This article was originally published on Altar & Throne.

Pissing our pants yet?” Negan taunts, as he struts out of the RV toward the trembling line of vulnerable victims conveniently arrayed before him, like a lion coolly surveying his prey. For fans of the acclaimed zombie apocalypse show, the Season 6 finale has launched The Walking Dead hurtling into a new era of the horrifying and the unknown, and the reverberations are still being felt.

And yet, it has some remarkable resemblances to the real world, as fiction will often tend to reflect. But the similarities in this show to the world we live in (despite the fictive premise of the undead), and in this episode in particular, are rather stunning in import.

Especially when one considers the recent headline-making discovery that human sacrifice was historically used as a way to cement political power and rulership1:

And even in Austronesia, add Watts’s team, sacrifice wasn’t always conducted for purely religious reasons. It could have other motivations, including to punish taboo violations, demoralize underclasses, mark class boundaries and instil fear of social elites, all of which aim at building and maintaining social control. For this reason, says Michael Winkelman, an anthropologist now retired from Arizona State University in Tempe, “I suspect that Watts et al. are assessing some general notion of social legitimated killing.”


Negan does just this when he insists on selecting one of the outsiders, arbitrarily mind you, to slaughter in order to make an example of what he does to those who dare impugn his authority. Notice also the beginning of myth-making with his calling his bat “Lucille” and thus personifying it, almost imbuing it with magical powers that justify “her” right to crush “transgressors” due to the superior might of her “power.”2

negan twirling bat

And yet we have never completely escaped this shadow of our human past.3 The article goes onto say:

By today’s standards, human sacrifice scarcely seems to fall within the norms of good morality. But one doesn’t need to be a moral relativist to accept that the connections between human sacrifice, obedience to authority and stable governance persist. To perceive a link between ancient, “savage” human sacrifices and the death penalty in some modern societies isn’t to exaggerate or indulge in melodrama, as Winkelman’s remarks testify.

Of course, the death penalty proper isn’t the only way that the state employs death to punish transgressors. One need only look at the innumerable examples of cop abuse, which often involve death, to see a plethora of other ready examples. Indeed, it is in the nature of the state itself to punish those who resist its power (and many times those who don’t, just as a sadistic show of strength), and to escalate that force, given the resistance continues, up to the point of death in order to establish its authority.

garner and thomas

Eric Garner (left) is wrestled to the ground for the sordid crime of selling cigarettes, while Kelly Thomas (right) was beaten for being homeless.

Obviously, the threat isn’t usually so overt. Psychopaths who frighten people into compliance with them have had eons to perfect their performance and persuasion skills in the face of open resistance and folk not hesitating to fight to the death for their freedom. Instead of brazen shows of force against citizenry, the threat is made implicit and buried behind ceremonies, cloths and monuments, oaths to protect, layers of bureaucracy, social programs, voting rituals, social media interactions, and public debate forums, all to give that veneer of individual choice and a magnified common good. But the behemoth of political hierarchy which cannot humor any affront to its authority is still behind all of it, and a threat is a threat is a threat.

negan stalking

But none of this would be possible, of course, without the backing of numbers. Notice that Rick and his team were goaded up to the Saviors’ camp by being dead-ended by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of enforcers. So, too, does the authority of politicians themselves rely upon a large majority of society agreeing with, or at least tolerating and silently supporting, their enforcement.

The Saviors 2

Of course, Negan is the perfect exemplar of a modern politician (with a mixture of the enforcer, of course) — a lethal, unrelenting tyrant who yet has all the urbane charisma and charm to evoke the kind of admiring fandom to gloss over his truly heinous nature. That enamoring personality that people love to hate, that keeps them coming back for abuse time and time again. Inegan laughingnsert almost any of the most popular politicians you like, whether Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump.

Indeed, it is quite telling that long-time fans of the show are so fascinated by and enthralled with him, despite his being such an unveiled and wicked threat to the kindred clan many have affectionately grown to feel are almost their extended family. We seem to just love to love power and being lied to — and the smooth operators who deceptively sell it all to us.

