Rick's half hour of one-on-one bonding time with Lucille on Sunday night's #TheWalkingDead was painful to watch, to say the least. Toward the end of Negan's unexpected visit to Alexandria, there's a tense moment where Rick sees his opportunity to crack down on Negan's smug skull — but decides against it. What the hell was that about?
Apart from the threat of heavily armed Saviors, Negan has good reason to be confident that his victims aren't going to disobey him. After the show aired, executive producer David Alpert shared some relevant information on Negan's methodology:
"I think Negan is challenging Cesar Millan a little bit. It's a little bit about asserting dominance, right? He wants that look in [Rick's] eyes of a subservient dog. He kept talking about it."
According to Alpert, Negan has "been doing this from the moment we met him," forcing Rick to constantly reaffirm that Negan is quite literally top dog.
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Celebrity dog trainer Cesar Milan rose to fame with his Dog Whisperer TV show, and judging by the way Negan treats everyone around him like dogs, he was a big fan himself before the walker virus hit. In fact, Negan's displays of alpha dominance are almost identical to Milan's five Pack Leadership Techniques — and the results speak for themselves!
Pack Leadership Technique No. 1: Project Calm, Assertive Energy
Ever wonder what's up with Negan's chipper attitude? For a guy who wants everyone to know how downright sadistic and dangerous he is, he sure does spend a lot of time flashing those pearly whites and cracking jokes. But this isn't some confusing head game — it's an attempt to get his pack to follow him. According to Milan's first Pack Leadership Technique:
[Dogs] instinctually seek and follow pack leaders who exhibit calm and assertive energy. When dogs live with a human who does not fill this role, they will attempt to correct the pack balance by filling what they see as a vacant pack leader role. This is how behavior problems develop.
Negan knows that by acting composed and confident in even the grimmest of situations, he doesn't have to worry about any underdogs challenging his right to lead. If there's one thing he definitely doesn't want, it's behavior problems.
Pack Leadership Technique No. 2: Provide Exercise, Discipline, Affection
Everyone in the Saviors pulls their weight, and for good reason. In Season 7, Episode 3, the compound where the Saviors live is a gloomy but functional little society, with hints at how back-breaking the work can be for its residents. Day-to-day life is exhausting, and no one dares challenge Negan due to a strict sense of discipline instilled in each and every one of them.
And if you do a good job? Negan might just reward you with a rare gesture of "affection" — a pat on the shoulder, a touching of foreheads, or even an invitation to "happy hour at the pussy bar."
Pack Leadership Technique No. 3: Establish Rules, Boundaries And Limitations
Rick Grimes may seem like a man who doesn't like being told what to do, but that's just because he's used to being the one in charge. Unfortunately, he's not the leader anymore. And according to Milan's teachings, he's dying to be pushed around:
Because of their nature as social pack animals, dogs want us to tell them what they're supposed to do. Their goal is to help the pack survive, and they do it by following the pack leader.
By establishing the rule that he must safeguard Lucille without being allowed to use her, Negan is helping Rick to not only find his place in the pack, but help everyone else survive. No wonder Carl's been acting out ever since Rick gifted him that ridiculous hat.
Pack Leadership Technique No. 4: Master The Walk
Negan sure has one unmistakeable swagger. Even without the deadly object slung over his shoulder, the guy virtually oozes confidence from his ears. Not that Negan isn't aware of this — it's all part of the technique:
The most important tool for the walk is your calm, assertive energy. It's a transformative attitude that actually encourages your dog to follow you.
And follow him Rick did — all around Alexandria in fact, like a loyal little puppy.
Pack Leadership Technique No. 5: Read Your Dog's Body Language
All the "calm, assertive energy" in the world isn't going to save you unless you know how to interpret what your pack is giving back to you. For Negan's message to be well-received, he needs to see it — not just hear it. He's proven on multiple occasions that he won't tolerate insubordination. Even the slightest defiant glance is detected and cracked down upon before it can get out of hand.
The thing is, Negan knows he's making everyone pissed off and uncomfortable. But he continues to ensure that his entire pack is exhibiting obedient and subservient body language to really drive the message home. And before long, they'll forget it was ever an act.
Observe Negan's alpha dog techniques in action during his takeover of Rick's pack: