This article contains spoilers for the fourth episode of The Walking Dead, "Service."
What does Negan want?
"Service" burrows deep into the question. Our new villain doesn't just crave power -- he already has that over the Saviours and the dominion they control -- he hoards everything. When the necessities of survival are scarce, it always pays to have more food and medicine and ammunition in ample supply. But material wealth isn't the reason he's doing this. No, what motivates Negan, what drives him, what really gets him off is nothing less than total domination. He wants to brutalize, humiliate, torture, demean. He wants to mess with people. It isn't enough for Negan to just rule, as tonight’s episode painfully showed. Everybody else needs to suffer.
What now? For starters, he rolled into Alexandria a few days earlier than promised, catching Rick and company by surprise and terrifying those who haven't had the pleasure of meeting him. Negan and his surly crew pillaged the town for all it's worth, taking guns, medication, and even mattresses for themselves, leaving our heroes with only a pantry of food and the clothes on their backs. They bullied and intimidated innocent people, including teenage girls, and never missed a chance for random cruelty, as when Rosita was relieved of her favorite hat. Negan nearly killed someone over a minor accounting discrepancy -- a pair of pistols on a list where there weren't supposed to be -- and made it clear what the penalty would be for any such infractions going forward. And to top it all off, he made Rick thank him for the experience. It was a grueling 90 minutes of debasement and abuse.
Not that it's all for the hell of it, of course. Negan the joshing supervillain is an act he's putting to very particular and pointed use. The wicked showmanship -- pointless humiliations on top of the bad-enough brutality and slavery -- is designed to have as psychological warfare. The hundreds upon hundreds he presently rules over, the neighboring communities he steals from every week, are only subservient so long as they've got no hope and no will. That's the point of all this, of not just taking supplies but cackling about bashed skulls and the bloodlust of Lucille. Negan wants to extinguish hope. He wants to break wills.
It certainly seems to be working. Rick is adamant that any last vestiges of positive thinking in the community be snuffed out immediately, lest the Saviors decide to take another sacrifice as an example to the rest. That defeatist attitude isn't exactly inspiring confidence in the group as a whole. Most Alexandrians seem to have accepted the reality of the new order out of the expected miss of fear and uncertainty; they're not, it's safe to say, working up to a grassroots revolt. Meanwhile, those who've yet to see the light -- Carl, Rosita, and especially Michonne -- are struggling to believe that Rick really has given up on the situation. Whether they'll be able to concede in time, as Rick would like them to, remains to be seen. Maybe they'll get it. Maybe they'll persuade Rick to change his mind and fight -- or step up and lead the charge without him.
So where does that leave Alexandria? The Age of Negan isn't going to last forever, we can safely assume -- no kind of status quo sticks around long on The Walking Dead. But for now, and maybe for the first time, there's no clear direction or plan to be followed. It's possible that the makeshift bullet manufacturing operation Eugene is planning to put into motion could sow the seeds of dissent. There's Carol and Morgan down at the Kingdom in thrall to their own Negan problem, which could prove to be a key alliance in some kind of war to come. And there's Maggie -- she's at Hilltop, pissed off and poised to give birth. Give her some time, and there's a good chance she'll put a scheme for revenge into effect. Negan may want everyone to suffer. But everyone watching wants the good guys to win.
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