How many Saviors have the Alexandrians killed over the last several weeks? Dozens. “They’ve got numbers,” somebody pointed out last night. No kidding: they’ve got numbers enough to block multiple routes to the Hilltop, numbers enough to pull off elaborate plans, numbers enough to withstand (and hardly mind) any incurred losses. And the Saviors are smart. They’re organized. They’re able to strategize and set traps, as they did with the lumber fire and red-rover line of walkers. Not only can they outwit Rick, they tease him and make him a fool, like a cat and its prey. In a way, it doesn’t matter who Negan killed in the end. The bigger point has already been made: the Saviors are major players. And the Alexandrians are out of their league.
Negan himself is a new kind of villain for this series. Check out that leather jacket. That sonorous voice. That smile. “This is Lucille and she is awesome,” Negan brags, in terrifyingly high spirits. He’s like a pro wrestler turning heel. You get the sense that all of this -- the mystique, the showy entrance, the threatening larger-than-life charm -- is for the benefit of intimidation. Negan is a stage-managed ruler. He understands that if you want instill fear and wield authority, you have to demand it of the people beneath you. And the demands are a whole lot more effective if the style is theatrical.
You could say that none of this would have happened if our heroes hadn’t blundered. In a sense that’s true: a siege by the Saviors on Alexandria wouldn’t have been quite so successful, you have to imagine, even with the staggering numbers, so maybe the gang should have stayed at home.
But keep in mind Rick’s perspective on the situation. He’s vanquished a lot of pretty nasty enemies in his time -- some of them so bad that he probably doesn’t think it can get much worse. And up until the finale, his run-ins with the Saviors have ended in easy victory. He has no reason to believe they’re worth fearing. But if "Last Day on Earth" had a message, it’s just that: our survivors need to fear the Saviors. It’s clear that Rick hasn’t been taking Negan seriously. He’s figured it’s under control. It’s not, we now know. And going forward, it looks like Rick will know it, too.
The Walking Dead, how you torture us.
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Calum Marsh is a freelance writer with a love of the undead and an eye toward the future. Follow him for more prognostication: @calummarsh.