Negan is the biggest baddie out of eight seasons of The Walking Dead and has been around for a while. In my opinion, this is a very good thing for the show.
Every now and then I like to pop in with an opinion on The Walking Dead and in this case I’d like to take a moment to share my thoughts about Negan. Let me be clear that I’m not talking about Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s awesome performance in the role, because I’m really not sure anyone else could do Negan justice. No, in this case I’m talking strictly about Negan, and in particular I’d like to talk about why I think Negan makes The Walking Dead a better show.
I know. Trust me, I know.
Negan is a polarizing figure in the world of The Walking Dead. I’ve never read the comics so I don’t know that side of his character, but I do know what happens to Negan’s character following All Out War. (I don’t mind that I kind of spoiled it for myself, the fact is that I like knowing what’s coming) I didn’t know he was coming up on the show, though, so watching his character from the first appearance through episode 808 has been fascinating.
Let me back up here a little. I double majored in political science and history in college. As such, a love for history tempers the way I view politics, and a study of politics helps me to better understand history. Through the lens of history and political science I find Negan to be an incredibly compelling character.
Without knowing anything about Negan’s character when he shows up in 616 and 701, we immediately learn that he is a man who demands order and control. He has rules, and breaking the rules forces a punishment. He can put the blame on those punishments squarely upon the person who broke the rules, which is kind of brilliant because it allows him to sleep at night. When Maggie killed the Savior in episode 808, she was conflicted. In Negan’s world, this would not even register for him. He’d kill because it’s what’s required for the greater good. Unlike a traditional Utilitarian, though, Negan’s first loyalty is to himself, and he’s managed to convince the people around him that fighting for him is the only way to protect their way of life at the Sanctuary. This kind of manipulation is brilliant.
How is it that Negan managed to bring the Sanctuary to order? Surely one man doesn’t have that kind of power, but Negan seems to. How is that even possible? Why hasn’t anyone tried to kill him yet?
We know, through Negan’s stint in the storage unit, that without him there will be chaos and death at the Sanctuary. He doesn’t trust most of the people closest to him and he knows full well that without him standing in their way, certain members of his team would have no problem sacrificing innocent lives to save themselves. Negan may be a monster, but he understands the value of people and he fights to protect the people who are loyal to him.
While Negan fights for his people, he’s also capable of unspeakably cruel and savage acts. Off the cuff things like killing Abraham and Glenn don’t seem to bother him, but every now and then he looks tired of it all. Negan has chosen his path as a leader, and there’s no turning back now unless something changes to upset the balance of power.
It’s for all of these reasons that I find Negan to be such an interesting character, but moreover I truly do think that his presence makes The Walking Dead a better show.
The Governor was one of the worst villains of all because he was unpredictable and, frankly, mad. He was crazy, and there was no rhyme or reason to what he did other than it suited him in that moment. Gareth and the Termites were bad, too, but they had convinced themselves that they ate other people as a survival mechanism. We didn’t know them long enough to really see more of how they function. (And honestly, we didn’t need to)
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The time Beth spent at Grady Memorial was interesting because Dawn is probably the closest we have seen to Negan until Negan himself arrived. Dawn was trying to do the right thing by her people – the other officers – at the peril of the hospital wards who worked for them. She offered them protection, but only to a certain point. She knew bad things happened to the wards and that her own people were to blame, but it was more important that she maintain order even if the means were as dirty as the people enforcing the rules.
Negan is the epitome of a bad guy. It’s easy to root against him and it will be sweet to see Rick’s people defeat him, and that’s why it’s so important that Negan exists in this world. Should he survive All Out War and beyond (again, no spoilers here) there’s no question that Rick’s group will face people who are even worse than Negan ever was, and that’s saying something. Negan, then, becomes something of a moral barometer for the group. A moral compass guides you, but the moral barometer is the measurement you use to determine whether or not your actions are as bad as the sum of Negan’s crimes. If you determine that they are, then you might need to check yourself because that would be pretty bad.
The Walking Dead is a show about people trying to survive, and over the years it has evolved from surviving the undead to surviving the undead as well as evil people who would do anything to survive, even if that means killing other people. Having Negan in the mix provides a litmus test for future actions, a guidebook for Rick’s remaining morality.
As long as Negan lives, Rick will be able to measure up against him and ensure he doesn’t cross the line.