This Sunday’s sixth season finale of The Walking Dead will bring the long-awaited appearance of arguably the comic series’ best villain: Negan.
To help prepare for his arrival, we’re going to take a look at who Negan is and provide some semi-intelligent speculation about how the character will be translated from page to screen. There will be spoilers for all available issues of The Walking Dead and all episodes of the show preceding this Sunday’s installment, so steer clear if you’re a trade waiter or Netflix binger.
With that said, let’s dive in. (Again: SPOILER WARNING!)
In both the comics and the television show, Negan is the leader of a group called The Saviors. He is physically imposing, incredibly foul-mouthed, (the guy drops more F-bombs than a fifth grader who just learned how to cuss), and eerily calm. Happy, even. That’s not to say he doesn’t have occasional outbursts of anger, but his general disposition could be broadly described as jovial.
According to series creator Robert Kirkman in the issue #143 letters column, Negan was a used car salesman pre-apocalypse. Whether this was truly accurate or a tongue-and-cheek statement isn’t clear, but it represents the only major clue we have about his life before the dead began to rise.
If the car salesman thing is true, however, then Negan must have been a damn good one. His Saviors are unwaveringly loyal, which the show went to great pains demonstrating via their ‘We Are Negan’ motto/pledge. Anyone who dares disagrees with or rebels against him is likely (but not guaranteed) to be dealt a swift and severe punishment.
He and his Saviors demand that all surrounding communities (including Alexandria and The Hilltop) give them half of all food and supplies that they produce. Not doing so results in physical punishment and/or death. In exchange for their cooperation, the entrapped communities are protected from walkers. Unlike the mafia, however, The Saviors actually make good on the ‘protection’ part of their racket.
Despite having access to multiple weapons, Negan’s favorite method of inflicting harm on humans and walkers alike is Lucille, a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire.
So is this just an amped up version of The Governor?
Not at all.
Oh sure, they definitely share some traits. Both men see themselves as unequivocally better than those around them. They also consider their brutal methods of leadership to be completely necessary for ensuring the continued survival their people—and quite possibly the human race as a whole.
After that, however, the two differ greatly.
For starters, The Governor’s mental state was always a hair shy of completely unhinged. The collection of heads in his living and the chained up zombie daughter were the obvious signs. But even more telling was that the man saw himself as a being almost like a god. His decisions were infallible. His desires were above question or complaint. His people mattered to him, but they were nothing compared to the importance he placed on his own survival, rule, and pleasure.
I mean, c’mon. The guy actually nicknamed himself The Governor.
Negan, on the other hand would laugh at this lack of self-awareness. Unlike his one-eyed counterpart, Negan is fully aware that he is a flawed person who can be (and often is) a complete asshole. He’s still a narcissist, but also a somewhat pragmatic one.
Where The Governor would flip out and kill someone who dared to question him, Negan would chuckle, tell them they had “fucking balls of steel,” and listen to their argument. There’s a good chance he’d beat the hell out of them afterwards, but not kill them. Can’t rebuild the world if you go around executing everyone you disagree with, right?
The Governor’s kingdom was built solely to serve him. Negan, however sees he and his Saviors as a necessarily evil for the good of humanity. People need law and order — someone to lord over them and play the boogey man if they get out of line. It’s not his fault if he just happens to be the man who’s smart, strong, and sadistic enough to do the job—or if he also enjoys the hell out of it.
So you’re saying this guy is basically 100% pure evil?
More like 98%. Maybe 90% on a good day. It depends on the issue. For example:
In the comics, The Governor captures Michonne and keeps her as a sexual slave. (This wasn’t done in the television series for obvious reasons). Negan, on the other hand, has no tolerance for rape. He even kills ones one his own men for attempting to rape a captured Alexandrian, explaining afterwards that they have no hope of rebuilding civilization if they allow such disgusting behavior to exist or go unpunished.
Unfortunately, this completely flies in the face of his rule that all the male Saviors’ wives/girlfriends belong to him. Any man who disagrees — or has a woman disagree on his behalf — is ‘marked.’
Remember that nasty scar Dwight showed up with a few episodes ago?
He’s got the same thing the comics. It was the result of his wife, Sherry, ‘cheating’ on Negan by sneaking out to sleep with Dwight. Upon learning of this act of defiance, Negan burned the side of Dwight’s face with a hot iron, marking him as disobedient.
