In this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, Negan managed to pull off what I didn’t think was possible: He took the moral high ground away from Rick Grimes. He delivered a speech that was far more effective than the fear-stoking one he gave at the end of season six. It was a speech without swagger, and without insults, and without threats. Negan cut Rick Grimes to the core by showing that he could be the man that Carl wanted him to be, while the message that Carl imparted to his father when he died still hasn’t sunk in for Rick.
It was a hell of a speech, and one that I imagine decimated Rick’s pride. There is a lot of grandstanding on The Walking Dead. There are a lot of big emotional speeches, and there have been more than a few rousing ones. But this one? It got right to the heart of the matter: Carl is dead because of Rick’s pride.
“Carl is dead,” Rick tells Negan over a walkie-talkie. He asked us to stop. He asked us for peace, Rick tells him, and Negan — who is legitimately broken up over the death of Carl — seems amenable to a peace. But Rick rejects the offer before Negan can even accept. “It’s too late for that. Even if you wanted to deal now, it doesn’t matter. I’m gonna kill you,” Rick tells him.
Negan seems less interested in the All Out War and more concerned that he might have inadvertently caused Carl’s death. But after Rick explains how Carl died, Negan delivers the first of many blows. “I am sorry,” Negan says, expressing legitimate remorse. “I had plans for that kid. He was the future.” It’s not what Rick wants to hear. “The only future is one where you are dead,” he growls back at Negan.
“What the hell are you doing, Rick?” Negan asks with weariness. “Why are you fighting. Why are you making this so hard. Carl is dead,” Negan says, and then drops a truth bomb on Rick. “Because of you. Because you couldn’t leave sh*t well enough alone … he is dead because of you. Becuase you weren’t there to stop him from doing something stupid. You set this course, Rick. Who’s next?”
“You are,” Rick says unconvincingly.
“No, but someone is. I am the answer. Now, it may have taken a hard lesson for you to hear it, but you should hear it now. It’s time. Do not let any more of your sh*t decisions cost you to lose anyone else you love. That garbage, that sticks with you forever. Just like Carl will. Hell, I’m feeling it, and I’m going to be feeling it for awhile. You could have just let me save all of you. That’s why I killed your friends in the first place. So, you can sit there and tell me that you’re going to kill me, but you won’t.
You failed. You failed as a leader, and most of all, you failed as a father. Just give up. Give up, because you have already lost.”
Scott Gimple said that he killed Carl off essentially so that he could provide Rick a reason not to kill Negan, and he used much of the midseason premiere to belabor that point. But in 45 seconds, Negan did more to drive home that message than Carl managed to do on his deathbed. Negan is not wrong, either: Rick has to stop making this about himself. He needs to make it about Carl, and about Michonne, and about Alexandria. What’s best for Alexandria is not to continue the war, but to find a peace that both sides can live with.
Unfortunately, it may take a lot more deaths before Rick finally gets it. Meanwhile, if I’m Rick, I am feeling awfully small right now, having had the moral high ground taken away from me by Negan, of all people.