Rick’s gang has met many a bad guy throughout the successful run of AMC’s The Walking Dead, but Negan is in a class all his own. Known for his signature leather jacket and a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire that he lovingly refers to as Lucille, Negan started out as a walking nightmare, before his character was fleshed out through the course of many excellent Walking Dead episodes.
He immediately became one of the most hated characters in the series, but over time, Negan has softened from the gleeful antagonist that he once was. Now a member of the survivors he once tormented, Negan stays ostracized from the community, while helping out where he can. The final season of The Walking Dead has yet to reveal how his character arc will end, but it will be bloody, one way or another.
Updated on October 30th, 2021 by Derek Draven: The Walking Dead’s final season is on hiatus, but the stakes have never been higher, especially for Negan. Over the last few seasons, fans of the show have come to realize that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to this terrifying villain. Now that he’s pursuing a path to redemption, more details of his life are starting to come to the forefront. There are several more reasons why it’s a good idea to take a look at Negan’s overall character arc, and how tragic it really is. This is a man that has gone from monster, to human, but the question is whether that pendulum will swing back again, before the final curtain is drawn.
His Lost His Beloved Wife
Negan was forced to face death in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, just like many others. The episode “Here’s Negan” revealed a bunch of new tidbits about his life, both before and after the world fell. Negan was married to a woman named Lucille. Selfish and irresponsible, Negan was engaged in an affair with another woman, but immediately broke it off when he found out that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer.
Determined to turn over a new leaf, Negan redoubled his efforts to be a good husband. When the zombie infestation caused society to fall, Negan tried to keep her alive by procuring cancer drugs, but she eventually succumbed to her fate. The traumatic incident changed Negan irrevocably, hardening his heart, and turning him into a sadistic killer.
He Was Traumatized By The Zombie Apocalypse
The Walking Dead comics reveal that Negan’s attitude was there from the start, but he wasn’t always the killer he was known as. At one point in the show, Negan and Lucille debate whether to kill a zombie, with the former admitting, “It doesn’t bother me, but I’m worried that I’ll get used to it.”
It’s a tense bit of foreshadowing that shows there was something lurking under the surface, just waiting for the right mixture of elements to come out. Negan would apply his love of murdering walkers to humans, as well, and this gave birth to his twisted sense of righteousness that eventually created the Saviors.
He Doesn’t Believe He’s The Villain
Negan acknowledges the evil things he’s done in his past, but at each step, he’s justified it with excuse after excuse. He frequently points to the post-apocalyptic world as the impetus for his actions, including the formation of the Saviors, whose mandate is to bully and dominate the weak into providing for them.
When he led the Saviors at the Sanctuary, he valued human life as a precious resource, and killed as few people as possible. However, it was all for the sake of maintaining a status quo that flew in the face of basic morality. To Negan, however, it was simply a necessity of life in this new world.
The Saviors Are Gone
After Lucille died, Negan found solace in the company of a group of battle-hardened survivors that eventually became known as the Saviors. This group was nothing more than a glorified cabal of bullies who preyed on the weak, but it was essentially Negan’s family.
His higher-up Saviors weren’t just his lieutenants and underlings, but brothers-in-arms who fought for a cause, no matter how despicable. They bonded over fighting the undead, just as they bonded over dominating those under their “protection,” which became his entire life.
He Hit Rock Bottom In Prison
Negan and the Saviors were eventually defeated, but rather than succumb to revenge, Rick decided to imprison him for the rest of his life as an attempt to establish a moral society. It was the most crushing event of his life, as Negan had lost it all in one fell swoop, including the extended family he’d grown to care for.
In what can only be described as a mental break, he begs Maggie to kill him so that he can be with Lucille again. Maggie refuses, and a desperate Negan attempts to take his own life by slamming his head repeatedly into the concrete wall. Eventually, he stops, unable to finish the job.
Those Closest To Him Die Tragically
The only people that Negan can truly bond with throughout the series seem to be children, which might be a throwback to his previous life as a gym teacher. He genuinely respected Carl to the point where he had plans to groom him to be a Savior. Despite threatening to kill him more than once, he became emotional when he heard that Carl had passed away.
Later, after escaping Alexandria, he ran into a single mother and her young son. He traveled with them, bonding with the boy along the way. He also made the right choice in befriending Rick’s little daughter Judith, whom he cared deeply for, and respected her as wise beyond her very young years.
He Lives In A Constant State Of Guilt
Negan doesn’t necessarily believe that he is the villain of the story, but he also knows that there are other ways that he could have gone about doing what he did. He lives in a state of constant guilt regarding such thing as his affair, not being a better husband, and his actions after her death.