Now let’s look at Negan’s imposing speech, line by line, to see if we can draw some further parallels:

You are so gonna regret crossing me in a few minutes. Yes, you are. You see, Rick, whatever you do, no matter what, you don’t mess with the new world order.

Let’s have a quick rundown of the interplay between the Saviors (Negan’s group) and Rick’s group up to this point: basically, the Saviors had already threatened the lives of some of the group, who escaped only by the good fortune of Daryl happening to have an RPG on hand. Additionally, the Saviors were basically holding the Hilltop community hostage.

Christopher Berry as Biker - The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

To put it in terms easily recognizable to our own context, they were occupying the community and extracting taxes from them in the form of food. So the Saviors had doubly demonstrated their oppressive coercion. Rick’s group was merely trying to eliminate the parasitic relationship, but now it’s blown up in their faces.

Note also the clever phraseology of the ‘new world order.’ Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, from President Bush Sr.’s mouth, along with other power-hungry politicians. Basically, you may not like what’s coming but we’re gonna shove it down your throats anyway.

And the new world order is this, and it’s really very simple. So, even if you’re stupid, which you very may well be, you can understand it. You ready? Here goes. Pay attention. Give me your shit or I will kill you. Today was career day. We invested a lot so you would know who I am and what I can do. You work for me now. You have shit, you give it to me. That’s your job. Now, I know that is a mighty big, nasty pill to swallow, but swallow it you most certainly will.

Of course, a valuable ingredient in creating such forceful social stratification is to imply an insult against your victim as a part of your overall demonstration to cow them along with your impressive show of force, to inculcate your sense of superiority all the more, until no other thought can be had.

children saluting flag

And, all the better to teach them from the moment they learn how to think, up until the time when they are considered adults. Call it their “education,” despite not teaching very much that is useful, other than how much you are due from them, and how they need to learn to obey.

You ruled the roost. You built something. You thought you were safe. I get it. But the word is out. You are not safe. Not even close. In fact, you are pegged, more pegged if you don’t do what I want. And what I want is half your shit. And if that’s too much, you can make, find, or steal more, and it’ll even out sooner or later. This is your way of life now. The more you fight back, the harder it will be. So, if someone knocks on your door (chuckles) you let us in. We own that door. You try to stop us and we will knock it down.

Ahh, that’s it. Negan’s keeping them alive, despite their resistance, because they are producers, and he doesn’t want to take the trouble to voluntarily offer his own services (despite having the potential to be a valuable protector of the vulnerable) for sustenance, or any of the other fine resources that Alexandria can muster. Negotiation is not an option on the table. It’s either give Negan half of their stuff or The Saviors will come and take it by force. And whether he redistributes it amongst all of his subjects or not, we can clearly see that it is horrifyingly unjust.

They may not kill the one who doesn’t shell out to him right away. It may start with a gentle, even subdued, knock on the door. Then a louder knock. Then a shout. Then some shots fired. Then the door knocked down. Then some gun pointing, kicking, and dragging out the door. Then, a presentation before Negan. Then, perhaps, death.

police breaking in

Some say that tax doesn’t have a threat behind it because rarely will you see IRS enforcers dragging somebody out of their home, or their guns blazing. But that’s because, of course, most people are too cowed or prudent to try to resist. The process usually stops somewhere in the paper filing and mail sending phase, and well before the arresting and possibly gun firing phase. Rarely does it end up with somebody slowly dying in jail, as it did with the courageous Irwin Schiff.

But make no mistake: beyond the layers of fluff and rhetoric, the threat is very real.

You understand? What, no answer? You don’t really think that you were gonna get through this without being punished, now, did you? I don’t want to kill you people. Just want to make that clear from the get-go. I want you to work for me. You can’t do that if you’re dead, now, can you? I’m not growing a garden.

