What Negan May Mean to The Walking Dead in Season Seven

Finally, Negan. After half a year of hype, the fans have their wish, as the love-to-hate-him villain from the graphic novels made his on screen debut in the season six finale. What does Negan really mean to the lives of Team Grimes in the next season? Will his appearance be a significant development, or is he just another flavor of previous big bads on The Walking Dead?

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan - The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 16 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan – The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 16 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The comic book had already developed a devoted following when creator Robert Kirkman decided to kill off a well-loved character, Tyreese. Fans, especially the series’ African American fans, hated the way their favorite died, including the sordid storyline that preceded his departure, and told Kirkman about it. It was a testy exchange between fan and creator where Kirkman defended his creative choices against accusations of lacking racial sensitivity.1

When Negan appeared as an antagonist on the page, Kirkman appeared to directly address the controversy over killing off Tyrese. When deciding which head to bash in first, Negan said, “I’m a lot of things, but I’d never want to be called racist. No fucking way.” In the end, Negan killed another popular minority character anyway.

Viewers of the televised version will find out that Negan is a ball of apparent contradictions, but is he a stand in for the show’s creator? Kirkman told a Reddit audience, “[T]here are times when Negan says things that I say all the time. Anytime I delivered good/awesome/crazy/horrible news to someone I usually ask them ‘do you have your shitting pants on.’ [sic] So I worked that into Negan’s vernacular.” Did Kirkman use his super cool killing machine to address his fans? What is this guy all about, anyway?

Who is Negan

As of yet, Kirkman hasn’t provided a backstory. Outside of fans begging for one, there’s no reason to do so. He’s all on the page: vulgar, brutal and pragmatic. Even when he appears to be caring, like offering Savior Dwight’s wife a better way of life, it’s in his own best interest, as that better way of life comes with the price tag of becoming part of Negan’s harem. He’s unlikable enough, and giving him a backstory (outside him being a used car salesman) is going to needlessly explain Negan’s controlling nature.

Negan is not all that unique a character in the entertainment world. After Pulp Fiction sparked an indie film resurgence, all the Quentin Tarantino copycats included a loquacious villain whose suave charm masked a gruesome brutality.

Tarantino’s most famous chatty criminal, Jules from Pulp Fiction (Samuel L. Jackson), had an epiphany where he realized that the pre-murder speech he thought was “some cool shit to say” actually held meaning for him. Such a leap of understanding is not likely to come from even the televised version of Negan (Jeffery Dean Morgan).

Everything old is new again

Negan exists in the comics as Rick Grimes’s greatest foil. He challenges Rick’s entire post-apocalypse philosophy, as he’s been able to build a stable community based on violence and intimidation rather than cooperation and trust. While he’s a colorful way of eliminating major characters, he’s little more than a way to demonstrate that Grimes, despite his faults, is on the right path. The show has covered this territory multiple times in different ways, with Rick usually proven correct even when his friends like Morgan (Lennie James) have to give him nudge in the right direction.

That doesn’t mean Negan’s appearance won’t add value to the long running world end scenario. After the season six finale, it’s clear Jeffery Dean Morgan is a great choice for the part. He’s got the charm/criminal gene splice down pat. In a world where nearly everyone approaches the collapse of society with a grim visage, Negan’s robber baron grin may liven up the proceedings.

What Negan’s appearance means long term

Negan’s appearance will also signify the emergence of others to take on leadership roles. It’s clear from the finale that whomever Negan killed was already a captive of the Saviors. That narrows down the candidate roster to a few, either Glenn (who was the victim in the books), Rosita (not likely) or Daryl. The men were Rick Grime’s bravest knights, and with one felled, someone else will have to step up.

If the show follows Kirkman’s blueprint, then Maggie is in for a major transformation (aside from becoming a single mom). The show has already given hints of her taking a leadership mantle from the late Deanna Monroe. She negotiated the deal with the Hilltoppers. Carl is growing up faster than his comic book counterpart is and will be a young adult soon.

Everyone has to die sometime

When Negan made his lengthy speech at the end of the season six finale, the writers left out the racially tinged part of the lecture from the comics; otherwise, they lifted the dialogue nearly word for word. That was possibly a practical decision; such talk might lead fans to believe they know who’s dead already. Perhaps Kirkman asked that they leave it out, the sting of fan criticism over Tyreese dulled by the pile of money he sleeps on every night. The speech that was some cool shit to say doesn’t sound so cool anymore. If anything, Negan proves Kirkman is good on his word. Any character (save Rick and Carl) are fair game for the grim reaper. Even Negan.

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1. For his part, Kirkman often says that it pained him to kill of Tyrese then, and still wishes he was around. The Tyrese who finally appeared in the TV series was not the same strong character, however, drawing further criticism. The controversy over the series’ dismissal of Black male characters remains a flaw for some.