He still loves Lucille, and regrets any wrong he did her, more than he regrets all the lives that he’s taken. He also feels guilty other innocent people who have died because of him, particularly those who he claimed to have under his care during his days of leading the Saviors.
He Was Forced To Kill Alpha
Desperate to win his way into the good graces of Alexandria, Negan cuts a deal with Carol to infiltrate the Whisperers and kill Alpha. Ever the charmer, he easily manages to get close to her, eventually starting a twisted romance with her that allows him to navigate past all her defenses.
He saw a lot of himself in the way she led the Whisperers, and respected what she was able to do, but there were certain things that he refused to forgive, such as the willingness to kill her own daughter. After trying to get her to change her ways, he went forward with trapping her, and killing her away from the rest of the group.
He Has No Friends
Following the decimation of the Saviors, Negan lost everything, including his friends. Some died in the ensuing battle, while others joined Rick’s group and sought a better life. Even when he was eventually let out, Negan was not welcome in the community, and many had long memories of what he’d done.
For a time, it seemed like Judith had become his friend, but the two are arguably acquaintances, first and foremost. The more he tries to ingratiate himself into the community, the more he’s rebuffed, which is the real test of whether he can stick it out for the long haul, and try to make amends.
Nobody Loves Him
Negan has formed bonds with both Judith and Lydia, but he still doesn’t have anyone who truly loves him. The only people he really has to talk to are children, and even then, with caution. He’s gone a long time without a romantic interest, or even a friend to lean on, and that can be terribly isolating.
It’s clear that Negan wants to fit in, as evidenced by how gently he offers advice, concern, or even a kind word. He wants to stay in Alexandria and become a member of their community, to the point where he gave up the chance to become the new Alpha of the Whisperers. Negan wants a home, but he’s not sure he’ll ever get it.
He Doesn’t Know How To Be Normal
Readjusting to the life of a normal person in a healthy society has been a slow, uphill battle for Negan. Even before the apocalypse broke out, Negan was far from a model citizen, and now he’s being forced to come to grips with that fact, if he wants to be part of building a better world.
In essence, Negan needs to learn how to be a human being, all over again. He’s having trouble, as evidenced by a conversation with Maggie where she asked him if he’d have done things differently the day he confronted Rick and the group. He told her that he would have killed them all, rather than spare any of them. Clearly, he has a long way to go.
He Gave Up His Bat, Lucille
Lucille first appeared to be nothing more than a cheeky nickname that Negan gave to his barbed wire baseball bat, but it took on special meaning when his story was fleshed out in later seasons. It was there that audiences were introduced to the actual Lucille, who ended up dying while Negan was out trying to procure medication for her.
After years of relying on his baseball bat as a reminder of her, Negan finally retired it. He knew that keeping it around would undoubtedly lead him down the same dark path as before, but getting rid of it meant finally moving on from his real life love. The decision was gut-wrenching, but it opened up a new door for him to pursue redemption.
He Can’t Let Go Of His Pragmatism
After the zombie apocalypse took down society, Negan’s view of the world changed. He started to see things in terms of pure survival, and adopted a strong vs. weak mentality. To him, everything was a resource, particularly people. With enough of them kept on a tight leash, a new society could thrive.
Negan’s foresight couldn’t make it past that realization, however. It’s obvious that despite the lessons he’s learned in recent years, Negan is still a cold pragmatist. That’s a problem, as the kind of society he wants to be a part of relies heavily on compassion, sympathy and human solidarity – none of which are his strong suits.
He Wants To Make Amends With Maggie
The murder of Glenn opened up a can of worms that Negan did not anticipate. It was a constant reminder for Rick and his group, as well as Glenn’s widow Maggie, who watched it happen. The resentment and hatred that grew would later give rise to an insurrection against the Saviors, costing Negan everything.
The dust settled years ago, but Negan now faces the challenge of trying to live within eyeshot of Maggie, who has returned from self-imposed hiatus. Things got off to a rocky start almost immediately, and they don’t seem to be getting better. It’s obvious Negan feels extremely remorseful about his actions, even if he believed he did what needed to be done. Of all his possible enemies, Maggie is the most dangerous.
He Has Nowhere Else To Go
There many differences between the comic and TV show versions of Negan, many of which have impacted the course of the character arc. In the Walking Dead comics, Negan ends up going into exile, and living on his own in the woods. It’s a quiet and sad end to the character’s arc, with Negan destined to live out his days in loneliness. Only Carl Grimes ever came to visit him from time to time, which was a small comfort.
In the TV show, it remains to be seen whether Negan will have to hit the road, or whether the group will finally accept him. Either way, Negan has nowhere else to go, and he views the group as his only true path in life. If that opportunity evaporates, so too will Negan’s chances to find any sort of peace.
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