Characters on TV often mirror political and cultural issues, and the undertones are easy to spot. That couldn’t be more evident than with the latest villain on The Walking Dead, the charismatic psychopath Negan, played spectacularly by Jeffery Dean Morgan.
The past couple of seasons, it’s become increasingly difficult to avoid seeing Negan as Uncle Sam and the federal government. Here are five ways that prove it.
Spoiler Alert: Stop reading now if you don’t want the veil lifted.
Honestly, does anyone feel patriotic or thrilled when April 15th rolls around? Of course not — nobody does. The more money you make the more Uncle Sam takes, and there isn’t any way around it (unless you run a major corporation or have tax shelters set up by a bang-up accountant).
It’s no surprise once the calm settles in a dystopian zombie apocalypse world, some dude would seize power of what’s left and try to take as much as he can. Negan broke it down for the show’s protagonist Rick Grimes in his brilliantly written monologue in last season’s finale:
Give me your sh**… or I will kill you. Today was career day. We invested in a lot, so you would know who I am and what I can do. You work for me now. You have sh**, 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. 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 sh**.
No matter how much you hate it, you can’t fight city hall, and you sure can’t take on Negan by yourself — that’s just the way it is.
2| Theft Is Not Tolerated
In America today, stealing large amounts of money often earns longer prison sentences than violent crimes. While perhaps not as harsh as punishments delivered by the barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat-wielding bad guy, the feds don’t care who you are — if you owe them money, they will come for you. Just ask Wesley Snipes or Martha Stewart.
Uncle Sam will drop the hammer on you if you take what he thinks is his. Similarly, Negan will drop Lucille on your head if you cross him in any way. In his words:
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?
3| I Want You!
The iconic stars-and-stripes-clad Uncle Sam recruitment poster has been used over the decades as a patriotic call to duty. A volunteer army has long been a tradition in America and helped us to avoid another draft, something nobody wants to see. When stuff really hits the fan, it’ll be something to watch for because that patriotic call can become a frightening threat.
Once Negan had fan favorite Daryl in his custody, he laid out his options for service in no uncertain terms:
I don’t think you get it yet. So I’m gonna break it down for you. You get three choices. One. You wind up on the spike, and you work for me as a dead man. Two. You get out of your cell, you work for points, but you’re gonna wish you were dead. Or three. You work for me. You get yourself a brand new pair of shoes, and you live like a king! The choices seem pretty obvious. You should know, there is no door number four. This is it. This is the only way.
For as much as Uncle Sam wants us to feel like we have a choice in the matter, he will come calling if things go sideways. Negan likewise wants to make his group, “The Saviors,” feel like they are living it up. But the truth is, he owns them.
4| It’s All Good If You Follow the Rules
Things are pretty simple in America, keep your head down, pay your taxes, produce for society and the feds will leave you alone. At least that’s what they want you to think. The truth is, the average person could be committing at least three felonies a day and not even know it. All it takes is the wrong person noticing to completely upend your life.
The rules are pretty similar for Negan. You produce, you keep your head down, say please and thank you and, for the most part, things will be pretty smooth. Not enjoyable, but not deadly. The only problem is it won’t take much to slip up and if the wrong person catches you, you might end up with a hot iron to the face or on the business end of Lucille. According to Negan:
There are rules for a reason. Nothing matters if your dead.
5| Ingenuity and Talent Is Rewarded
Despite all the ways the government has invented to entangle itself in our daily lives, the American Dream lives on. If you work hard, you can get ahead and make a difference — without fear of Lucille hanging over you.
While Negan owns you and there is no escaping that fact, he too rewards hard work. In one episode, Spencer tries to make an end run around Rick and take power of Alexandria, the settlement where Rick’s people live. Despite their differences, Negan respects Rick’s work ethic and recognizes Spencer’s laziness. He responds accordingly:
You know, I’m thinking, Spencer. I’m thinking how Rick threatened to kill me, how he clearly hates my guts. But he is out there right now, gathering sh** for me to make sure I don’t hurt any of the fine people that live here. He is swallowing his hate and getting sh** done. That takes guts. And then there’s you. The guy who waited for Rick to be gone so he could sneak over and talk to me to get me to do his dirty work, so he could take Rick’s place. So I got to ask, if you wanna take over, why not just kill Rick yourself and just take over?
This encounter leads to Spencer’s disembowelment and an example made for the rest of the citizens of Alexandria. In recent episodes, Negan has taken a shine to Eugene, an odd duck often on the outside looking in with Rick’s group.
Negan finds out about Eugene’s talent for making bullets and rewards him with a new life where he can play all the video games he wants, eat good food and enjoy the company of beautiful women. What Negan has in mind for Eugene’s talents hasn’t fully been revealed, but you can be sure it will have deadly results.
So maybe Uncle Sam and Negan aren’t quite the same… or are they?
AMC / The Walking Dead