Ever since Negan made his infamous introduction within the pages of The Walking Dead #100, fans of the comic imagined what his TV counterpart would be like. How would the show handle the “colorful” language? Who would meet their demise at the hands of Lucille? Who would play the most formidable opponent Rick Grimes and gang have ever encountered?
Even when the show was dragging over the past few seasons, the viewers could look forward to Negan. During episodes that were spent walking on railroad tracks and watching abandoned houses burn, I knew that Negan was looming on the horizon. Then, the time for Negan came, and I thought it was the most underwhelming debut imaginable.
Sure, all of the pieces were in place for Jeffery Dean Morgan to knock it out of the park (pun intended), but one thing was clear: this was not MY Negan.
MY Negan, the one ripped from the pages of the only comic book I regularly read, possesses qualities that make him unlike the villains The Walking Dead has thrown at us before. My Negan has:
- The physical presence of a high school football coach who still hits the weight room (and maybe some steroids) with the team.
- The intensity of a drill sergeant whose rapid-fire verbal assault could destroy any target within 10 klicks.
- The leadership skills of cult leader with the persuasive power to make any member gladly drink the Kool-Aid or take the iron.
My Negan is strong, secure, and scary with speech patterns that make me lap up every word penciled on the page.
The Negan from the TV series — whom I imagine to be a combined product of Jeffery Dean Morgan, Robert Kirkman and Scott M. Gimple — is none of the things my Negan is. He is slow. He is colder and more calculating. From a physical standpoint, there is no way this Negan could beat Rick in a fistfight, no matter how many fists Rick has.
This Negan is weaker. Worse, there is no indication that the team at The Walking Dead has any intention of radically revising Negan’s character.
Herein lies the problem, though. I am far too invested in the show to give up now. I’m like the poker player who has pushed too many chips into the pot. I’m committed to see this through, so rather than bail, I'm sticking around for the long haul. I am likely the exception, though. The viewership will continue to struggle without change. Take a look at the Season 7 ratings so far: they are the lowest since 2012.
I humbly offer ways that the creative team behind the show can throw us a curveball compelling enough to make the TV Negan stand alone as his own unique, multifaceted, and captivating character.
1. Make Negan’s Greatest Weapon His Psychology
There is no way Jeffery Dean Morgan’s Negan can compete with comic Negan in terms of physical size and intimidation. In a fair fight, I believe comic Negan could prevail over any foe, including the comic versions of Tyrese or Abraham.
Since JDM lacks these attributes, the focus needs to shift to another weapon: his mind. We have seen hints of this already as he threw Rick in the RV, took him on a smoky ride in the woods, and pushed him to the brink of cutting off Carl’s hand. In the coming episodes, we have to see more of Negan’s ability to systematically pull apart his opponents in a psychological way with better reactions from the victims besides Andrew Lincoln’s glassy, confused expressions.
2. Explore Negan’s Code Of Conduct
In the comics, Negan has a specific, yet counterintuitive, code of conduct that he follows, and he expects all Saviors to fall in line as well. So far, we have only seen what happens if someone sleeps with a member of his harem, but in the comics there is much more regarding his code like his feelings on sexual assault.
Whether they are rational or irrational, any look further into the psyche of the bad guy can encourage the fans to despise him on another level. Additionally, it can explore if Negan is coming from a place of logic and reason or a place of insanity.
3. Increase Negan’s Severity And Brutality
Because the Governor was the most noteworthy villain before the Negan era in the comic and the show, comparisons between the two are common. Both versions of the Governor (but more so in the comic) have a brutal, mean streak that led to abuse, mutilation and death.
Some would argue that killing is the pinnacle of brutality, but in the world of The Walking Dead, there are worse things to do to the survivors. By increasing the severity of the punishments Negan hands down, you give him more power. With more power, he becomes something worthy of fear.
4. Give Negan Allies
Pretty early into the arrival of Negan in the comics, the reader learns that he is really a man alone. He has a tentative hold on his camp, and his people are interested in double-crossing him, with Dwight playing both sides early on, which has already been foreshadowed on the show.
What if we give Negan a friend? What if Morgan or Carol or Sasha or even Daryl begin to align with the bad guy? This could illustrate the draw that Negan holds over people. After all, why else would all of those people be living in a dank warehouse when there are tons of houses sitting empty in Alexandria? He must have a way to build strong relationships with people of the zombie apocalypse; let’s see it.
5. Make Negan The Good Guy
When Negan enters the scene, he makes a huge splash by killing one or two beloved characters with a few swings of Lucille. It is pretty simple to see him as a bad guy — the bad guy. But, in the show at least, Rick’s group really had it coming. They killed Negan’s men in their outpost, and Daryl blew up a dozen Saviors on the road with a rocket launcher. Negan killed two people, and he is the bad guy?
Over the years, the TV show has wrestled with the question of Rick’s true stance, and this might be the best time to fully flip the idea of good and bad on the show. If Negan is shown in a more vulnerable and sympathetic light, the show could go in a different direction that is fun and fully unexpected. You might be worried about the continuity with the comics, but this change could actually work.
With Negan showing mercy during the final battle of the "All Out War" arc, making good with the remaining Survivors and putting Rick in the cell, the events of the time jump would be relatively unaffected, with only the Rick and Negan roles interchanged. You could even have Carl meeting with his dad in the cell after being adopted by Negan.
Perhaps, the key to turning Negan will be exploring the truth about the true Lucille and her loss. This idea is being teased in the comics now, but it might be time to move it up for the sake of the comic and the show.
Despite having a huge opening with 17 million viewers, TWD Season 7 took a nosedive, with the midseason finale bringing in about 10.5 million viewers. That's a 38 percent reduction over eight weeks.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but if the show does not make a bold move to fix the current Negan situation, it will never make it long enough to witness the time jump or the Whisperer War that follows. As a committed fan, I’d say its time to make the change.
Are you a fan of TV Negan or feel that he needs to more closely match the comic? Sound off in the comments below!