** Huge spoilers for The Walking Dead, up to and including Issue 156 **
Even since Negan high-tailed it out of his holding cell at the Alexandria Safe-Zone and started heading for the Whisperer's camp, it seemed as though he and group-leader Alpha were on a collusion course. One which would end with the formidable skin wearer getting freaky with the big bad of the pre-time jump comic books, forging a new and deadly alliance against the Survivors and Rick Grimes.
The end point of this course was brought jarringly into being in The Walking Dead #156 — aptly entitled "Queen and King". It should go without saying that we're about to spoil the newest issue of The Walking Dead for you, so if you haven't read it yet then proceed at your own risk, or check out 7 Things From The Walking Dead Comics We Want To See In Season 7 instead.
The Walking Dead Issue 156
Rather than picking up the big cliffhanger from the previous issue concerning Aaron's ultimate fate after being stabbed by the Whisperer's Beta, Issue 156 was a Negan special. It opened with Alpha and Beta arguing over whether or not he should be allowed to join the group, with Alpha accusing Beta of attempting to usurp her position as leader of the Whisperers — an accusation he vehemently denies, prostrating himself before her.
Negan bows to Alpha's strength also, and a montage of him beginning to learn the ways of the Whisperers unfolds. All seems to be going well until one night Negan answers a cry, attacking two male Whisperers who were attempting to sexually assault one of the women.
Negan is subdued and chastised by Alpha and Beta. Beta tells him that he shouldn't have intervened as he has denied the woman the right to prove she is strong. Negan is banished to sleep outside the group for the night, alone in the dark. Alpha comes to him, and Negan criticizes the rules by which she holds the group together. He accuses her of being a hypocrite, as she is only alive because she has the physically stronger Beta protecting her.
Alpha breaks down as she expresses regret for the way she treated Lydia, and sheds tears as she finally affirms her love for her daughter, admitting that she is not strong enough to lead the group. Negan responds by telling her about the person he lost before the zombie outbreak — presumably his as-yet unnamed wife — and how his emotional numbness allowed him to be a good leader, but not at the cost of leaving the weak to suffer and die.
Impressed by his words, Alpha looks up and admits that perhaps Negan does belong with the Whisperers, that they could learn from him. Negan leans in closer to her and...
"But I don't want to be here," he says as he slices her throat. He lies her down upon the ground as she bleeds out, before finishing the job by removing her head from her neck. "Wait until Rick gets a look at you," he says, holding her severed head aloft as the issue ends. Not quite what we had expected from the issue, but perfectly in alignment with what we've come to expect from Negan.
Who Exactly Is Negan?
In amongst Negan and Alpha's conversation he made a cheeky reference to the fate of Glenn, who had his head mashed in by Negan back in Issue 100 in the most infamous moment of the comic book:
"You tell me I have to crush a field of babies to keep breathing? Sure. You say people who rely on me aren't going to live unless I turn someone's head into a bowl of gravy? I'm there."
This quote actually underpins the basis of Negan's character. As he claims repeatedly since his first introduced, he does what he does in order to ensure the survival of his own people. At the Saviours' compound prior to the time-skip people have to work to survive, but the physically weak are not culled nor forced to venture out into the dangerous world outside.
The Whisperers are different, as there the weak are left to fend for themselves under the guise of pain and suffering building strength. But Alpha — as Negan correctly identifies — is just pretending to be strong, especially when it comes to her daughter whom she allowed to be sexually abused by members of the tribe under the false pretence of strength.
The fact that it was an instance of attempted rape which caused Negan to lose faith in Alpha's leadership is no surprise. Though he used certain threats towards Rick and Carl Grimes back in his introduction in Issue 100, it's been made clear that Negan does not abide any form of sexual assault amongst his people.
This is highlighted best in Issue 117, when Negan kills David, a member of his Saviours, when he attempts to rape the captive Holly.
The death of Glenn, whilst tragic and brutal, happened as a consequence of the Survivors at Alexandria. Negan bashed Glenn's brains in in order to make the rest of the group fall in line, one sacrifice to prevent larger loss of life. Hurting people for the fun of it is not something he does.
The Show Producers On Negan
Prior to his introduction into The Walking Dead TV show (portrayed by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), executive producer Scott M. Gimple described Negan as a fascinating character unlike anybody who's been on the show before, indeed, unlike any other pop culture figure of the past two decades. He's not inherently evil, nor insane, nor psychopathic. Rather, according to Gimple, he's the "ultimate bully."
"Through another lens, he’s not a bad guy at all in the comic. He does some horrible things, but our people do some horrible things. He is, though, this unrepentant a-hole. He is somebody who is the ultimate bully."
Certainly from our point of view Negan is a "bad guy" in the narrative sense, but when you try to puzzle out whether or not he's an inherently evil character things become a little more muddled. This is highlighted quite nicely by his interactions with both Rick and Carl during his captivity, and Negan even goes so far to accuse Rick of being a "fucking monster" when he screams at Olivia for accidentally leaving Negan's cage open.
Negan has done horrific things, but he still has his own moral code. Nothing he does — no matter how violent or depraved — is without reason. And that reason usually involves protecting his interests and those of his people. The actions of the Whisperers jarred with his own moral baseline, and so Alpha had to go.
The Walking Dead producer David Alpert gave a pretty extensive description of Negan to IGN which hits the nail on the head when it comes to better understanding his character, especially in regards to this issue:
"[Negan's] not a psychopath, and in some ways, he has this bizarre sort of empathy to him. It’s bizarre that he actually does have some empathy and he does have a system and he does have, in some ways, even reason. There are a lot of moments that are so terrifying because you can’t reason with him because he’s made up his mind on something. But he does reason things out. He isn’t just some psychopath."
The Negan of the comic books is a brutal, violent, foul-mouthed dictator who is not above doing all kinds of horrific things to get people under his control. But he's no one-dimensional villain, and the conclusion to the latest issue seems to suggest that he's decided to throw his chips back in with Rick and co., arriving back on scene with Alpha's head on plate.
How this will affect "The Whisperer War" storyarc will surely play out over the next few issues, but odds are Beta will finally step up to lead the Whisperers in the wake of Alpha's death. And if the hints that he had romantic inclinations towards here turn out to be true, he's going to be coming after Negan and the Survivors with a vengeance.
As for how this will affect the relationship between Lydia and Carl — and indeed between Negan and Carl — we'll just have to wait to discover when the next issue releases.