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Why 'The Walking Dead' Fans Are Going To Have To Learn To Love Negan, Like It Or Not

As expected, we didn’t get through last night’s Walking Dead midseason finale without any bloodshed, even though the episode did ultimately end on a rather uplifting note, a true rarity for the series.

Negan was once again in peak form, waltzing around Alexandria like he owned the place and then (spoilers), “doing Rick a favor” by gutting Spencer, who was trying to weasel his way into Rick’s leadership role by going behind his back. It was an almost line-by-line, intestine-by-intestine moment from the comics, and Negan rounded out the evening by killing Olivia as retribution for Rosita’s assassination attempt, and absconding with Eugene once he realized he knew how to make bullets. You know, Negan stuff.

The ultimate point of the episode is that Rick is finally ready to admit they have to go to war, something everyone but apparently him and Aaron figured out a long time ago. Now the group will try to “unite the clans” of the Hilltop, Kingdom and I assume the non-comics, Amazonian women tribe as well. Negan’s end is nigh, right?

Negan has been an extremely controversial figure since he showed up. Comic readers have been itching to see him for years now, but now that he’s finally here, reviews are…mixed, to say the least. Some are praising Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s pitch perfect adaptation of Negan from the comics. Others, like me, are saying that even though that’s the case, this Negan is too cartoony with his quips and innuendos to be an effective character. Others, like my colleague Erik Kain, have called for the show to lose him as soon as possible, as hopefully it would help cure what ails The Walking Dead as ratings continue to drop.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan has hinted that Negan will be around as long as season eight, but the reality is that fans better buckle up for quite a long ride with Negan indeed.

Now we’re moving into comic spoilers, so beware, but I won’t spoil any deaths.

I will, however, be spoiling one non-death.

Namely, the fact that Negan doesn’t actually die. Not at the end of this war, not in any of the new storylines since. He becomes what appears to be a permanent member of the cast, meaning he isn’t going anywhere at all. As I mentioned last night, we just watched a rough approximation of issue 111 unfold onscreen, and the current issue is 161. Negan has been an ever-present fixture the entire time.

Despite being the single most despicable character in the series (and I’m including some of the cannibals in that), the resolution of Negan’s storyline is that yes, he loses the war, but this is Rick’s “come to Jesus” moment (not that Jesus, the other one), where he realizes they have to start acting civilized. Even after killing dozens (hundreds?) of Negan’s men, we move into the tried and true superhero/video game trope of sparing the enemy leader in one final act of civility and benevolence, even though they were the worst one out of everyone.

Negan is jailed all throughout the years-long time jump the show makes, remains in jail for a while after, conversing with Rick and Carl. He escapes, returns on his own accord to win trust, leaves again to join the evil Whisperers, but then betrays them, and currently is fighting alongside Rick and Dwight to save the Alexandrian alliance.

Yes, it’s very weird. I never really understood the idea of saving Negan like this when there was so much build up to his seemingly inevitable death. After all the pain and misery he causes, and after all it takes for Rick and his group to rally, the idea of simply taking him prisoner, and then eventually trusting him to fight as an ally, has never stopped seeming insane to me as I’ve read the latest issues of the comics.

I know that often we have “villains turn good” plotlines in fiction, but Negan was, and continues to be, such an unredeemable character that it’s hard to know why this decision was made. It just feels like Kirkman loved his villainous creation so much he couldn’t bear to kill him off, so now we’re supposed to learn to love him, despite the fact that he’s done so little to deserve it.

This is a man who randomly executes prisoners and melts his own peoples’ faces to teach lessons. Who keeps a harem of “willing” women that he steals from their husbands and blackmails into sex in a way that is still most definitely rape. His entire empire meant to protect people and build order only serves to make himself live like a king where everyone else subsists on scraps unless they’re constantly licking his boots. He makes The Governor look like Gandhi, and we were all cheering when poor Brian died way back when.

But Negan is not going anywhere. The comics build him into such a major character, that he’s almost at the same level as Rick in terms of overall importance to the narrative. As such, fans are going to have to learn to love him. Right now many don’t like him as a villain, but can they learn to appreciate him as he walks a long, long road to redemption? I’m not sure.

What I do know is that Negan needs a better arc than what he got in the comics. There are glimpses of Negan being a “decent guy” underneath all the bravado and murder, like in his interactions with Carl and how he genuinely respects Rick, but we need more than that. I’ve heard that the show might dive into Negan’s backstory a bit, and that would really be welcome so we can figure out who the hell this guy is other than “smiling baseball bat murder man” which does not inspire much empathy.

Negan is in effect the ultimate conflict of The Walking Dead, at least as it’s currently written. The Whisperers storyline is simply not as good as this one, that much is clear as it’s about to wrap up, and the war with Negan really is one of the standout highlights of Kirkman’s comics, if not the best arc. I heard a great idea that The Walking Dead should go out with a bang, extend Negan’s war through all of season eight, and end the series when Rick finally kills Negan.

That would be a pretty worthy conclusion to the series in my eyes, but it’s almost certain that’s never going to happen. What is going to happen is that viewers are either going to have to really get used to Negan being around forever, or they’ll just switch off, like many have been the last few seasons as ratings dip.

I think there’s a way to do all this Negan stuff right, but I don’t think the comics got it perfect, and following that same roadmap on the show will lead to the same issues. The show has improved the source material in the past, and I believe they can do it again. But for now, it’s hard to imagine this fanbase getting ultra-excited for Negan to stick around essentially forever.

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