have easily taken on Negan in that situation. Bunch of guys cooped up behind the gate, with an armory? They did it in Thermopylae with 300 against many thousands. Ask Gerard Butler. It can be done.
Negan should have had some plan to over-awe. Not just expect to walk in. It made our guys look weak. Negan who made such huge efforts to set up road blocks earlier, just turned up without any siege gear at all? Just knocked?
I believe he would have rolled up in a tank and broke open the gates. Just started firing shells randomly. Smash things up good and proper. Stop any thought of a possible insurrection right there. At least make as much effort as he made for Hilltop. this was pathetic. Any single person could have shot him. Carl had the gun almost in his face, boasting about how badass he was!
Negan is not invincible. Those were mistakes. Our heroes, if they were acting true to character, would have seen the slip and taken advantage. Or the writers/director should have made it look to us, the audience, that Negan had come better prepped. It really just looked like a dumb horde.
7. Negan never takes off the clown-mask.
Combine his lack of punishment with his childish, clownish taunting, and you basically get a clown.
That’s it. He seems ridiculous. He acts ridiculous. He doesn’t kick ass. What else can we say? The silly stuff only works paired with the sense of imminent threat. take the threat away and he’s simply annoying. We wonder why our heroes are all so cowed.
Though- in the piere- he did briefly take the mask off with Rick in the RV. It was great. It was threatening. It was an honest bit of leveling with each other. But he hasn’t done that again, not in a meaningful way. Every interaction he had with Darryl in episode 3 made him seem weak and needy.
How to fix it?
Retroactively, I’d make Negan kill and overawe every chance he got. Everyone on their knees as he passes. Any stink-eye and Rick needs to administer a beating at minimum. Turn up at the gates in an unstoppable way. Make every offense cost.
If that was done- it would give the show much more of a humming spine of tension. It could sustain all these trips away to establish the other settlements. As is, since episode 1 all we’ve seen are allies and help. There’s been no real obstruction or loss at all. We see Hilltop coming round to us. We see The Kingdom start to rebel. We see the Amazons with their few who’d like to fight. It’s all HELP.
We need that far better balanced with the threat of Negan. It’s nice to hear he killed every man there. What a legend! But we haven’t seen that Negan with our own eyes for hours of screen-time by now. We forget- especially since the fallout and grief from the loss of Glenn and Abraham was so glossed over. He’s the clown. And without zombies as a believable threat- there’s nothing left.
No spine. Nothing but a boneless Walking Dead flesh pudding, slumped on the pavement.
I hope they figure out how to present Negan soon.