Just to re-emphasize this point, the reason that the state doesn’t immediately put resistors to death is because its agents and those who benefit from the coercion and extortion would rather swipe a hearty helping of the cream off the top of the wealth being produced under their watchful eye. Much like how a rapist who will keep his female victim alive despite her squirming and resistance because he’d rather have his way with a warm body than a cold one; except the relationship that the state has to society is more long-term and relatively more distant. This is due not only to logistical issues involving numbers, but because the leash must be just long enough to allow its captives to produce, though not so long that they can become powerfully resistent.

But you killed my people, a whole damn lot of them. More than I’m comfortable with. And for that, for that you’re gonna pay.

Of course, the hypocrisy of this is not lost on the audience. Negan and his men first hunted down and threatened to kill Rick’s people well before they ever reciprocated. And yet, this highlights yet another area of moral duplicity on the part of rulers: they give themselves latitude to act out in ways that they disallow from those they rule, and enshrine their own crimes, after centuries of apologetic accretion, into formalized law. Theft is sacralized and called just tribute, or taxation, as well as civil forfeiture, and eminent domain; murder is sacralized and called warfare, collateral damage, and just punishment for resisting the law.

They Live (1988) Directed by John Carpenter

Taken from They Live (1988), directed by John Carpenter

[Negan takes a look at Abraham and strokes face] Huh. Ugh, I gotta shave this shit.

This one might seem like a throwaway line hardly worth mentioning for our purposes. But it’s actually a hint at something much more significant – Rick’s whole group are the dirty, brutal outsiders and lawbreakers, and Negan is supposed to be the refined, upstanding, professional leader. This feeds back into the discovery that human sacrifice was typically committed against outsiders who were clearly demarcated from the social group and given a unique status accordingly.

In our own world, this group is populated by a wide range of people, with the common denominator that the majority do not identify with them: Muslims, tea partiers, homosexuals and transgender folk, sovereign citizens, immigrants, libertarians, and the list goes on.

You got one of our guns. Whoa. Yeah. You got a lot of our guns. Shit, kid, lighten up. At least cry a little.

A bold and stoically courageous individual, even a child, is a threat to any regime of fear. You can’t have that if you need a subservient population. They must be cowed and their arms taken away. The thing that tyrants fear most is one who is firmly resolute in their opposition and knows what they are opposing and why. Despite Carl being a mere child, the fact that he was brazen enough to steal arms and stare the towering bully down (as his own dear father trembled in fear) was enough to provoke Negan to vocally dismiss him, and maybe even secretly make the cowardly fiend just a mite uneasy.

Carl stare down

Another thing that threatens tyrants is familial bonds – romantic, passionate love, and the love of parent for child. These are the ties that bind, for which people will live and die. Negan quickly put Glenn’s frantic outburst down, the moment the latter thrust himself into the mix of danger when his beloved woman and soon-to-be mother became threatened. And Negan was quick afterwards to spy yet another intimate family connection – Rick’s father-to-son relationship with Carl – that he would doubtless keep his eye upon.

Glenn and Maggie

The myriad ways in which state policy has broken up family bonds and destroyed the familial structure are too countless for me to document here, and have been quite expertly elsewhere.4 But needless to say, it’s the organic institution that has the potential power to invoke passionate resistance to the power of the state.

So, now I’m gonna beat the holy hell outta one of you. This–this is Lucille, and she is awesome. All this, all this is just so we can pick out which one of you gets the honor.

Everybody’s at the table waiting for me to order. I simply cannot decide. I got an idea. Eenie meenie miney moe, catch a tiger by his toe…

Rick’s gang is, of course, simply a row of pawns arrayed before Negan’s coldly calculating figure. They are essentially nothing to him — interchangeable, fungible, like identical products on a shelf. They are empty vessels to be filled by his ruthless decrees and dictates. Nobody is irreplaceable or priceless. If one dies, the others can fill in for the duties he demands, so far as he is concerned.

