There's not long to go now until the event that will shatter both the narrative universe of The Walking Dead and the hearts of viewers the world over: The introduction of the Big Bad who has been casting a wide shadow over Season 6 thus far — Negan.
It's difficult to think of a more perfect Negan casting than Jeffery Dean Morgan, the man set to step into the warlord's shoes in the finale episode of The Walking Dead season 6. Not only does he possess the physically imposing frame to portray Negan, but he's a longtime fan who's always been involved in comic books and grew up with a baseball bat in his hands, according to the man himself.
There's been a lot of chatter around Negan and his appearance in the show, mainly centered around whether or not the narrative concerning his entrance would follow the same victim pattern as in the comic books. Whilst the show seemed to be teasing the death of Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) via arrow to the head (as happens in the comics), his place was instead taken by Denise (Merritt Wever) in last week's episode "Twice As Far."
And of course, there's still the big question of who's going to bite it in the season finale, with Negan's entrance said to be "in service to being faithful to the comic book inasmuch as one can," according to showrunner Scott M. Gimple. It's not looking good for one fan favorite, but then again, The Walking Dead never fails to surprise.
So why is Negan such a big deal for the show? The Walking Dead executive producer David Alpert describes him as "one of the greatest villains ever created in TV" and Morgan says he is "special in a lot of ways." It's not just the consequences of his appearance in terms of those he kills that makes him formidable, and it's not just his brutality that earned him those accolades.
In a new EW interview, Gimple describes 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. But why? Because he's not inherently evil, nor insane, nor psychopathic. Rather 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.
The worst kind of bullies in high school, and junior high, and elementary school, and kindergarten, pre-school, and the womb were the bullies that were funny... They were funny and yet they were awful. That’s such a combination. And Negan is the ultimate version of that bully."
It's difficult for fans of the comics to say that they love Negan, given the hell he's brought down upon Rick and co. But yet there's something about the character that we love to hate or, as Gimple describes it, "hate to love."
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 also a charismatic leader and strategist who protects his own. He's smart and savvy and 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.
Because, though Negan does terrible things, Gimple says we're still going to find him funny, and in turn be ashamed at our reaction to the character. And this sets him apart from other characters, like the Governor of the comics, as Negan acts not out of pure revenge, hatred or psychopathy.
On this theme Alpert describes Negan as "a fully self-actualized human, it's just not necessarily in a good way," and Gimple says we shouldn't label him as a psychopath or the like:
"He’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."
Psychopath or no, Negan's appearance is going to have an massive effect on The Walking Dead Universe, and things are never going to be the same again for the Survivors, regardless of whose head ends up on the chopping block in two episodes' time.
Are you ready for it?