The Walking Dead: Negan, Carl and respect

Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) in Episode 7Photo by Gene Page/AMC
Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) in Episode 7Photo by Gene Page/AMC /

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about Negan and Carl’s interaction during The Walking Dead “Sing Me a Song.” It all boils down to respect.

If you strip away all of the bravado and badassery, Negan is a pretty simple guy. Rules are everything, and respect is paramount. The only time Negan flips out is when people break the rules or disrespect him. When Carl arrives at the Sanctuary, he breaks a few of Negan’s rules by killing two of his men, but Carl also earns even more respect from Negan. Negan is impressed by Carl’s bravery and dedication, and this makes Negan respect him even more.

This respect becomes evident early on in the episode, just after Carl guns down Negan’s men.

Negan: Damn. You are adorable … Kid, I ain’t gonna lie, you scare the shit out of me.

There’s grudging respect in Negan’s voice. A few moments later there is this interaction between them:

Carl: What are you going to do to me?

Negan: Number one, do not shatter my image of you. You’re a badass, you’re not scared of shit. Don’t be scared of me. It’s a disappointment. Number two, do you really want me to ruin the surprise? Screw you, kid. Seriously, screw you.

There’s no question that Negan is intrigued by Carl, and while it’s generally agreed that there is a paternal and/or avuncular feeling to their interactions, there’s also the sense that Negan is enjoying showing his world to someone whom he believes appreciates it. (And let there be no confusion about it—Negan also enjoys making sure Carl remains on the edge of terror the entire time, but that’s all part of the plan)

Look around at Negan’s men, and his wives—Negan has his lieutenants and his wives, but even they aren’t in his inner circle. Negan is an island, surrounded by open space and vacuous relationships designed to give the people around him exactly what they need to know, and nothing more.

With Carl, Negan sees someone who will listen. Sure, Carl will judge him, and Negan knows better than to think that he might persuade Carl to forgive what he did. In fact, Negan isn’t after forgiveness. If anything, he’s looking for someone to tour around his Sanctuary to show off. It’s a subtle display of power, as subtle as a dog peeing on a fire hydrant to keep the other dogs away. There is a definite warning there: You can either be with Negan, or you can be against Negan.

Negan seems to genuinely like Carl and he wants Carl to know what his options are. That’s also a sign of Negan’s respect for the kid—it would be easy to force Carl into choosing sides or forcing him to perform a task. Negan takes a different approach, showing Carl around the Sanctuary and showing off the power he yields. There is a lesson being taught here even though Negan doesn’t say it explicitly.

Another tacit lesson comes when Negan demands that Carl remove his bandage. When he sees that his jokes have hurt Carl, and when he observes Carl’s desire to put the bandage back on, Negan imparts another lesson: Leave the bandage off. That scarred eye is a badge of honor, and it makes Carl even more of a badass. The interesting thing to note here is that Negan is essentially providing Carl with a playbook of how to be a fierce leader. This could be a direct affront to Rick, as Negan does mention that these are lessons that should come from a young man’s father. It could also be that Negan sees potential in Carl to become someone else…but what?

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Negan explains that Daryl will become a good soldier at the Sanctuary, while Rick is talking his job very seriously and scoring some really good stuff as a result. But Carl’s future hasn’t been decided yet. He can be whatever he wants to be. No matter what happens Negan is making sure Carl can weigh his options, though it’s clear Negan wouldn’t mind if the kid was Team Negan.