Note: SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers from both the show and comic book series The Walking Dead. If you do not wish to be spoiled in past comic book series and potential future TV show plot points, read at your own peril.
AMC’s The Walking Dead is one of the biggest shows on television right now, so while I’m not convinced the show needs a shot in the arm to boost ratings, I do think the show and writing could be elevated with the introduction of the character of Negan, Rick’s ultimate nemesis in the comic books.
Let me preface this first by saying, I’m just now finally getting caught up with the graphic novels myself. When it comes to The Walking Dead, I’m a show-watcher first and a comic book reader second. I received The Walking Dead Compendium 1 and 2 (Issues #1-96) as a Christmas gift last year and I finally waded my way through all 96 issues. I was able to find the rest of the comics in the series in the library, so I’m only 4 volumes away from being caught up to the single issue comics in the series.
I have complicated feelings toward The Walking Dead television series because while I think some of the writing and plot twists and character building are some of the most entertaining (of anything currently on TV and definitely in the zombie/horror genre), the writing has also been incredibly inconsistent and, apart from Carol (in Season 4-5), I am not terribly impressed with how the show has developed most of their female characters (i.e. socially regressive Lori from Season 1-2, silent/scowling Michonne for most of Season 3, annoying Andrea from, well… pretty much the entire series). I am a huge of fan of Sarah Wayne Callies from Prison Break, so I was less than enthused to see Lori’s character take award for worst TV mom ever.
However, because I’ve invested 5 years in watching this show already, I’ve come to grips with the fact that unless the show overtly jumps the shark, I’m pretty much committed to seeing this story play out on-screen, despite whatever “zombie fatigue” (thanks for the lingo, @Drastudio) I might be facing. As I’m reading through the graphic novels, I find myself wishing the TV show had taken somewhat of a cue from the comics as to what to do with the character of Andrea. Although the women in the comic books are written pretty terribly as well (almost every woman is portrayed as over-the-top emotional and irrational), I do like the overall arc that Comic Book Andrea’s character has taken. She has gone from scared young woman to formidable sharpshooter and Rick’s right hand woman (not to mention lover). She becomes Rick’s equal and is integral to the execution of Rick’s plans and schemes.
I sorely wish that Show Andrea had taken a similar journey. Instead of strategist and sharpshooter like Comic Book Andrea, we get Show Andrea sipping lemonade and seducing the Governor (when she should have been killing him), giving half-hearted speeches to the people of Woodbury, even accidentally shooting Daryl, arguably the show’s most popular character:
Andrea, you IDIOT.
The show even robbed us of truly seeing the Andrea/Michonne dynamic play out on-screen, opting instead to fast forward to them already being besties, instead of letting us truly see the Andrea/Michonne as BFFs origin story. Although, they do have an awesome meet-cute, possibly the best in the history of BFFs.
Best BFF meet-cute. Ever.
Call me crazy, but I would have found the journey of their friendship quite interesting. I suppose the time jump in their relationship was unavoidable, given what was going on with Rick and the rest of the main group; however, it seemed like establishing such a strong female friendship (arguably the only true female friendship on the show) MOSTLY off-screen felt like a cheat.
How’s that stew taste, boo?
I do think the show has found clever ways to re-invent itself every 6 episodes or so, effectively changing the trajectory of the plotline. For me, the barn scene in Season 2 will forever be the first memorable game changer for the show. The farm being overrun in the Season 2 finale, the fall of the prison, the heartbreaking, disturbing “Look at the flowers, Lizzie” from Season 4 and horror of Terminus in Season 5 are standout plot points in the series overall, even if there was a lot of existential trudging along railroads and abandoned highways in-between (though I will say I was a huge fan of the Daryl/Beth burning down the cabin episode).
There is one comic book character I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of in the show. Enter: Negan.
In the comics, Negan is a true psychopath in every sense of the word. He is charismatic, insatiably prone to violence, unpredictable, but loquacious, even eloquent at times in his own, equal parts flowery and crass way. He carries a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, creepily and affectionately naming her Lucille. To assert his dominance to the group, he actually beats (SPOILER ALERT) Glenn to death.
There have been rumors that Jon Hamm may be cast to play Negan. Jon Hamm is at the very least interested in being part of the show, and I’m sure AMC wouldn’t mind having Don Draper back in their roster. I think Jon Hamm would actually be fantastic in the show, and certainly intriguing as Negan. He’s definitely shown he can play charismatic and condescending in Mad Men, and I think we got to see him be a little crazy in Bridesmaids and a lot crazy in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as the post-apocalyptic cult leader.
Titus’ reaction… That is all.
Much like my favorite psychopath Dexter Morgan, Negan operates by an inner code. I think often the most intriguing villains are not the ones who randomly concoct some maniacal plan to take over the world for power or glory. Intriguing villains are usually diehard believers in a code, and if in order to uphold that code they must unleash some form of extreme violence, they are unflinchingly willing to do so. Negan’s occasional restraint from violence (for example, opting to spare Carl’s life rather than kill him) is also intriguing because it’s an interesting mix of code and manipulation. One can’t help wonder if his decision to let Carl go free is his sense of code or a calculated move to throw Rick off balance. His motives always seem shrouded, much like the Joker.
(Here’s hoping Jared’s Joker is NOT really, really bad).
Either way, Negan stands to be an even more terrifying nemesis than the Governor ever was. Season 5 concluded with Rick’s group finding a sanctuary in Alexandria. Their showdown with the Hunters proved that the group has reached new depths of violence they’re willing to go to to protect their own. They’ve already shown willingness to protect Alexandria at any cost, even if it means turning on the very people that took them in. I think if and when Negan comes calling, his sheer villainy will push the group’s morals to new lows. The trick is going to be retaining their humanity and not losing hope in an increasingly bleak world.
I think The Walking Dead needs Negan because I think the show needs a charismatic villain. The Governor’s storyline was more of a slow burn and while he was also a master manipulator, I would say that the people of Woodbury found him charismatic than we as the audience did. His villainy seemed more passive and understated, with occasional glimpses of his insanity (zombie heads in aquariums, anyone?). I wasn’t the biggest fan of Season 3 because a lot of the character’s dialogue and choices didn’t seem to add up to me. The people of Woodbury as a character seemed like a caricature of a mob, an entity rather than actual people, so their blind following to the Governor and his antics (i.e. zombie fighting pits and general fear-mongering) didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
However, I’d be intrigued to see what the show does with an over-the-top, mouthy, truly volatile character like Negan. The Walking Dead has always been and will always be Rick’s story. Negan truly could be the next shot in the arm that could elevate the series to the next level. I think Negan is an opportunity to make the villain as manipulator, leader, truly formidable opponent and foil for Rick could be a fascinating character study. Negan could be the Joker to Rick’s Batman.
He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.
And Negan played by Jon Hamm? One can only dream…
But also this guy.