Review: Exploring Death and Politics in “The Walking Dead”

“The Walking Dead” S9 Ep16 Season Finale

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Tonight, season nine of the hit AMC series, “The Walking Dead,” comes to an exciting conclusion. This season saw the departure of leading character Rick Grimes. Following this, a six-year time jump. Years after Grimes’ supposed death, our survivors have rebuilt their communities and formed a constitution in the aftermath of the war with Negan, a ruthless totalitarian.

Following the time jump, a new enemy – one that infiltrates the undead ranks – emerges to pose a new serious threat to our survivors. They are known as the “Whisperers,”. They wear human skin and conceal their dialogue with whispers in order to stalk their victims. The Whisperers, led by a brutal female named Alpha, are just the latest set of villains in this charismatic show, which covers everything from small drama and action to matters that relate to real-world politics. As one of the world’s most popular television shows, here are the underlying political messages “The Walking Dead” displays.

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The Walking Dead’s Origins

“The Walking Dead” began as a graphic novel series on October 8, 2003. Following its immense popularity, a television adaptation made for the channel AMC premeired. First airing on October 31, 2010, “The Walking Dead” soon became one of the most watched television shows in history.

The series primarily follows Rick Grimes, a sheriff’s deputy from Georgia who is critically wounded during a shootout. Grimes falls into a coma, and after awakening several months later, he finds the world in a completely different state. He finds that the vast population of humanity has succumbed to a virus that causes bodily reanimation upon death. Grimes sets out to find his wife and son, not knowing if they survived (spoilers beyond this point).

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“The Walking Dead” cast of season one

After being reunited with his family and best friend, various tragic events force Grimes and company to leave the outskirts of Atlanta. What begins is a series of events that demonstrate humanity’s actions and consequences during a time of crisis. Many people enjoy this show because of its ability to beautifully construct issues of human interaction and conflict during a fictional timeline. What many people fail to realize, however, is how this show, especially in recent seasons, displays an underlying political message.

The Governor- A Walking Dead Villain

“The Walking Dead” has had its fair share of villains, with the first primary antagonist being Phillip Blake, best known as “The Governor”. Portrayed by David Morrisey in seasons three and four, The Governor is your stereotypical, all-purpose apocalyptic bad guy. In this role, he has assumed leadership of a small community of survivors. The Governor claims to care deeply for his people, but in actuality, his only concern is being the man in charge.

Any survivor who does not follow his leadership is killed. Also, any community surviving without his influence is trampled under his boot. This is demonstrated when he kills an encampment of soldiers who are surviving without his leadership. Following the killing of his own militia in a fit of rage, The Governor attempts to begin anew, though he returns to his old ways. He eventually loses his life during an assault on Grimes’ community.

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Phillip Blake, better known as The Governor

The Governor shows an example of a corrupt, authoritarian figure. However, he is nothing on the political scale when compared to the show’s second major villain. Following The Governor’s attack, Grimes and company are forced to leave their haven. After surviving a brutal camp of cannibals, the group decides to make the journey to Washington, D.C. and its surrounding area, which is the show’s current setting. Not long after, Grimes’ people encounter a group known as the “Saviors,” with a charismatic and brutal leader at their forefront.

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Negan- A Walking Dead Villain

Enter Negan, one of the most iconic characters on the show, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Negan is boisterous, demanding, and very authoritarian. Grimes and his group are thrown into the turmoil when they take out one of Negan’s outposts in an effort to help a distressed community under the oppression of Negan and the Saviors. Shortly after the capture of Grimes and various members, Negan introduces himself.

From the start, Negan is very intimidating. He carries a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire that he has named, “Lucille.” His style of leadership and government? His forces arrive at each of their subjected communities and takes half of everything in the camp. This process is repeated each week. Any community that does not provide every inch of the demanded food and supplies must pay the price. That price- the death of a survivor in the community, chosen at random by Negan or his elites.

Surviving the Villians

After being captured by Negan, one of Grimes’ strongest community members is beaten to death by Negan with his baseball bat. Due to an intervention by another group member, however, Negan also kills one of Grimes’ right-hand men. Grimes and the surviving members of his group are faced with a choice: either live according to Negan’s lifestyle or be killed.

The group attempts to follow Negan’s rules, but they soon find out that nothing is good enough for the Saviors. They will subjugate anyone, regardless of whether or not they are following the rules. Grimes and his community, along with two other communities, rise against Negan. They eventually overthrow his rule. Rather than kill him, however, Grimes makes the decision to imprison him for life. He does this as proof that the survivors are capable of rebuilding from an oppressive leader; as well as to provide a testimony to the will of his late son.

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The Walking Dead in Politics

How exactly does this relate to the political world? Negan is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, an authoritarian figure who uses dominance and violence to oppress and subjugate others under his will. He has even managed to convince his followers that they are Negan, creating a cult form of government. Negan is an example of a very large government, both historically and currently, that gives individuals an ultimatum. If they cannot meet it, they face imprisonment or death.

Negan lives a luxurious lifestyle, while his followers are met with meager conditions. The way in which Negan demands half of everything is reminiscent of authoritarian socialist regimes. They tax their people in very large amounts, force them to work for virtually nothing (under the banner of societal contribution and the guise that the leader is “saving people”). If they cannot meet the government’s needs, they are thereby deemed useless and are euthanized.

This is why conservatives and libertarians speak out enormously on big-government policies. Big government turns into corrupt government. It decides who lives and dies. It chooses policies not based on the consent of the governed, but on its own desires. The authoritarian leaders proliferate, while their subjects suffer. Unfortunately, many Hollywood liberals, including some of whom star in “The Walking Dead,” are perfectly fine with progressive, big-government policies. They ignore that big government becomes corrupt government, while not heeding Negan’s subliminal warnings.

The Importance of Small Government

Following the war and Negan’s imprisonment, Grimes and the various communities begin to rebuild their world. Grimes becomes a de-facto executive, leading the charge for a peaceful reality between the communities. This is reminiscent of our world, in which we often see tyrannical regimes being challenged. If overthrown, we see them taken over by a new leader, regardless of whether or not they mean well.

Occasionally, the world may see the likes of Rick Grimes, in which an executive is elected to heal a nation and restore prosperity after a time of distress. The world may also, however, see the likes of Negan, coming forth from a government that has grown too large. The world has seen this numerous times, in the form of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Castro, Zedong, Hussein, and many other dictators.

“The Walking Dead” is a wonderful series, and it has a great underlying political message. Although many people who watch the show may be unfamiliar with its subliminal political warnings in the later seasons, let’s use this opportunity to educate fans and non-fans alike on this very important message. The state of a great nation depends on a small government that represents its people; not the other way around.

Garrett Smith
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