Negan is the most extreme villain The Walking Dead has seen so far. But are his brutal tactics necessary to keep order in a world where there are no longer any rules?
Even in the world of The Walking Dead where violence is a fact of life Negan’s tactics are extreme. His punishments range from cutting off limbs to a hot iron to the face to meeting Lucille. But no one can say that his tactics aren’t effective. Brutal, tortuous, inhumane, devastating. But effective.
It’s possible that in a world like The Walking Dead where there are no societal rules anymore that brutality is the only way to keep order. And stay in power.
One of mistakes that Rick makes over and over again is being unwilling to engage in the kind of violence that might be necessary in order to ensure the survival of those that are depending on you. As far back as Season 2 Rick was unwilling to kill someone who was clearly a threat. Randall should have been killed immediately because he was an obvious threat to the group. But Rick just couldn’t pull the trigger.
Shane was better acclimated to the violence necessary for survival in the post-apocalypse world. But, Shane was too reactionary. His actions were never deliberate or thought out. He reacted out of fear without thinking through any of his choices.
Negan has the capacity to commit violence and the mental clarity to recognize the purpose of that violence. And it could be argued that what he’s done has been necessary to accomplish his goals. He has a lot of people at Sanctuary depending on him for safety. So he does what is necessary to protect Sanctuary and ensure the survival of the people living there.
The Extreme Makes An Impression
Negan does love to make an impression. His extreme tactics might seem like grandstanding because of his bigger than life personality.
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But, he’s also a pragmatist. He wants to keep his people in line. And he wants to bring the other communities on board and make them work for him. The violence he uses is a means to that end.
When the survivors first learned about Negan from Gregory and Jesus at Hilltop Jesus said that Negan beat a 16-year-old boy to death with Lucille to show that he was in control. And when Daryl, Sasha, and Abe first ran into the Saviors they were told that the Saviors standard operating procedure is to kill someone immediately to make a point. An extreme policy, but one that makes an impression.
There’s no question Negan’s Saviors are an effective fighting force. But, they all fight for different reasons. Some are just afraid of Negan. Some fight because they believe in what the Saviors are doing. Others fight because they’re bullies who love to have power over others and use that power to amuse themselves.
When society breaks down the social mores that keep some people from doing some truly terrible things dissolve pretty quickly. It’s entirely possible that Negan’s brutality is the only way he can keep control of a large force made up of some people who have no problem with violence. People like that are good to have in a fight, but bad for a community. Negan’s punishments could be the only thing keeping the population of Sanctuary safe from threats inside as well as outside.