With the punishment taken care of, Negan forgave Dwight (sort of), eventually promoting him to one of his main lieutenants.
So… we’re all good here?
If the show follows this thread, then our first meeting with a pre-scarred Dwight back in Episode 6.6 was he and his wife, Honey (standing in for Sherry) trying to escape together from Negan. I think it’s safe to assume Honey is back in the harem and Dwight is back in Negan’s palm.
Another example of this bizarre/contradictory streak of humanity can be found in how Negan treats Carl. Initially, he threatens to kill and rape (!) the boy to scare Rick into obedience. Later, Carl sneaks aboard one of The Saviors’ convoys, makes it inside the gates, and proceeds to mow down a bunch of them with a machine gun. When Dwight tries to kill Carl, Negan stops and scolds him for trying to kill a defenseless child (who, once again, just mowed down a bunch of his people with a freaking machine gun) and takes Carl in as his guest.
Later, he invites Rick to parlay and shows that Carl is completely unharmed. He goes on to state that he doesn’t enjoy killing (psssshhh) and can be reasonable/willing to negotiate (eh…). Carl remains as his hostage, but Negan continues to treat him well — even growing quite fond of him. It would almost be sweet if you can force yourself to forget threats he made to Rick about killing and raping his son.
Speaking of Rick, Negan really likes the guy. He sees them as kindred spirits — people born and molded to lead others through this hard new world. He still gets pissed at Rick and threatens him quite a bit, but most of the time he appears to want nothing more than for the two of them to pop open a couple beers and debate their differing life philosophies. Rick, as you might imagine, does not share any of this respect or affinity, a fact that seems to bother Negan more than any losses or setbacks caused by their constant battles with each other.
This duality pops up often as Negan’s story continues. The TV show attempted to do something similar with The Governor (via a lame episode that tried to humanize him), but Negan’s good intentions are not the result of moral pangs of regret. He simply does what he feels is right/fair and sticks by it. Plenty of folks (and the majority of the viewing audience) may completely disagree with his baseline for moral decency, but that’s their problem, not his.
How will Negan on the show differ from his character in the comics?
One of the hardest aspects of portraying Negan on basic cable will be the cussing. It may not seem necessary, but I’ve always found it to be one of his most unsettling characteristics. Normally, an adult who swears as that much in his or her daily conversation (with the F-bomb as their linguistic anchor) is going to seem at least slightly agitated. Negan, on the other hand, is the Shakespeare of foul language. He weaves it through his vernacular with an effortless, almost calming rhythm. It’s actually even more jarring when he’s not cussing (which we see much later in the series).
Fortunately, television provides the space for some extra story and dialogue beats that should help make up for the language difference. Thanks to The Spoiling Dead Fans group, I got to hear some bootleg audio of Jeffrey Dean Morgan giving Negan’s big welcoming speech. I’m happy to report that he absolutely nails the character’s tone and personality.
That’s just my opinion, of course. But I’m right, so just go with it.
OH OH OH! DO YOU KNOW WHO HE KILLED?!
That’s what you really want to know isn’t it? Well, I’m sad(ish) to report that the audio did not make it clear who dies. But someone definitely bites it after a face to bat meeting with Lucille.
I will say, however, that I don’t think it’s going to be Glenn like it was in the comics. Aside from the fact that Glenn has cheated death more times than a half full bottle of beer at the back of your refrigerator (including one particularly egregious instance), Robert Kirkman has all but come out and said it won’t be him. He also described Glenn’s brutal and tragic death scene during a Walking Dead fake spoiler segment during his appearance on the comedy show, @Midnight.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think he would have done that if Glenn really was going to die on the show. I also believe the show’s writers have been setting up a few other characters in such a way that they have become tailor-made sacrificial lambs for the soul crushing moment that Negan’s first appearance should and will be.
Feel free to disagree with my picks—or mock them if they’re all wrong the comments.
Most likely to die: Carol
I’m not a big fan of the comic version of Carol, but her show counterpart is all types of awesome. That sentiment seems to be shared by a large percentage of The Walking Dead viewers. This alone puts her in some degree of danger. The fact that she died much earlier in the comics (issue #42 via allowing a zombie to kill her) makes her death even more plausible.
