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Spoiler alert for anyone who isn't caught up with The Walking Dead's most recent Season 8 episodes.
Given the reasons behind civilization's collapse on The Walking Dead, this is a world that will likely never be without deadly threats and dangerous villains, and Rick Grimes has come up against a ton of different ones over the years. The current antagonists, obviously, are Negan and his band of Saviors, but while Jeffrey Dean Morgan's leather-clad big bad definitely draws a lot of attention during his foul-mouthed espousing, the Saviors themselves have actually become The Walking Dead's most fascinating and thought-provoking villains, and they're one of the rare live-action elements that completely outshines the comic book iterations.
Unlike any other villainous group on The Walking Dead, Negan's Saviors have solidified a few very distinct lines in the sand as far as brand loyalty goes within the group, and "The Big Scary U" heightened and reinforced how easily things could fall apart whenever Negan isn't there to govern. The chain of command is such that in Negan's unexpected absence, even his ruthlessly intimidating second banana Simon can't automatically guarantee that everyone else will follow directions while remaining indoctrinated. Granted, The Sanctuary temporarily lost power and became a far more distressing place to work and keep up appearances for the lower ranks, but viewers saw how quickly everyone reached their breaking points whenever Negan and Lucille weren't around to keep the peace, as it were.
And that's because, as opposed to the Saviors in the comic books, The Walking Dead TV show has actual human beings who have complex motivations and problems to deal with. It's easy to withhold empathy for illustrations that never seem capable of rebelling, but it's entirely different when we're watching decision-making survivors who are all too aware that they're trapped. Many of them seemingly would want to revert back to a time before Negan was there to demand goods and reverence, even if that reverence might be largely justified, considering how advanced life at The Sanctuary is compared to other communities.
Even within the Saviors' upper management, things aren't wholly one-sided. Simon and Regina are both seemingly the purists in the bunch, but we've also seen brief signs of contention between Negan and Simon, hinting at their problematic past. Dwight's resistance has been evident since his very introduction, and it's only become more pronounced since. Gavin, while not an empathetic softie, has often shown signs of pragmatic humanity, especially when it comes to unnecessary punishments and violence. Eugene is obviously split on his own legitimate allegiance, since "playing video games under a tyrant's rule" kind of outweighs "not playing video games under a non-tyrant's rule" for him. And then there are all the other Saviors that have notably shown hesitance to the Negan-dom since they first became targets for Team Family, from the clumsy Todd to all the workers who logically questioned their downgraded working conditions when the power went out.
From bottom to top, the fluctuations in Savior obedience are a distinct and interesting step up from The Walking Dead's past villainous groups. The Governor's Woodbury squad was the only batch of villains who even came close to the size of Negan's Savior army, and they ran the short line between evil and plain useless, since the innocent folks in that group did mostly zilch to excise themselves from the anti-Rick herd. (Tara being a clear exception.) And beyond them, there hasn't been much humanity to be found in any pre-Savior groups. Terminus was populated by a bunch of cannibalistic monsters. The Claimers were made up of (perhaps mostly) child-raping monsters. The woefully under-explored Wolves had no well-rounded members who savored society over self-sacrifice. Even the presumably "normal" Grady Memorial Hospital group, while not wholly vile, still didn't aim for civility, with only Noah branching out after Beth's murder.
All of those points lead to what is arguably the most important reason that the Saviors are so fascinating and fun to contemplate: there's only the slightest shade of difference between them and Rick's group, making it easy to conceive any one of our beloved protagonists jumping ship for the structure that Negan's leadership provides, however questionable that structure may be. Eugene has obviously adapted to the side-switch situation without much outward grief, even if he's guide more by fear than conviction. But the best example of this came when the Season 1 survivor Morales made his long-awaited comeback this season, considering Morales and Rick were clearly on the same side of the moral coin before the former's family struck out on their own. And during their brief conversation, it was clear that Morales still had something inside him that yearned to revert back to life before Negan, but Daryl put that yearning down for good.
Many times over the years, Team Family faced serious hardships that could have easily convinced of them to embrace anything resembling societal stability, even if it meant sacrificing civility and independence. Rick's group has also been capable of committing some insanely heinous and monstrous acts over the years, particularly when it comes to taking out Saviors, which has caused us to wonder fairly regularly whether they actually are still the "good guys" in this universe. A rose is a rose is a rose, at least until it starts murdering people without first offering a path to redemption. Let's never forget that Negan and the Saviors only kill people once a convincing enough reason arises, since the leader fully understands the value that people provide. And Walking Dead viewers should definitely understand and appreciate the villainous value that the Saviors provide.
While the All Out War will definitely come to some sort of a conclusion in Season 8, we're almost hoping that the Saviors continue to be a force to be reckoned with in The Walking Dead's future. Find out where things are going every Sunday night on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET. Lots of other TV villains are on the way, and you can head to our fall TV premiere schedule and our 2018 midseason premiere schedule to see what's coming in the near-to-distant future.
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