The Walking Dead: Are Rick and the Gang Even Good Guys Any More? [Spoilers]
[Beware: Spoilers ahead.]
Last night’s episode of The Walking Dead wrapped up a brutal two-episode storyline in which Rick and the gang confronted the first of ‘The Saviors’ – scavangers working for a mysterious man called Negan. While fans of the comic might be shuddering at what’s coming; I’m more upset about the direction the writers took the ‘good guys’ of the show.
The writers of The Walking Dead have wisely followed the themes of the comic books, without necessarily sticking true to every individual detail of what happened. But when it comes to the introduction of The Saviors, the direction they’ve taken no longer paints Rick and his friends as ‘the good guys.’
Last night’s finale to a two-episode story arc saw Maggie and Carol escape from four surviving members of Negan’s ‘Saviors’ – scavengers who demand supplies from survivor communities in return for ‘protection.’ It was pretty damn brutal – climaxing in two of Negan’s gang getting burned alive on ‘the killing floor’ of an old, abandoned factory.
But while it was easy enough to sympathise with Maggie and Carol during the episode, it’s been less easy to think of Rick and his friends as ‘the good guys’ after what they did in the prior episode. After encountering the first of Negan’s thugs on the road leading to Alexandria, Rick summarily decided to launch a pre-emptive strike against this ‘Negan’ character and slaughtered his gang in their sleep.
The writers were careful to try and justify this decision – posting poloroids of The Savior’s victims to illustrate that these slumbering thugs were, indeed, murderous and dangerous. But even so, it was a pretty hard sell. Rick and the gang have always been sympathetic, if not moral, in their journey of survival – but this act was a brutal departure from those philosophies.
Without negotiation, conversation or giving them a chance, Rick and his soldiers murdered a building full of men in their sleep. They crept through the halls of the building they’d commandeered, and slit their throats as they lay defenseless. It was one of the harshest and most brutal things you’ve ever seen in The Walking Dead.
And it sets up the dynamic between The Saviors and Rick’s gang very differently to how it was presented in the comics.
In the comic books, at least, Rick and the surviors of Alexandria were victims. Negan’s gang came demanding subjugation and supplies; and when Rick and the gang retaliated, it was clearly to defend themselves. Negan most definitely threw the first punch in this gritty turf war.
But in the TV show? Before a shot was fired, Daryl had blown the first of Negan’s footsoldiers away with a rocket-propelled grenade. Then Rick and his gang murdered more of them while they slept. When Negan finally makes his first for-real appearence, he has every right to be pissed at the survivors of Alexandria. They have acted as murderously and inhumanely as Negan’s goons were rumored to have done.
It’s a very interesting new dynamic. I just hope the writers really sink their teeth into it, and don’t gloss over the frankly unforgivable things Rick and his gang have now become guilty of.
The most interesting thing about The Walking Dead has always been the morality question. Now we’re in season 6 of the show, the walkers themselves have become hazards, rather than an outright danger, and it’s other people who present the biggest risk. But until this point even the questionable decisions Rick’s made have been presented in a vaguely sympathetic light. You could understand why he did what he did, even if you didn’t agree with it.
But pre-emptive murder? Against an enemy of unknown size and strength.
It wasn’t smart. It wasn’t right. And if definitely means that Rick and the survivors have lost the moral high ground.
And when the confrontation with Negan finally happens – and, the writers have promised, ‘people will die’ – it’s clear that the blood Negan spills will be at least partly on Rick’s hands.
I anticipate that this dark, practically unforgivable path Rick and the survirors have embarked upon was for a narrative purpose. It means anybody is fair game for The Saviors now, and it means characters we’ve come to know and love will face brutal, richly deserved justice.
Things just got very interesting.