And yet, whichever of them is picked will be raised to a heightened status — the role of being a holy reminder, a sacred, smashed-in, bloody example of what will happen to any of the rest should they choose to malign or transgress his wishes. The image of the depersonalized victim will be burned into everybody’s brains, unrecognizable as a former member of the extended family, and memorialized as a sacrificial icon instead, as the strength and vitality of their wills is forcefully crushed and defeated, to be remade into the form of Negan — processed into Stockholm Syndrome advocates of the new world order, voicing support and chanting the overlord’s biddings and mantras.

negan beating

Perhaps this is why, in episode 613, when Rick and his team infiltrate the enemy’s compound, one of the Saviors says, “We’re all Negan.” This is a fantastic parallel to the modern anthem that, “We are all the government!” It’s as if to say, ‘No, the state doesn’t put fear into us. It doesn’t threaten us with punishment if we should dare cross its authority. We’re not beholden to a special class of political parasites. We are ALL the authoritative decision-makers. We are one with our dictators! We are one with power!’

we're all negan shortened

It’s yet another myth to hide the violence at the core of social stratification, and a lie we tell ourselves to veil the frightening truth that the world is not as rosy as we’d like to believe. For, if we were to actually dare break out of line and disavow their authority, it would be their boot on our necks — unless we all banded together and resisted them as one.

We are, in fact, living in the world of the walking dead — and it’s time for us to stand our ground and with wide open eyes, together, stalwartly resist the Negans of this world.

walking dead armed and standing ground

1. How Human Sacrifice Propped Up the Social Order, Scientific American, April 5, 2016

2. The late anthropologist René Girard notes the role of myth in sacrificial systems:

Following the old school of European anthropologists, Girard believes that myths are the narrative corollary of ritual. And, inasmuch as rituals are mainly a reenactment of the original murder, myths also recapitulate the scapegoating themes.

Now, Girard’s crucial point about the necessary unconsciousness of scapegoating: must be kept in mind in order for this mechanism to work, its participants must not recognize it as such. That is to say, the victim must never appear as what it really is: a scapegoat that is no guiltier of disturbance, than other members of the community.

The way to assure that scapegoats are not recognized as what they really are is by distorting the story of the events that led to their death. This is accomplished by telling the story from the perspective of the scapegoaters.

“René Girard: Myth” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed April 21, 2016.

3. Granted, we’re starting here with primitive agricultural societies. Hunter-gatherers were a different story:

Warfare was unknown to most of these societies, and where it was known it was the result of interactions with warlike groups of people who were not hunter-gatherers. In each of these societies, the dominant cultural ethos was one that emphasized individual autonomy, non-directive childrearing methods, nonviolence, sharing, cooperation, and consensual decision-making. Their core value, which underlay all of the rest, was that of the equality of individuals.

Gray, Peter. “How Hunter-Gatherers Maintained Their Egalitarian Ways.” Psychology Today. Accessed April 21, 2016.

4. On this note, Allan Carlson writes,

Viewing this rivalry between state and family, it is important to understand that a basic level of “dependency” is a constant in all societies. In every human community, there are infants and children, persons who are very old, individuals who have severe handicaps, and others who are seriously ill. These people cannot take care of themselves. Without help from others, they will die. Every society must have a way of giving care to these dependents. Under the domain of liberty, the natural institution of the family (supplemented and supported by local communities and voluntary organizations) provides the protection and care which these “dependent” people need. Indeed, it is in the autonomous family—and only in the family—where the pure socialist principle actually works: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

The rise of the welfare state can be written as the steady transfer of the “dependency” function from the family to the state; from persons tied together by blood, marriage or adoption to persons tied to public employees. The process began in Sweden in the mid-19th century, through bureaucratic projects that began dismantling the bonds between parents and their children.

Carlson, Allan. “What Has Government Done to Our Families?” Mises Institute. Accessed April 21, 2016.