We meet the Tribe back in the woods, on their knees for Negan, and the atmosphere is one of tense terror, just as it was when we left them. Rick, our leader and strength through the adversities so far, is to be broken, and Negan spends this episode working out the best way to do so. To break Rick is to break the Tribe, because without his compliance, the rest will die fighting, which Negan knows would be a pity and a waste. What he wants from the Tribe is servitude–to forage for goods that they can bring back to him and to kill on his whim, just like the rest of the Saviours do. Negan realizes that Rick is strong, perhaps stronger than any of the others he’s encountered, and so he takes his time discovering how to wipe a certain look off of Rick’s face–the look of dissension and defiance. In order to do so, Negan systematically murders two Tribe members right off the bat (oh god, bad pun, I’m sorry), starting with Abraham and ending with Glenn.
While both deaths are really fucking sad and messed up, the death of long-time Tribe member Glenn loses much of it’s impact (on viewers) because of the fact that he was just recently resurrected after a fake out dumpster death that lasted too long and used up most of our Glenn-related emotions. When Nicholas killed himself and left Glenn to fall off the dumpster and fend for himself in a horde of walkers, the cliffhanger surrounding his survival seemed unnecessarily cruel–so much so, that when he was revealed to be alive, it seemed like a callous joke, with a punchline none of the Tribe (or viewers) understood or appreciated.
With the round-and-round writing of last season and the winding road the Tribe (literally) took to get to Negan, the Tribe’s, specifically Rick’s, introduction to Negan and the Saviours is very straightforward. Negan is smart, he is vicious, and he is unrelenting (as well as unhinged, terrifying and narcissistic). We received glimpses of his tenacity when he and the Saviours play an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse with the Tribe and even more so when he takes it upon himself to destroy Rick’s mental state. Not since Rick gardened sans weaponry at the prison has he seemed so shattered, and we see this state manifest in flashbacks to the violent night he and the Tribe endure with the Saviours. When Negan strategically separates Rick from his compatriots and his son, he spends his alone time with Rick observing and encouraging him to fight, first him–when Negan reminds Rick that his best chance is to kill him and so Rick attacks, only to be thwarted and threatened. Then, Negan tosses Rick’s weapon out the door and tells him to fetch him “his” axe, with walkers everywhere. Rick fights to live and kills numerous walkers, and ultimately returns to Negan with the axe because the lives of the Tribe members are at stake if he disobeys.
Back with the Tribe, we see what could be the future of our group–Saviours looming behind terrified and beaten Tribe members, Rick begging for his son’s arm and life, while Negan continues to terrorize everyone in his vacinity. It seems as if the locals have determined what Rick is only now beginning to understand; there is no way to beat Negan, and so, they must join him, follow him, work for him, in order to survive. This is what he wants from Rick and the Tribe, and so Negan does what he must to accomplish this goal. He kills two well-loved Tribe members and leaves their friends to mourn them, he breaks Rick by threatening everyone he cares about and when he leaves, Negan forces Daryl to go with him, presumably to torture and/or turn him from the Tribe. When the Saviours are gone and the Tribe is once again left alone, Maggie wants to fight and yet Rick has none left in him, which is exactly how Negan wants him.
If survival is the ultimate goal of the living, than occasionally morality may fall by the wayside. The thing about post-apocalyptic existence is that it’s all borrowed time, everyone dies and everyone turns. Since Rick stepped out of that hospital, he and his group have walked the line between good and evil very carefully in order to build a life for himself and those he cares about. The question that is posed by this new relationship, is how long will Rick and the Tribe be able to support the pure narcissistic lifestyle that Negan and the Saviours represent? If they are to follow and work for him, what will it take before they are willing to sacrifice themselves to thwart Negan and his immorality?
The Walking Dead airs on AMC Sundays at 9pm.