Or is The Walking Dead ruining Negan?
After Negan’s highly anticipated introduction on The Walking Dead, it feels as if the series has screwed the pooch on presenting the biggest bad yet.
The buzz behind AMC’s decision to bring the leather jacket-wearing, Lucille-toting madman to the series was through the roof even before Negan stepped onscreen. Since then, the big villain has become more cartoonish as the seasons have progressed. Did The Walking Dead ruin Negan or is it the other way around?
When Glenn and Sgt. Abraham met their gruesome ends, audiences were faced with a threat unlike anything The Walking Dead had seen--although the eye patch-wearing Governor (David Morrissey) and his creepy aquarium full of zombie heads did prove to be quite jarring. Rick and the gang walked away from that mess. Can Season 8 handle Negan in a worthwhile manner before it’s too late?
Comic Book Expectations
Two years ago Jeffrey Dean Morgan was announced as the one to step into Negan’s shoes. His performances in genre fair like The Watchmen and Supernatural showed he has the intensity, charisma and clout to bring the villain to life. But there’s always something risky about bringing an iconic character out of its comic book element.
Since his epic introduction, it feels as if the writers have been inclined to showcase their love for the Robert Kirkman-created big bad by weighing down each and every scene he's in with his personal quirks. But The Walking Dead is often mired in brooding drama and unrelenting grit. As charismatic as Negan is, some of his over-the-top behavior just feels out of place.
From the potty mouth monologuing to his unrelenting lust for power, it sometimes feels as if Negan would fit in better as an old school James Bond villain. When the big bad comes off more cartoonish than evil, everyone else starts looking like buffoons for cowering in fear.
Ever since Negan set our heroes’ lives upside down, The Walking Dead has become an exercise in patience. This is post-apocalyptic hellscape where the zombies have become an afterthought. That’s the point, we get it. But when the show inflicted the worst possible trauma on Rick and the gang--through Negan’s murderous intro--the expectations for retaliation and justice came quickly.
A season and a half later, we’re still waiting. Since the deaths of Glenn and Abraham, the crew have undergone changes and new characters have entered the fray. And still, somehow Negan and his Saviors are still running the joint. Once justice for Glenn and Abraham is finally had, will it be too late for anyone to care?
Will There Ever Be a Bigger-er Bad Than Negan?
If looking back at The Governor’s two-season run is any indication, it’s that Negan should meet his maker sometime this season. But what happens then?
The Walking Dead has brought in massive ratings for years now and--aside from the huge draw of fan faves like Rick, Daryl, and Michonne--the big allure is always watching the gang overcome one bloody challenge after the next. As formidable opponents go, Negan is the biggest. Once he’s gone, is it all downhill from here?
The last things Walking Dead fans need is to constantly compare the seasons to come to the show’s heydey. Will the death of Negan lock in a final expiration date for AMC’s zombie juggernaut?
Sunday’s (Nov. 19) episode, The Big Scary U, picked up on Negan where the Season 8 premiere left him: in a trailer with Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), surrounded by ravenous walkers.
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The premiere found Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Rick leading their first real coup against The Saviors. It was a moment that felt long overdue. And while the attack didn’t end Negan’s life, it did open up the opportunity to get a better understanding of the leader. All this time, we’ve only really seen the murder-loving, bat-wielding, evil-monologuing Negan--and those traits have been shoved down the audience’s throat relentlessly.
A good way of fixing a cartoonish villain is adding a bit of humanity to the mix. Everyone was someone else before the zombie apocalypse hit. And even though an entire episode exploring Negan’s backstory doesn’t exactly sound like the right move--having too much sympathy for a big bad is never a good thing--watching Gabriel bond with him on an emotional level adds a new layer to the mix. It turns out Negan helped children before the outbreak happened. He had a wife who loved him. Then the dead started to rise--and everything changed.
It’s been over a year since Jeffrey Dean Morgan first brought his version of Negan to The Walking Dead. We’ve seen him bash heads, punish followers, and taunt Rick’s crew, all with that signature mustache-twirling bravado. All it takes is a little emotional truth to bring a big villain down to size. Once that happens, the compelling conflict can truly begin.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The extra-long midseason finale is set to hit AMC on Sunday, December 10.