When the Hunter Becomes The Hunted on “The Walking Dead”

#SpeculationSummer will be officially over within the day, mes amis! That’s right, in just a few hours, the world will at last know who was at the other end of Negan’s barbed wired bat Lucille in the Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead.

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In a strange twist of events, I will actually be at the premiere this evening, sobbing in a cemetery with hundreds of fellow Walking Dead fans. That’s right, thanks to the good fortune of a best friend, we have won tickets to the premiere episode and live taping of The Talking Dead this evening, and I truly cannot wait!

For the time being, however, I want to write about some amazing parallelism between the last scene we all have seen of The Walking Dead, where we were introduced to Negan and took part in perhaps one of the most impactful cliffhangers in television history, and a scene that took place at the top of Season 5. Both of these episodes (Ep. 5.3, “Four Walls and a Roof,” and Ep. 6.16, “The Last Day on Earth”) were written under the supervision of showrunner Scott M. Gimple, and provide examples as to just how surprisingly deep and symbolic a show about zombies can be.

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The Walking Dead, in both its comic book and television iterations, quickly evolved from just a zombie survival serial into something far more complex. The tagline, “Kill the Dead, Fear the Living,” is a great summation for what the story has ultimately become: the dead are the reason for the downfall of society, and provide persistent threats to safety of our characters, but they are mere nuisances compared to the people still alive. In the show, we are several years after the outbreak, and anyone still alive has endured much pain and loss, and death has become commonplace. No one still alive is weak or incapable, and most have done dark, despicable things to remain alive. We, the audience, have always followed Rick and his group, and they only recently have they been put into an environment where it becomes clear to us just how much they have changed from civilians at the start of the show, to survivors now.

We could really go for some BBQ right about now. #TWD #BobBQ

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In 5.3, “Four Walls and Roof,” directed by Jeffrey F. January and written by Angela Hand and Corey Reed, Rick and his group face off with the last of the cannibals from Terminus, led by their fearless leader Gareth. Note: I am going to try to remain very civil throughout this whole post, and not go into my Gareth rant. Notgonnarant, notgonnarant, notgonnarant… Okay. I’m good. For now.

Celebrate #RepeatDay with a #TWD Season 6 re-watch.

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In 6.16, “The Last Day on Earth,” directed by Greg Nicotero and written by Scott M. Gimple and Matthew Negrete, Rick and his group face off with another group of adversaries, although this one might be the most formidable they have ever come across. These are the Saviors, a dominant group in the area that preys upon other groups, taking half of their supplies, and if they are not granted that much, they take lives. At the head of this group is Negan, a former used car salesman who now feeds off of power and control. He’s charismatic and cruel, charming yet terrifying.

I wish to examine the face off scenes in both of these episodes, wherein one side is clearly dominant and the other is forced into submission. In 5.3 “Four Walls and a Roof,” Rick and our heroes have control over the villanous Gareth and what I lovingly call, “The Termites,” whereas in 6.16 “The Last Day on Earth,” the hunter becomes the hunted, as Negan and the Saviors have our heroes cornered. Both of these scenes have striking similarities, as seen in the clip and quotes listed below.

 

  • The submissive party is forced to surrender their weapons and kneel:

RICK: Put your guns on the floor. Put your guns on the floor and kneel.

– 5.3 “Four Walls and a Roof”

SIMON (Negan’s Man): We’ll take your weapons now. […] Okay, let’s get her down and getcha down on your knees. […] (to Rick) I’m gonna need you on your knees.

– 6.16 “The Last Day on Earth”

  • The Reasoning

RICK: You’d do this to anyone.

– 5.3 “Four Walls and a Roof”

NEGAN: But, you killed my people, a whole damn lot of ‘em. More than I’m comfortable with, and for that, you’re gonna pay.

– 6.16 “The Last Day on Earth”

  • Both Submissive Leaders Beg the Oppressive Leader For Mercy

GARETH: You don’t have to do this, we can walk away, and we will never cross paths again, I promise you.

– 5.3 “Four Walls and a Roof”

RICK: (screaming) Stop this!

– 6.16 “The Last Day on Earth”

  • The Promise of a Death by Weapon

RICK: …a machete with a red handle. That’s what I’m gonna use to kill you.

– 5.1 “No Sanctuary”

NEGAN: So now, I’m gonna beat the holy hell out of one of you. This? This is Lucille. And she is awesome.

