Is Negan the new hero we should expect and deserve?
The very first day of my Freshman Screenwriting Class at NYU, the professor explained that there were twenty basic plots, and that every story ever written was a variation on one of those twenty themes.
The Hero’s Journey is perhaps the most popular of those plots. The hero might rescue the princess, win the big game, save the Earth from an asteroid, or help defeat the Galactic Empire.
On the Season Finale of The Walking Dead, several of our heroes went on a journey. Their literal quest was to transport Maggie, who was having complications with her pregnancy, to the Hilltop community so that she could be put under the care of the former obstetrician who lives there.
Of course, every proper Hero’s Journey has both a literal and a metaphorical destination. Last night, Rick and his group of ragtag survivors/warriors were also continuing their journey down a very dark path towards the realization of who they have become in the new world order.
As Eugene and Sasha pored over a map in the RV, desperately looking for a route to the Hilltop that was not barricaded by the menacing, surprisingly philosophical Saviors, I couldn’t help but think that what they were really looking for was a path to salvation.
Our heroes were literally and figuratively lost. Their mental and moral gears had to be grinding worse than those in their vehicle as they struggled with the decisions they had made in regards to dealing with Negan’s crew. The armed, unmovable threats who seemed to be around every bend had become a roadblock to our heroes’ quest in more than one way.
Why did Rick so eagerly agree to take out the Saviors for the people living at the Hilltop? His group had survived for this long by putting up walls and steering clear of trouble, so why would they suddenly abandon that strategy to become the Zombie Apocalypse’s version of The A-Team?
Did they need supplies that badly? Was it really that important to become allies with a new group of survivors? Or had Rick, the Alpha Male, grown weary of playing the innocent lamb waiting to be attacked by the likes of the Wolves, the cannibals of Terminus, and the Governor?
Was the recent raid by the Wolves the last straw for our hero? Might Rick’s decision to take on the Saviors have been a kneejerk reaction to the death of another woman he loved, almost losing his son, or the realization that the world had changed and he was doing nothing to adapt other than talking tough?
How do you explain our heroes setting out on this quest without even scouting the enemy? It was so out of character for them to go off half-cocked without a true concept of the big picture. Rick has always proven to be a master planner, and yet he never gave any thought to the fact that this enemy could be much larger than the group tucked away for the night in the outpost they attacked.
Killing people in their sleep is more the act of a coward than a hero.
Our heroes’ journey went so far off the beaten path that night that they were becoming the very people they had worked so hard to keep on the other side of the wall.
And they had absolutely no idea.
So when Rick commanded Abraham to back up the RV and avoid confrontation with the Saviors time after time in the Season Finale, I kept yelling at Rick that he’d wakened the savage beast and it was time to face the music.
If the group was truly on a Hero’s Journey, it was time to confront and conquer the enemy in order to continue forward on their quest.
But Rick kept ordering them to back away, to run from the fight, to take the coward’s path.
When they finally found themselves surrounded by the whistling, armed consequences of less than heroic behavior, our heroes still didn’t step up to prove themselves worthy.
Instead, they handed over their weapons, got down on their knees, and allowed Negan to exert his dominance. While Negan preened, orated, and acted the part of the conqueror, our supposed heroes whimpered, cried, and looked as if they had surrendered to the idea of being used for batting practice.
Only Glenn, the scrappy former pizza delivery guy, made any attempt to act heroic when he realized that the love of his life and his unborn child were in jeopardy.
The former Sheriff did nothing.
Nor did the ex- soldier.
Nor did the badass country boy in the leather vest.
Or heroes not only faltered in their journey, but they also acted like there were aware that their recent actions were anything but heroic and deserved punishment.
Why didn’t one of them step up to face the wrath of Lucille and save the others from that fate? Why did they leave me wondering if Negan was the true hero of the story? After all, he made it clear that he was in charge, that he was exacting revenge for the cold-blooded murders of the people he had sworn to protect, and he was commanding the spotlight on the darkest of nights.
Negan had gone on a Hero’s Journey to find those who had wronged those under his protection, and like a true hero, he did what had to be done to make things right.