What would you do if Negan captured you and asked you to join his team?
Let that question sink in for a moment. Knowing what you know about this man, would you defy him directly like Daryl? Would you give in and serve him like Dwight? Would you pretend to serve him and wait for an opportunity to rebel or escape? (We know that this is what Carol would do.) Would you try to convince Eugene to make poison pills to slip into Negan’s soup?
Or would you do what Eugene is doing. (What is Eugene doing?)
Rebel, lie, or conform to save your life? This is the question millions of The Walking Dead fans have been asking themselves all season. What would you do if you were in this situation?
On this week’s episode of TWD, we finally get to see what Eugene would do if he were in this situation. We know that he was taken after Rosita’s failed assassination attempt with a homemade bullet. Negan knows that Eugene made the bullet, but he doesn’t know whether he can be brainwashed into joining his side. In actuality, we don’t really know the answer to that either. For the most part, Eugene has been a weepy comic-relief figure in the story. Not this week.
We know that he is not the bravest person, but unlike Daryl, we have no idea how he is going to act while in captivity. Will he help Negan make bullets? Or worse, will he give important information about Rick and his team that will help Negan exert more control and devastation on their community?
One stark contrast that we see in this week’s episode is the way that they treat captured Eugene as compared to the way that they treated captured Daryl. When Eugene is shown into his room, I was just as surprised as Eugene that his cell had a refrigerator full of beer, lots of snacks, a nice bed and even some extra reading material. Instantly, we see that Negan is very good at sizing up his opponents. What better way to brainwash Eugene than giving him a jar of pickles, a television and an Atari 2600? This is probably exactly how Eugene spent his days before the apocalypse.
When Eugene is given the “privilege” of entertaining three of Negan’s wives for the night, he is asked to make some poison for their friend Amber. They say that she wants to kill herself, but it doesn’t take Eugene all that long to figure out that they are trying to poison Negan. When he refuses to help, one of the wives named Tanya quickly derides him.
Tanya: “You’re a coward. You’re … a coward!”
Eugene: “That is a correct assessment.”
A few moments later, Negan asks him the all important question for all of Negan’s followers – “Who are you?” The answer that Negan is looking for is simply, “I am Negan.” But Eugene adds a little more to his answer.
Eugene: “I’m Negan, I’m utterly, completely, stone-cold Negan. I was Negan before I even met you; I just needed to meet you properly to know.”
It sure looks like Eugene is “all in” in this scene. And based on our experience with him in the past, it is very possible. But this is The Walking Dead, and anything can happen. Eugene could very well be on team Negan, or he could just be waiting for an opportunity to pick the right battle. This just wasn’t the right one to pick. Surely, going along with the wives poison plot would have been suicidal. But, like most episodes, we will just have to wait and see which way he goes.
Personally, I like to believe that Eugene is going to come through for the good guys. He is already starting to see a major weakness in Negan’s organization. Negan’s entire system is based on distributing all of the loot that they collect from outside groups. Some people get a lot while others get scraps. But if the loot stops coming in, I imagine that the whole structure will crumble.
Tonight’s episode really was one of those challenging us to question what we would do in the same situation. I know most of us would love to believe we would be like Daryl and defy Negan until we finally escaped on an awesome motorcycle. But tonight we found out that this wouldn’t have happened without Sherry, Dwights (ex) wife. Most of us wouldn’t be so lucky. Many of us would probably hope to play along until opportunity came along to sabotage the whole thing. But it is pretty clear that this is what many of the people in the organization are doing, and it doesn’t seem to be working. Dwight already tried to escape with disastrous results. His story is one of the most tragic on the entire show.
Fortunately, most of us will never have to make choices like this. It just isn’t that often that we find ourselves in these types of horrifying situations where our bravery is tested to the max. I know that I certainly have never had to make the kind of decisions that people have to make regularly on the show. Actually, I think this is why so many people like the show. Every week we get an opportunity to see others have to make the types of decisions that we hope we will never have to make. Watching the show is a safe way to examine certain things about ourselves. This week, the big question is – “Would we be brave or cowardly?”