But as most of you are already well aware, the show doesn’t always follow the comics, especially with regards to character deaths. So why kill off someone who they’ve evolved into something so different—and better—than the source material?
Well, unfortunately, her arc seems to be heading on a collision course in that direction. Despite the fact that Carol has killed innocent people to keep a plague from spreading and Steinbecked a (psychotic) child, a few words from Morgan and a headshot to one of The Wolves attacking Alexandria has somehow rendered her emotionally incapacitated over the prospect of taking another human life. Never mind that her exit from Alexandria all but guaranteed she’d have to do it again. The show’s writers are determined to bring her story arc full circle. Add in the agony/anger her death would cause the viewing audience to feel towards Negan, and you’ve got yourself the perfect victim (☹).
Strong chance of dying: Daryl
“If Daryl dies, we riot.”
It’s an idea shared by millions of Walking Dead fans, myself included. Daryl has not only proven to be a great character, but his absence from the comic book makes every action and plotline he’s involved in a complete wildcard.
Of course, that ‘wildcard’ aspect—combined with his popularity—also makes him an undeniably tempting target to help Negan establish his ruthless villainy right off the bat (pun completely intended). Add in the fact that it’s kind of his fault that a bunch of them got taken hostage by the Saviors…and that his captor is the same dude he initially tried to show kindness to…and you can see how this it all lines up for a brutal beating from Lucille.
I still think it’ll be Carol, but Daryl dying wouldn’t surprise me. I’ll be sharpening my pitch fork and preparing the torches just in case.
Small chance of dying: Abraham
I used to be a big fan of the Ginger Bear, but not so much after the way he treated Rosita. That said, his death would break Sasha’s heart, who has already lost two people very close to her. When you add in Denise taking his comic book death and Dwight still having that crossbow, his potential demise seems a bit more probable. It won’t happen though…
…although those of us on #TeamRosita wouldn’t be that sad if it did.
1,000,000-1 chance of dying: Maggie
There’s no way The Walking Dead would actually show a pregnant woman getting beaten to death with a baseball bat.
(Please let me be right).
No chance of dying: Glenn
Okay, I’ll admit that there actually is a chance that Negan does the same thing his character did to Glenn in the comic. I’m just testing TV Show Glenn’s invulnerability with my uncanny ability to jinx things.
Gabriel, Aaron, Heath, Spencer, or Jesus could also be on the chopping block this episode, but they’re not well liked/known enough to constitute Negan’s big death scene. It’s also safe to assume (I hope) that Rick, Carl, Michonne, and Morgan won’t bite it. Sasha, Eugene, and Rosita should survive, as well.
Actually, by stating that just now, I’ve probably doomed them all. Oh well. Maybe the writers will show some mercy and kill Tara and Enid off, too.
How will Negan affect The Walking Dead going forward?
We’ve already had half a season revolve around him without Negan having to even make an appearance. Considering how long his main story arc lasts in the comics, it looks like he and Lucille will be around for a while.
What will be interesting to watch is how his presence affects Rick. Just last episode, he tried to shoot a random dude running away from him and Morgan because he doesn’t “take chances anymore.” (Unless it’s bringing a guy who robbed them twice into the heart of their community, of course).
Throughout the ensuing war between Rick’s expanding group of followers and The Saviors, Negan gives him plenty of reason to execute him. When Rick finally gets the chance, however, he decides that if they really are going to rebuild society, the cycle of murder and revenge has to stop. He decides instead to put Negan, the show’s most ruthless killer by far, into a jail cell—which is what we saw TV Show Morgan building in the last episode.
Not only does this show a dramatic shift in Rick’s philosophy on killing, but also it sets the tone for a new society that springs forth from Alexandria. While all this goes on, Negan sits in his cell like a foul-mouthed Hannibal Lector…but a lot more helpful. So helpful, in fact, that he ends up advising Rick on how to handle things when a horrifying new adversary rises up to attack them.
You can see where all this is going, right?
Obviously, the show’s narrative may take a completely different path. But no matter what happens, Negan is more than just a new villain. He also represents a force that will change everything in our survivors’ world. Mostly for the worst, but some for the better. Either way, the audience wins.