Dead Inside: Negan Part 2: Shades of Gray

Last year prior to the beginning of season 7 of The Walking Dead, I explored Image Comics special series on Negan’s back story. (If you did not read that article, shame on you. Stop right now and go read it – I’ll still be here when you get back.)

At the time, Image had promised only 12 installments of Here’s Negan and my first article had covered the first 8. However, Image extended the series to 16 installments, and what is more, the complete collection will be available in digital and comic form on October 4, 2017, just in time for season 8.

This article will not only cover the last 8 installments, and what fun things we learn about society’s current favorite villain (at least fictional villain – I am sure everyone can think of a political figure or two that would surpass even Negan’s despicability), but I will also look at the surprising reaction that many fans had to Negan’s appearance and actions in season 7.

Now, I must confess, that having read The Walking Dead comics, at this point in the comic universe, Negan is not just my favorite villain – he is my favorite character in the whole series. (I will not spoil anything and tell you why – I will let you discover that on your own.) Thus, I was perplexed to hear several people say that they actually stopped watching TWD because they despised Negan so much. He was too evil and violent. He was too one sided. He had no semblance of humanity. He was not believable. “Here’s Negan” does a decent job of addressing these concerns and provides us with a basic understanding of the path that led to Negan’s being the man we love to hate.

The final 8 installments of Here’s Negan shows Negan joining several groups, only to repeatedly lose everyone. Eventually he meets with Dwight’s group (Dwight is unrecognizable without half of his face burned off.) Dwight, who is the leader of the group, patronizingly invites Negan to join them out of pity.

However, under Negan’s leadership – much to the disappointment and resentment of Dwight who feels demoted, the group is able to survive several dangerous situations. Negan proves that he not only capable, but that he is fearless – winning the loyalty of all in the group (including Dwight’s wife.)

Eventually, after picking up his signature baseball bat and leather jacket along the way, Negan’s new group runs into another group of survivors and they decide to join forces. It is discovered that the leader of the new group has been basically raping one of the younger females in his group and offers her to Negan. Negan is so enraged at this man’s lack of humanity that he attacks him and during the fight kills him by bludgeoning him with his bat (which is unnamed at this point and sans barbed-wire).

In a touching moment of pathos, Negan invokes his dead wife Lucille and knows he has crossed a line: he has killed a human. That is the turning point. He realizes that if they are to survive-if humanity is to survive, he must bury his emotions and humanity and become a monster in order to become their savior.

In an almost symbolic ritual, he wraps his bat with barbed-wire and tells the stunned onlookers that Lucille will keep them safe and be their “savior” or they can suffer the same fate as their former leader who lays beaten to a bloody pulp at their feet.

Ironically, my last article opined that we shouldn’t have to know every single detail about our villains’ back story. We should be able to sit with the mystery and the mythos of our villains without having to know every detail of how they ended up where they are. Today, I am not so sure. In today’s world, so much is seen in black and white and we refuse to see any shades of gray. It is “us” verses “them”. However, the truth is, we all have a darkness in us; we have all faced challenges either successfully, or not so successfully-we are all shades of gray. There was an interesting study I recently read about conducted by Philip Zimbardo in the 1970’s called the Stanford Prison Experiment where Stanford students were assigned roles of guards and prisoners. Shockingly, those assigned the roles of prison guards started exhibiting sadistic qualities so brutal that the study had to be cancelled. The lesson: we all have a capacity for darkness given the right conditions.

So, perhaps knowing Negan’s path and what led him to be the evil sadistic leader he is can evoke a sense of catharsis in us. We can see in Negan our own dark impulses and purge and release them through empathy. I recommend picking up the full comic version of “Here’s Negan” October 4, 2017 and reading it prior to the start of Season 8 of TWD which premieres October 22, 2017 on AMC. It will change your Negan experience for the better.

All images courtesy of Image Comics and are for review purposes only.

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