**FULL SPOILERS FOR THE WALKING DEAD COMICS AND TV SHOW**
If a man goes around terrorising people with a barbed wire baseball bat named Lucille and breaks the main character’s party in his first appearance, he is undoubtedly one hell of a villain and an all round badass. But that’s not all that Negan is, surprisingly, despite his clear gruff appearance which is common for those existing within Robert Kirkman’s ongoing Walking Dead comic book series. In due time, I shall explain what he is, and why he is so great at what it is he does, but until then, I believe a proper recanting of the Walking Dead is in order. The Walking Dead, which started serialisation in 2003 and had its TV run start in 2010 became a sensation among horror fans due to its compelling, continuing style. Comic fans were drawn in by Tony Moore’s black and white style and Robert Kirkman’s gritty and believable post-apocalyptic writing. Nothing is held back. He writes about the abandonment of morals, the degradation of humanity, the tragedy and terror that follows in the wake of a dystopian post-apocalyptic future, while peppering it with slivers of light that shine through and give the characters hope. Meanwhile, the series’ characters are well portrayed by their actors, which has given fans great character development, amazing scenery and stunning acting throughout its seven, soon to be eight season run. Man has always had a fear of death, and zombies are one of the many imaginary manifestations of that fear. They are not necessarily inhumanely strong, they are stupid and mindless, however, they outnumber the living and are terrifying in their endless pursuit of the living. However, despite this, Kirkman drives home the point that the living will almost always be the true danger to the living as many individuals come and go. Some with misguided morals, others with fractured minds, and others with despicable intentions.
Having established this, it is important to see how well Negan fits into the equation as not only a villain, but a hero to others. Despite his villainous nature, he has managed to amass a large following of individuals who will serve him no matter where he goes, while those who will not serve him willingly, he breaks down and has them slave for him, providing him with food, weaponry and old world commodities that are now luxuries in the new world of the dead. He has a vast network of soldiers and workers. He has specialists and doctors, people whose worth is priceless. A feudal meritocracy based on a point system where those who obey and play their part are rewarded, and based on the points they have amassed, they can afford the various items in his inventory. You see, Negan is cruel, but one thing he is not, is stupid. Those with ties and attachments, he takes full advantage of. A pretty girl who desperately need the medicine for her ailing mother can be offered the choice between backbreaking labour or becoming one of his wives. A man who has disobeyed him but has a lover can be broken down and become one of his armed men in return for total security and a small measure of luxury for him and his lover. And do not think his intelligence stops there because Negan has even created tactics making sure that even the dead serve his purpose, sending hordes of zombies to settlements in order to weaken them so they are easier to take.
And this is vary important because unlike other settlements we have seen throughout the Walking Dead, Negan is the first to make a truly feudal society. He has his knights, his generals and his pawns, and it is only in this world where Niccolo Machiavelli’s teachings take full effect even though they have some weight even in our world. He was one man, but yet, he is truly and undeniably the only one at the time. Everything belongs to him, even though he says it is for everyone. He can take as he pleases, but he doesn’t because he only takes what he needs, and occasionally, what he wants. He gives others “choice”, which is to serve him, or die. However, in being his direct subordinate, he breaks them down, assimilating their personalities to the point where they lose all sense of identity and are only left with loyalty to the point where “everyone is Negan”. They gain all the rewards, living like kings, but still being thralls to Negan himself. Those who work the menial tasks but retain their individuality live in fear of all the various Negans and, for lack of a better word, are complete and utter slaves. Whilst Negan would think twice about killing one of his Negans, the workers are completely replaceable, and so they live with the knowledge that death is perhaps the first and last punishment they will receive. But yet they are still living, and with enough work they can afford for themselves and perhaps the ones they love. He has been known to smash the brains in of those unwilling to bend, and even permitted the executions of every male over 10 to ensure that a settlement never thinks of revolting against him again. By leaving able bodied people, but no trained fighters, he has sustained a supply source, but robbed it of much of it’s fighting power. He is ruthless to a fault, and that is only possible by having the barest minimum of morals. Morals that can only really help himself the most, and get others by on the most basic of levels.
But Negan has established a Cult of Personality, much like Joseph Stalin. The people worship his power like a demigod of old, and his men respect and fear him. He has a throng of wives at his disposal and his chambers are kingly compared to everyone else’s. Given the choice between betrayal and death, his followers would rather choose death because they know just how terrifying Negan is. He mercilessly punishes those who cross him, beating two of Rick’s friends to death with Lucille at the beginning of the seventh season himself whilst the rest were watching just to show that he was in control. Afterwards, he let them go because he knew that any resistance was all but stamped out due to the fact that he held the numbers, he had the guns and every other resource. In this way, he fulfills the duty of the Prince as Machiavelli intended, being cruel, but also rewarding, and in some cases, kind. When Carl, the main character Rick’s son comes to kill Negan and guns down two of his men, Negan shows Carl what he has built around him, steadily breaking him down. He pokes at his fears and insecurities, showing the benefits of living under his rule whilst demonstrating the punishment for those who disobey, which is burning half of their face with a burning iron. After which he takes Carl home personally, playing with Carl’s baby sister while cooking in Rick’s kitchen, using their dwindling supplies and making himself at home, showing the level of control he has over everyone.
Despite all of his deeds, as stated before, Negan does this because he believes that survival is only possible through the application and enforcement of rules. When one of his men attempts to rape one of Rick’s people, he kills him right there and there as rape is strictly forbidden, as is disobedience, thievery or murdering one of your own. He ensures that he doles out the punishment to show his superiority, but also to show that this is the leader’s responsibility, and whoever wants to step up also has to take up the less…appealing aspects of his position. Negan rules through strength, all the way from his dominating body language, his armed forces and his menacing baseball bat. He exudes it, utterly overshadowing those around him. He is more than smart enough to know that he should always step up, and only step down if it benefits him. He is, perhaps, the epitome of an “Alpha Male”, and a ruthless, but nonetheless efficient leader, looking down on everyone around with scorn. Therefore, it stands to reason that Negan shall perhaps be remembered as a charismatic prick who pissed too many people off, but his character is an important one. In the face of true destruction, can his actions truly be classified as completely evil considering the massive improvements he has brought about, not counting the undeniable security he has provided for those around him. Should we really fault those who create rules that, while tyrannical and despotic, still manage to keep a populace safe, fed, and most importantly, in check? Maybe we’ll answer that during the zombie apocalypse
To highlight the sheer confidence of his character, and quote one of his best lines, “I just slid my dick down your throat, AND YOU THANKED ME FOR IT!”