The series has always been preoccupied with the question of what, exactly, makes a good leader. It is specifically interested in why some survivors crater to obedience and fear, and fall enthralled under a strongman’s sway: The joie de vivre that Negan brings to hurting people does feel distinctly Trumpian (especially if one considers a Twitter rant as legitimate villain monologuing) — as does his repeated promise to give more than just a homestead, but a way of life, a merciful freedom from thought, to his followers. Negan’s inverse is in The Governor (David Morrissey), ruler of the Woodbury township, who models a subtler, snake-tongued appeal of might-makes-right in a world where everything has gone hideously wrong.
The Governor attires his violence (which includes forcing prisoners into gladiatorial matches, or threatening them with sexual assault) in the fine vestments of civilization: His little town seems untouched by the festering menace outside of its walls; it hums along on a sweet nostalgia for a Mayberry kind of hominess, complete with little shops and pretty gardens, and even electricity — so his citizens can easily, even gratefully, ignore the more barbarous ways he preserves their precious order. For Romero, the gnashing hordes of the undead reflect the bias and greed that animate (or should I say, reanimate) contemporary conservatism — but on The Walking Dead, the titular masses represent the fear of the terrible Other (the refugee terrorist, the liberal “snowflake,” and the Black Lives Matter activists who “hate the flag and troops and freedom”) who threaten a supposedly quintessential American way of life.