There’s no relief in sight on The Walking Dead. The latest episode, “Service,” continues the dreadful march of Season 7, with Negan knocking on the gates of Alexandria. It’s time for Negan’s newest tributary to pay up and show their submission. The dead make post-apocalyptic life difficult, but it’s the living who really push the boundaries.
In “Service” Negan tests and retests his new subjects. He draws a line in the sand and then stomps over it, again and again. Though the sound of Rick’s teeth grinding must be deafening, he manages to keep his self-control throughout Negan’s show of dominance. The transgressions of Negan and the Saviors are numerous.
Dominance and Submission
The Saviors arrive early and Alexandria is so unprepared that Spencer doesn’t even know who they are (really, Spencer?). Rick arrives in time to shepherd them in. Negan’s brought a couple vehicles, a bunch of his Saviors crew, and Daryl. Dwight hasn’t been successful in getting Daryl to submit, so they force him to come along as part of his ongoing regime of torment. It also serves to remind Alexandria who is in charge, and that Daryl remains their hostage in case anyone has thoughts of rebellion.
Despite Rick’s weak protest, the Saviors are to decide what will be taken from Alexandria. They spread out to begin their plunder of the community. Negan forces Rick to play tour guide, and he begins asking about Maggie, in a very inappropriate way. He wants to see how far he can push Rick as he asserts his dominance. When Negan wants to know where Maggie is, Father Gabriel steps in, offering to show Negan Maggie’s (fake) grave. Rick can’t stop seething with obvious hate and disdain for Negan even if it puts those around him at risk, while Father Gabriel is able to put on a charming act in order to protect Maggie.
Negan isn’t the only one asserting his authority. Dwight not only takes Rosita’s hat, but forces her and Spencer to go pick up Daryl’s rebuilt motorcycle, since Dwight broke the original one he took from Daryl. Dwight is such a Daryl wannabe. While away from camp, Rosita uses the opportunity to kill Savior zombies in search of a gun, while Spencer drones on and on about Rick. We get it, Spencer, you have no spine and you hate Rick. He seems like a traitor in the making.
Rosita may be bound for some more negative interactions with the Saviors one way or another down the road. Either she’ll get killed for fomenting rebellion or they could take her to the Sanctuary where she well may wish she were dead. Though we fear for Rosita, we can’t help but have just a moment of hope when she arrives at Eugene’s door asking him to make her bullets. It only lasts a moment, because The Walking Dead has been quite successful in extinguishing any feelings of hope in regards to the show.
Though most are managing to pass the trials placed before them, Carl remains full of sass. Much to Carl’s chagrin, the Saviors are taking all of Alexandria’s medications. He registers his displeasure with a gunshot and threats. Rick and Negan arrive and Carl finally gets in line. We wonder if Negan will force Rick to cut off his son’s hand for real this time. Instead, Negan decides to take all the guns in Alexandria. Oh, except two have gone missing. Olivia’s skill at tracking inventory may be the cause of her death.
Rick has to call a meeting of the Alexandrites, urging the townsfolk to turn over the guns so Negan doesn’t kill Olivia. It appears that some still think Rick will save them, but he disabuses them of that notion, telling the community, “I’m not in charge anymore.” Rick eventually finds the guns hidden under a floorboard in Spencer’s house, along with some food and alcohol he’s been hoarding. Wow, what a jerk Spencer turned out to be.
We see that it’s not just the major players getting put in their place. A group of creepy Saviors harass Enid. She wants to keep the green balloons that Glenn used to signal to Maggie that he was alive. A Savior forces her to repeat “Please” several times before returning the balloons. We’re reminded that these aren’t good dudes.
As the Saviors are about to leave with their trucks full of guns and mattresses, Rick spots Michonne, who has been out practicing shooting all day, hiding in the house outside the gates. He goes to Michonne and convinces her to turn over the rifle she has. He tells her, “If you keep it and they find it, someone dies. I’m not losing you or Carl or anyone else. I’m not losing anyone else.” When Rick brings him this unexpected additional gun (it wasn’t in the records), Negan is pleased.
Before leaving, Negan gives Rick one final test. As Rick stands there holding Lucille, Negan turns his back on him to kill a walker with a swing meant to remind Rick of Glenn and Abraham. Rick tightens his grasp on Lucille, as though he’s considering going after Negan, but restrains himself. Negan leaves, making sure to convey to Rick what they are both aware of —that Rick has submitted.
