Negan and Rick: Flipping the script on The Walking Dead

Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 14Photo by Gene Page/AMC
Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 14Photo by Gene Page/AMC /

The Walking Dead 814 showed us two very different sides to Rick and Negan, Negan especially, and in many ways the leader of the Saviors is looking more human.

Ever since Rick Grimes met Negan the pair has been as diametrically opposed as two people can be. Rick killed Negan’s people at the outpost and broke Negan’s rules while Negan killed Glenn and Abraham. There could be no truce between them. Like two magnets with opposing forces, there can be no peace between them; they are on two different courses in constant motion. Throughout it all, Rick has always appeared as “the good guy” while Negan is known as “the villain.” Now, with two episodes left to season 8, the lines are starting to blur. Negan’s latent humanity is starting to shine through while Rick continues his slide into the darkness.

One of the most poignant moments from season 8 of The Walking Dead for me was the conversation between Rick and Negan in “The Lost and the Plunderers.” Rick called Negan to tell him about Carl’s death and it was a surprisingly emotional moment. As soon as he shared the news with his enemy, Rick told Negan about how he was going to kill him while Negan wanted to know how it happened and expressed that he was sorry for Rick’s loss. Negan then went on to blame the deaths on Rick, citing his desire to stop the killing if only Rick would fall in line.

Now, after “Still Gotta Mean Something,” we see a whole other side to Negan. He’s no less the bad guy, but there’s a humanity in him that we’re starting to see while that same humanity slips away from Rick.

When you think about it, this is how it might have been possible for Carl to envision Negan in his future vision. If Negan laid down his weapons, Carl thought, there could be peace in the future. Carl hated Negan for what he did, but clearly he didn’t hate him enough to kill him. Not anymore, anyway. (Back in season 7 Carl arrived at the Sanctuary with intent to kill Negan, but he ended up learning more about the leader than anyone else could ever know when Negan opened up to the young man)

In “Still Gotta Mean Something” Negan reveals that Lucille was his wife who saved him before she died. The bat is a tribute to her, which is why he cares about it so much. Negan also offers to help Jadis get revenge for her fallen people, and he offers to give her a place at the Sanctuary. He didn’t have to share his story with her, nor did he have to offer her his help. But he did. Negan might be a jerk, but he’s a man of his word. 

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Rick didn’t read Carl’s letter right away. Carl warned his father not to go down a dark path and to be merciful before he died, and his letter probably contained the same message. However, nothing could stop Rick from promising safe passage to the escaped Saviors before going back on his word and killing them after they fought with Rick and Morgan to escape Jared and the herd of Walkers.

Truthfully, it was difficult watching Rick kill these men. Some of these men could have been more closely aligned with Alden, the young Savior who is only trying to find a place. Alden is not a bad guy, and he asked Rick to bring back his friends because they aren’t bad either. Rick killed them instead. This was a dark moment for Rick Grimes because he gave his word and went back on it.

The Walking Dead has successfully flipped the script here. Negan is looking better by the day while Rick has lost part of his humanity. With two episodes left in the season, Rick needs to figure out how to be merciful, not just because it’s what Carl would have wanted but it’s the only way for Rick to save himself. Rick is losing himself while Negan is allowing his humanity to shine through.

The big question, of course, is whether or not Rick can battle back from the darkness, and whether or not he can find a way to work with Negan if the situation called for it. With Simon as the bigger threat, they might have to work together to defeat the wayward Saviors and start something new. Together. Crazier things have happened.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC.