This Walking Dead article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the TV show and the comic books.
For the past few month, Walking Dead fans have had one obsession: who did Negan kill in the season six finale? The enigmatic leader of the Saviors became season 6’s biggest reveal, as he brought down his barbed-wired bat down on his ill-fated victim before the screen cut to black. But while this big death marks his most infamous moment, this scene doesn’t define Negan. There’s a lot more to him. I thought this a good time to paint a quick portrait of The Walking Dead‘s greatest villain by pointing out some things that are really interesting about him in the comics.
So who is Negan? Even if you don’t know any of the character’s story in the comic books or what Jeffrey Dean Morgan looks like, you’ve probably heard about his gruesome entrance in the infamous issue #100, memorable not just in number but for the bloody death it delivers onto a fan favorite character. Negan’s first kill in the story is perhaps a good place to start.
A Bloody Entrance
Issue #100 was The Walking Dead‘s version of a big milestone which, like most finales on the show, had to be celebrated with a very big death. And indeed it was, as the mysterious Negan ambushed Rick and his people on the road to the Hilltop in order to punish the group for the Saviors they’d killed in the past issues. That whole arc, titled “Something to Fear” (#97-102), had seen the Alexandrians come into conflict with the Saviors, not unlike what’s happened in the second half of season 6, and now it was all coming to a head.
Negan, an imposing man in a biker jacket, pulled out his weapon of choice: a baseball bat covered in barbed wire that he’d lovingly named Lucille. His men lined up Rick, Carl, Glenn, Maggie, Sophia, Michonne, and Heath in a row. Negan wanted the Alexandrians to understand that everything they owned now belonged to the Saviors and that he would spare their lives if they agreed to the terms. Well, he’d spare most of their lives, anyway. It was only fair that one Alexandrian should die for all of the Saviors they’d killed. Negan thought it was quite the deal, deciding at random whose head he’d bash in with Lucille…
Rick, Maggie, and the rest were forced to watch Negan bludgeon Glenn to death. As he brutally killed Glenn, Negan smiled, celebrating the fact that his victim was “taking it like a champ” after several swings. Glenn’s last word was “Maggie.” Once this was done, Negan left the group with Glenn’s corpse and a promise to return in a week for half of all their stuff. This was Negan’s first appearance in The Walking Dead.
Whether it’ll be Glenn who will die at the hands of Negan on the TV show is anyone’s guess. He certainly seems like the logical choice, especially since showrunner Scott Gimple tends to stick pretty close to the source material. That said, like Denise’s fate, Gimple also likes to mix things up just a bit to keep fans on their toes. It was Abraham that originally suffered the arrow to the head in the comics. The same could happen with Negan’s first victim. The last few episodes even seem to tease as much, with Carol missing after a fight with a Savior patrol and Daryl captured and shot by Dwight. Or maybe it’ll be Michonne, who’s fallen in love with Rick, which tends to lead to a terrible end. Glenn and Rosita have also been captured, and last week’s episode also set up a reason for Maggie to leave the walls of Alexandria. The bases are loaded and Negan is up to bat.
No matter who dies, this sets up Negan as a force to be reckoned with, the biggest threat Rick and the Alexandrians have ever faced. But it’s not just Negan’s cruelty and taste for violence that has allowed him to amass an army and gain all of that power. It’s also strength of will. Negan believes that what he’s doing is right.
Leader of Man
It’s easy to call the foul-mouthed villain a madman, someone who enjoys killing for killing’s sake and thrives in chaos. And while it’s true that the zombie apocalypse has served this former used car salesman well in terms of letting out more than a little pent-up aggression, Negan is also calculating and intelligent. He even has a moral code, if you’re brave enough to call it that.
Negan believes that it’s his job to ensure the survival of the human race and build for it a new world. It’s why he named his group The Saviors. We learn a lot more about this society and where they live in “What Comes After” (#103-108), when Carl sneaks into their base to kill Negan.
We learn through this arc that Negan doesn’t really want chaos at all. In fact, Negan is fighting against it by establishing order through force. He’s a brilliant tactician, able to recognize very early on that the only way to power in the new world is through strength, and Negan never shies away from making an example of anyone who crosses him. In return for their obedience, Negan promises protection…from him.
