For any follower of The Walking Dead, the name ‘Negan’ immediately elicits intense reaction. This is the new baddie who ruthlessly bashed in the skulls of two beloved members of the group. This is the villain that’s completely broken the fearless Rick Grimes, making him kneel, weep, and beg. This is the diabolical dictator who gets whatever he wants by ruling with terror.
He is the new alpha dog in the world, and he is one mean brute.
Yet, despite all of this, when I join my companions every Sunday night to tune in to the next episode of The Walking Dead, we all hope that Negan shows up. We are disappointed when he doesn’t appear on screen, even thought that’s better for the main group of the show. We spend the entire week leading up to the next episode quoting Negan over and over again, mimicking his body language and voice. We find ourselves talking about how awesome Negan is, despite how much we hate him for subjugating our heroes.
Frankly, we love Negan.
It’s a strange feeling to love a villain. Normally, many shows and movies make it very clear to the audience who they are supposed to love and treat as the hero, and who they are supposed to despise and root against as the villain. While there is no doubt in any viewer’s mind that Negan is the villain, complete and utter hatred for him is difficult, and that is certainly done on purpose.
The fact that I have such mixed feelings about Negan is what makes The Walking Dead so beautiful at storytelling. Negan is the leader of his own group, a group that he is trying to keep alive. He is not insane; there is a reason for why he acts the way he does, a reason that makes sense to him. He has a backstory, a path that has lead him to where he is today. As the creator of the series Robert Kirkman even says, Negan is “the hero of his own story.”
As a viewer, I am forced to consider these questions of how bad Negan really is. He truly is the hero of his own story; from his point of view, Rick and his group unnecessarily ambushed and killed dozens of Negan’s men. Negan is just trying to keep his own group safe and alive, and for the sheer number of people that Rick and his gang slaughtered, for Negan to kill only two individuals does seem mighty merciful (from a certain perspective). Negan is a smart leader, who gets things done. He’s charming, he’s efficient, and he’s powerful. At what point, then, is he really villain, and not just another survivor who’s figured out a way to make it in the new world, no different than the protagonists of the show?