Warning: spoilers ahead for the Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead Season 7 got off to a bloody start when new bad guy Negan whacked two of the good guys off the the great zombie apocalypse sanctuary in the sky. According to Negan, Abraham had to die to teach the Alexandrians a lesson. Then, Glenn had to die to make sure the lesson sunk in. The big question is why Negan didn't just kill Rick when the brutal murder of their leader might have done the trick. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has some thoughts about Negan's decision to spare Rick, saying this:
Maybe the smart thing would have been to kill Rick. Cut the head off the snake. But I think Negan is thinking a couple of steps ahead here, and he's like, 'Well wait, if I can break this guy and have him working for me, I stand to gain a hell of a lot more.'
Rick went through a lot over the years of the zombie apocalypse without entirely breaking. He came close when Lori died, and then again when the Claimers had their hands on Carl, but he still had more fury than hopelessness. Negan made sure that Rick wasn't going to be going on any machete rampages or biting out anybody's neck any time soon, and he did it without physically harming Rick. Breaking Rick in front of these people who had seen him survive so much may have been the best way he could have taught them a lesson.
Besides, if Negan had used Rick's head for tee ball practice, he might have just given everybody else the motivation to fight back against Negan's rule. If Michonne and Carl and Daryl had seen Rick defiantly stare down Negan before being killed, there's no way they would have given up. Seeing Rick quivering and crying on the ground as he agreed to Negan's demands had to be more effective than anything else Negan could have done.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan went on in his behind-the-scenes chat with AMC to explain what he believed broke any real thoughts of resistance from the main players. He had this to say about what really secured Negan's victory in the Season 7 premiere:
As horrible as the deaths of two survivors, that moment of possibility of cutting off Carl's arm I think is the emotional low point of the show. I think it all led to that.
Rick didn't lose his sense of defiance after the death of Abraham or the death of Glenn. The close call of nearly cutting off his own son's arm was what finally pushed him over the edge. He didn't say anything when Daryl was dragged away, and he didn't have any encouraging words even when the Saviors left. Negan accomplished what no Walking Dead villain ever managed before and thoroughly broke Rick.
Abraham, Glenn, and Daryl were all major figures in the community who might have been able to fill in for Rick; their losses on top of the breaking of Rick might be too much. Hopefully Michonne will be able to pick up some of the slack and stay strong for the survivors who make it back to Alexandria. Tune in to AMC on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET to see what's next for Negan, Rick, and the others on The Walking Dead.