When you think about it, the question of cowardice doesn’t only come up in life and death situations. For most of us, there are plenty of situations in our life where we have to be brave, and many of us just fail. Maybe it is a situation where we are confronted with people who bully others. Or maybe it is a situation where everyone around us is making a bad choice and we are feeling pressured to go along. For most of us, these are very real struggles and it is really hard to understand exactly how hard it is, unless you are in the exact situation.
But one of the things that all of us can take solace in is the fact that wrestling between bravery and cowardice is not a new problem. People have been dealing with this from the very beginning of time. And if we really search the scriptures, we see all kinds of examples of bravery and cowardice in both the Old and New Testaments. Contrast the Israelites’ fear of the Canaanites to David’s brave confrontation of Goliath. Or contrast Elijah’s bold confrontation of the prophets of Baal on mount Carmel with Abraham pretending his wife was his sister because of his fear of Pharaoh. No matter how you look at it, there are all kinds of examples of cowardice and bravery in the Bible.
But one of my favorite characters who really seems to struggle with this is one of Jesus’ most beloved disciples – Peter. Peter is a guy who has two stories of utter cowardice recorded in the scriptures. The first and most famous example comes in the gospels when he denies that he even knows Jesus after Jesus had been arrested. And to make matters worse, Jesus even told him to his face that he would do this before it happened. The second story is recounted in Galatians chapter 2. Here, Paul tells a story about how Peter refuses to eat with gentiles because of his fear of a group of Christians who want to convert all gentiles to Judaism before they can become Christians. Paul has to publically rebuke Peter for his act of cowardice.
You would think that a guy who has two very famous stories about his own cowardice would spend the rest of his life with his tail between his legs. But that is not what happens. Peter becomes one of the key leaders in joining Jews and gentiles in the book of Acts, and eventually wrote two books in the New Testament. He also would ultimately be remembered as one of the most important leaders of the early church. One of my favorite passages from his writing comes in the fourth chapter of his first letter.
12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. 13 Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it is revealed to all the world. (1 Peter 4:12-14, NLT)
14 If you are insulted because you bear the name of Christ, you will be blessed, for the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you.
When I read verses like this, coming from a guy who failed so publically, I am extremely encouraged. Peter is telling us that suffering for Christ will always have a happy ending. He says that we will be blessed in the process. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be hard. It just means that we aren’t alone in the process. He says that we actually are made partners in Christ in His suffering, and when all of His glory is revealed to the world, we will experience wonderful joy. That is very good news!
We know that Peter suffered all kinds of persecution in his life, but eventually he would be remembered as a brave and bold follower of Jesus. When I think about that, it makes it much easier for me to move past some of my more cowardly moments in the past. It also encourages me when it comes to the possibility that I may have to be brave in the future. With the power of the Holy Spirit, it just isn’t as hard to talk to that neighbor about Jesus. Or when I am faced with severe peer pressure (yes, adults can face peer pressure), I can be comforted that I am not alone in this struggle. Just like Peter, I can move forward and take pride in doing the right thing because of the wonderful joy that followers of Jesus experience now and in the future.
SEASON 7, EPISODE 11 DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
1) Dr. Carson says in this episode that when you live in Negan’s compound, “You don’t get to have big hearts.” What do you think he meant by that?
2) Do you think it would be possible to live in that situation and still be caring and compassionate? Why or why not?
3) Negan states that the way he is going to test Eugene is to “good cop this thing.” What do you think that he meant by that?
4) From Negan’s perspective, do you think that this benevolent approach is the right approach for Eugene? Why or why not?
5) Dwight’s wife Sherry agreed to be Negan’s wife in exchange for her husband’s life. Do you think that either Dwight or Sherry think that was the right decision? Why or why not?
6) What do you think that Eugene was up to when he declared his loyalty to Negan?
7) Have you ever been in a situation where you were pressured to be loyal to someone who was exploiting you? What did you do?
8) Does knowing that God is with you always help you to be braver in situations where you know you need to be brave? Honestly answer why or why not.
9) Have you made decisions in the past that make you feel like you are a coward? If so, does that affect how you make decisions now? Why or why not?
10) How does the story of Peter make you feel about some of the bad decisions you made in the past?
11) How do you think that you can make good decisions in the future, even if you have made poor ones in the past?
Thom McKee Jr. is a husband, father, pastor… and film geek (and brother of Jonathan McKee). Thom lives in Northern California with his wife and two kids.