– 6.16 “The Last Day on Earth”

  • The Brutality

RICK: Besides, I already made you a promise. [Swings machete]

– 5.3 “Four Walls and a Roof”

NEGAN: Anybody moves, anybody says anything, cut the boy’s other eye out and feed it to his father, and then we’ll start. You can breathe, you can blink, you can cry. Hell, you’re all gonna be doing that. [Swings bat]

– 6.16 “The Last Day on Earth”

Aren’t those quote comparisons fun? Let’s break down what actually is going on in these episodes…

In Season 5, Rick and Co. discover that Terminus is not a “sanctuary for all,” as is advertised, but rather a community of cannibals who give new arrivals the option to either join, or become breakfast. Although they escape and do serious damage to Terminus, the few remaining survivors regroup and attack Rick’s new refuge inside a church, dismembering and eating part of Bob in the process. Rick’s reason for killing the last of the Termites is simple; he has witnessed too many atrocities performed by this group to let them go.

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In the latter scene, Rick and his group have been commissioned by a friendly group nearby to take out the majority of Negan’s men. They do so in the night, killing most of the men in their sleep. Unfortunately, they don’t realize that the Saviors are far bigger than they ever anticipated, and Negan eventually catches up to them. While he’s furious that Rick and his group were able to kill so many of his men, he makes it clear that he’s only going to take his wrath out on one victim, stating, “I don’t wanna kill you people, I just want to make that clear from the get-go. I want you to work for me. You can’t do that if you’re dead, now can you?” 

Each oppressive group has their own reasons for wanting each side to suffer for their misdeeds, but when we look at the brutality expressed by Rick towards Gareth n’ Friends, it can actually be perceived as being one of the most brutal, unforgiving acts we’ve ever seen our heroes perform. What keeps our protagonists from completely becoming villains in this moment despite their murderous deeds is that the cannibals were relentless killers, and probably wouldn’t have left them alone forever, despite Gareth’s promises. On the other hand, what keeps our heroes from remaining the victims in the Negan lineup is that the only reason why they killed his men was to stop a monopoly of power. Furthermore, the Saviors are taunting and cruel in their murdering in that it feels more like a game done just for fun rather than strategy.

Immediately following the premiere of “The Last Day on Earth,” a fascinating concept was brought up by the panelists on The Talking Dead couch; if the story had opened with Negan’s story, and for six seasons we had been following his travels instead of Rick’s, we would absolutely be cheering on Negan’s authority over that group just as we cheered when Rick took down the Termites. This is truly all a matter of perspective, and it will be fascinating to see how this story unfolds, and if perhaps this “submissive kneeling” will come back, if (and hopefully when) Rick and his gang can take power back from the Saviors.

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…and, you know what? I’ve been good and scholarly for this entire post, so Ima let my freak flag fly, here…

MAYBE ITS COMEUPPENCE, RICK. GIMPLE, YOU POETIC BASTARD, YOU INTRODUCED A POTENTIALLY COMPLEX, INTERESTING VILLAIN THAT BROUGHT A NEW FLAVOR INTO THE WORLD OF The Walking Dead, THEN SYSTEMATICALLY SHATTERED MY DREAMS BY KILLING HIM. YOU ARE NOT FORGIVEN, AND RICK, I HOPE YOU LOSE YOUR HAND THIS EPISODE. I’M NOT EVEN SORRY. 

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#RIPGareth #GoneTooSoon #MyBuddyAndrewAgreesWithMe #WeAreSuchPals #NotReallyAtAllButHesACoolDude #REGARDLESS…

Well, that’s my analysis. If you couldn’t tell, I care far too deeply about story things that most people look at, go, “Yeah, I got it. Let’s move on now.” At face value, The Walking Dead is an action-adventure horror show that has really cool effects and some awesome, gory moments. But what I find so amazing is that, especially in recent seasons, some rather artistic decisions in regards to story have taken place, which has made the show very complex, emotional, and rich. The fact that I can break down two scenes that total twelve minutes from a zombie show is an amazing thing.

So, enjoy/weep/throw a chair over The Walking Dead‘s Season 7 premiere, my friends. And if your favorite character tastes Lucille’s steel tonight, all I can say is…

…blame Gimple. Works for me.

 

All images from Instagram. All gifs from giphy. Photo by author.
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