The Walking Dead & Social Structures

I’ve always known I liked The Walking Dead primarily because Daryl is so very avuncular/Old European. He is chaste, totally respectful of women, loves babies and children, loves his brother and his tribe, and is merciful and compassionate, emotionally sensitive, profoundly altruistic, and doesn’t participate in hierarchical social systems – within Rick’s group he is an independent deuteragonist, and when confronted with Negan he totally checks out and refuses to play along.

But I’ve recently realized Rick and Negan are also archetypal representations of men from other social structures, and that has its own interest for me as well.

Rick is a standard, more domesticated Indo-European character. He is an authority figure, both before the apocalypse and after. He loves his wife and son, but spends most of his time working on other issues – his main relationship with them is about protecting them or angsting about failing to protect them, not communicating with or nurturing them. He is a leader, but sometimes feels conflicted about that role. Sometimes he has to make hard decisions and power plays to protect his group or get people to obey him, and sometimes his protective instincts turn very violent or apathetic, perhaps excessively so. With Negan, he engages in a hierarchical competition: he wants to dominate Negan, but when he has been dominated he assumes a submissive role, however much it upsets him.

And Negan is a total, unfettered Indo-European in his natural habitat. He enjoys violence, sex, and power over others, and spends his time doing that most archetypal of Indo-European activities – beating up on other people and taking their stuff, including their women. He lives in a world of might makes right and honor among thieves, his pleasures in life are basically a run-down of the seven sins, and he likes it.

We also see some archetypal representations of Indo-European women. Lori is the domesticated Indo-European woman – she is monogamous, dependent on some man or another (when she thought it couldn’t be Rick anymore, she immediately attached herself to another protective man), has a few opinions but is defined primarily by her relationships to the men in her life, and her story is very much secondary to her husband’s story.

We also see women in a full-force Indo-European world, with Negan’s harem – they are sex objects with no personality or will of their own, either forced to put themselves in such a position to save themselves or a loved one, or lured there by the material trappings a dominant man can offer in a dangerous world.

But there is no Old European woman in this world, a Hypatia alongside Daryl, and that is what I’ve been longing for since we’ve encountered Negan. I would have loved to have seen a virtuous, witchy, perceptive Old European woman go up against Negan, and get him where he’s sensitive by being smarter and better at seeing systems than he is, starting with bargaining him out of the decimation ritual. Negan has made so many structural mistakes, and is so transparently hungry for power and wealth, there would be a lot of bargaining chips a forward-thinking person could put on the table, and use to work him into an alliance of mutual dependency instead of a power-over system. Then take him out Little Black Sambo-style, perhaps. Fortunately, all Negan has developed is a cult of personality and not an actual institution, so taking out the man would take out the entire mini-government. But instead we get Rick’s standard Indo-European response of, “I’m going to fight you until I win.” And so it goes.

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