Later, Rick explains his rationale to Michonne. They don’t have enough people to defeat the Saviors. Rick is making a choice that allows them to live. Rick has to make choices that will keep his children alive. He tells Michonne about Shane and Lori, and that he knows that Judith isn’t his daughter.
“I know it. I love her. She’s my daughter. But she isn’t mine. I had to accept that. I did. So I could keep her alive. I’ll die before she does, and I hope that’s a long time from now so I can raise her, protect her, and teach her how to survive. This is how we live now; I had to accept that too, so I could keep everyone else alive.”
Rick’s confession doesn’t really explain much. Don’t men love their stepchildren? Is fatherhood only biological? It seems that Rick is trying to say that what happened between Shane and Lori was emasculating for him, yet Judith was the result of it. He had to get past his male pride in order to love and protect his daughter. That is what he is supposedly doing now—not letting his ego get in the way of what’s best for Alexandria. He’s allowing Negan to emasculate him and Alexandria in order to keep everyone safe. We pretty much hate this overly simplistic metaphor. It allows for no complexity in power relations, or in paternal love.
Rick carries the weight of a leader. Michonne tells him that it’s not his fault when people die. He responds, “Not always, but sometimes it is.” For this to work, Rick needs Michonne to accept the new reality. She agrees to try, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who could say no to Rick Grimes in this moment of raw emotion (a fantastic performance by Andrew Lincoln).
The New World Order
The Walking Dead was once about ethical dilemmas and difficult choices. It had complex characters that added layers of interest to the story. Season 7 of The Walking Dead, on the other hand, has been about something else. “Service” continues what most of Season 7 has been about—forcing others to submit through violence and psychological conditioning. Yet, we see a flash of what is good about The Walking Dead—individual character perspectives driving difficult decisions about survival.
We can see what drives each of these characters and how their perspectives inform their actions. Rosita’s resistance is fueled by her grief over Abraham. Spencer doesn’t trust Rick because he sees him as responsible for everything going wrong. Carl is an impulsive teen who has had Rick for a role model. Daryl won’t allow himself to become that which killed his friends. Michonne … well Michonne is still a bit of an enigma, but she is one strong and independent woman. Rick not only must protect his children, but also doesn’t want someone else to die on his watch.
The Walking Dead, in its current form, impedes these character perspectives because everything becomes fear-based. There are no decisions to be made because only one character is driving the action. Rosita and Michonne’s expressions of resistance provide a brief counter to Negan’s driving narrative. This isn’t interesting television and it’s only made worse when it’s bathed in violence. Masculinist strategies of domination and subjugation shape the narrative in the Sanctuary, Alexandria, and probably the Hilltop.
A ultramasculine character like Rick can’t even swallow his anger long enough to convince Negan he isn’t a threat. It takes a whole extra-long episode before Negan feels he’s made his point. Yes, he’s mostly broken, but his anger at not being in control and what has happened slips through, which puts the group at risk. Daryl also becomes increasingly one-dimensional as the Saviors attempt to force him to bend to their will, and he stubbornly resists being broken. Father Gabriel was the only person who tried a different tack with Negan, approaching sideways instead of head-on.
Alexandria would really benefit from someone like Deanna now. Someone who could be a leader, without the baggage of pride and rage. Glenn could have fit this role as well because he was always able to find the middle ground between being protective and aggressive, putting his own ego aside when needed. Alexandria needs someone who can give lip service to “thank you” without dying a little inside. Even a kid like Enid knows that “please” is just a word. It’s the action you need to be wary of. Carol would be a great asset in Alexandria as well because, like Negan, she knows how to put on a show.
It’s hard to imagine The Walking Dead can continue the theme of dominance and subjugation for many more episodes, because it’s just not that interesting. In “Service” we see that Negan has convinced Rick that his way is the only way. Rick becomes the stand-in leader for Negan in Alexandria. Over the next few weeks, we can expect to see where each person lies in terms of their resistance and acceptance of this new reign. What will Rick do when he is tested by his own people? The current landscape is bleak. Though the Walking Dead has taught us that hope is futile, we can’t help but hope that a better future comes sooner than later.