Negan extorts the surrounding settlements to keep his people fed, clothed, and armed. And he keeps the Saviors in line with a twisted code of law. Those that break the rules or go against Negan’s will, as in the case of his scarred lieutenant, Dwight, get their faces burned with a searing iron in a cult-like ritualistic punishment.
In fact, the Saviors very much operate like a cult whose followers have an unflinching loyalty towards their leader. Either through fear, trauma, or the promise of a better life, these survivors, especially the women Negan calls his “wives,” bend to his will. This allows him to exact his vision on the rest of the world: rebuilding civilization the way he sees fit.
We’re Not So Different, You and I
This comparison is probably obvious at this point, but it’s worth mentioning that Rick and Negan aren’t all that different. Of course, I wouldn’t call Rick a cult leader or a bloodthirsty tyrant, but both of these leaders have the same goal: rebuilding. And in both cases, they’re willing to kill their enemies to accomplish their goal. The show even has the Alexandrians actually spark the conflict between the two factions when Rick leads a cold-blooded attack on a Savior base. It would be easy to see how someone beyond Alexandria’s walls would think Rick is just as bad as Negan. After all, in this specific case, Rick uses force to get the food and supplies he needs to keep his people alive, just like Negan. These leaders, while one might be more sympathetic than the other, use the same methods and do what they feel is necessary to get what they want.
It’s worth pointing out, too, that in the comics, Rick acts more in self-defense in the initial confrontations than on the show. This might be one of those times when what the show is doing is more interesting than what happened in the pages of Robert Kirkman’s book. Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes inhabits a much grayer area than his comic book counterpart, and this will undoubtedly be a theme further explored in the season finale and in season 7. Negan, in a moment of “friendly” conversation with Rick, could even say something as cliche as “We’re not so different, you and I.” (Let’s hope the writers room doesn’t feel the need to point that out, though.)
Interestingly enough, Negan also takes a peculiar liking to Carl in the comics. As I mentioned earlier, Carl manages to sneak into the Savior base in issue #105 and kill a bunch of people in a suicide attempt to put an end to Negan. Needless to say, he fails against such great odds, but his fate isn’t the one you’d expect.
Negan shows something resembling sympathy towards young Carl, who reminds him of the son he never had. He spares Carl’s life and even allows him to return home to Rick. That’s not to say that he doesn’t punish Carl in some way for killing his men first. There’s a pretty fucked up scene where Negan forces Carl to sing him a song while he swings Lucille really close to the boy’s face. He also makes the boy show him his eye wound…or rather, his lack of an eye…and proceeds to point out how grotesque it is, making Carl cry. In what would be the most shocking moment of the issue, if it weren’t for the fact that Negan irons a guy’s face a few pages later, the villain apologizes to Carl, saying that he didn’t mean to hurt his feelings.
This brings up something really interesting. Not only do we learn that Negan recognizes Carl’s strength, but seems to have a soft spot (in his own way) for the boy. Their relationship continues through several issues, including after Negan is finally defeated in the “All Out War” arc. There’s a weird scene in the following arc, titled “A New Beginning” (#127-132), where Carl has a chat with Negan, who’s locked in a cell, about a young girl who showed him her breasts and how that made him not like her anymore. Negan advises the boy in a surprisingly fatherly way and tells Carl that he enjoys their talks, implying that their relationship has persisted through the two year gap between “All Out War” and “A New Beginning” and that Carl often asks him for advice.
To bring it back to the similarities between Negan and Rick, here’s a question: is Rick essentially a good man because he has Carl to humanize him? How would Negan be different if he had a son of his own? In terms of rebuilding civilization, Rick has taken a very direct step by raising Carl, protecting him, loving him, and acting as his role model. If Negan had the same, would he be a better man?
Probably not, but it’s worth considering.
Although Negan eventually loses his war against Rick (at least for the time being), the character still remains a looming threat, and as of the most recent issue (#152), he is poised to become a very real danger once again. Negan doesn’t suffer a complete loss, though, recognizing that, even if he is locked in a cell in Alexandria, he still has control over Rick and the rest of the settlements by extension. Negan even taunts Rick, saying that the Alexandrian is just getting things ready for his return and that Rick isn’t as benevolent as he wants to believe. The villain feels that he knows the real Rick, his soul, and that at the end of the day…they’re not so different:
We’ll finally find out who Negan killed in the season seven premiere when it airs on Oct. 23 at 9 pm on AMC.