Negan is coming to The Walking Dead—and he’s bringing all-out war with him.
The very sound of the iconic comic book villain’s name, uttered onscreen for the first time in a post-finale teaser last Sunday, unleashed waves of giddy anticipation among fans. Whispers began spreading of “Lucille,” Glenn’s fate, Saviors, and a Sanctuary.
But beyond the excitement, fans are harboring an acute sense of dread about Negan’s arrival—and for good reason. If the AMC drama follows the story arcs laid out in its comic book source material, the show’s most savage, heartbreaking death yet is on the horizon—and this time, there won’t be a dumpster to save the character in danger.
In Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels, Negan is by far the most vicious (and fascinating) villain the zombie saga has ever introduced—cannibals, mad Wolves, and one-eyed Governors be damned. He is charismatic, foul-mouthed, and a walking contradiction of both brutality and empathy: he despises rape, for instance, but isn’t above threatening to have his men “run a train” on Carl in retribution for Rick’s defiance.
He’ll stab one of his own men in the throat for attempting to rape an innocent woman, but also extort most women in his community into acting as his “wives”—no matter who those women already loved, or how much they despise him—with all the sexual benefits marriage entails. And he’s powerful enough to take the men whose wives he stole and turn them into loyal followers.
But apart from running what amounts to an at-home harem, Negan is most notorious for his stunning introduction to Rick’s world. It’s perhaps the most dreaded “KRAKK!” in comic book history: the moment when Negan, armed with his barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat affectionately nicknamed “Lucille,” gleefully bashes Glenn’s skull in, killing him in front of his crying wife, Maggie, and the other members of Rick’s family.
The brutality of the kill—Glenn survives the first bone-breaking blow and begs for his life, only to die after another of Negan’s monster swings—sparks all-out war between Rick’s group in Alexandria and Negan’s followers, a vicious, organized gang called the Saviors. (Dwight, the man who stole Daryl’s crossbow in the Season 6 episode “Always Accountable,” is a member of the Saviors, along with the menacing bikers in last Sunday’s post-episode teaser.)
Negan is expected to make his TV debut in the Season 6 finale, a scant eight episodes from now. (For comparison, Kirkman first introduces Negan in Issue 100, and Sunday’s midseason finale caught TV viewers up to roughly issue 83–that’s a lot of plot for just eight episodes!)
Watchmen and The Good Wife actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan will bring the villainous ex-car salesman to life, a role he apparently already relishes.
“I’m no pussy! I don’t mind handling a baseball bat!” the actor told TV Guide last week, presumably while cackling maniacally. “I feel real comfortable with Lucille in my hands, let’s say that.”
Morgan’s full-throated embrace of his crass and charismatic new character may outweigh AMC’s, in fact. The network is notoriously uptight about its use of curse words “We get four ‘shits,’” executive producer David Alpert once told a Producer’s Guild panel, months after an F-bomb in one of Rick’s most iconic lines (“They’re fucking with the wrong people”) was changed to “screwing” in its onscreen adaptation.
“There are obviously certain limitations to the broadcast on AMC, but we’re working around that stuff right now to figure out some cool ways to keep Negan’s vocabulary fairly intact,” Walking Dead show runner Scott Gimple told Variety.
Apart from whether Morgan will be allowed to utter R-rated dialogue gems such as “I’m thinking of an answer somewhere between no motherfucking way and go fucking fuck yourself,” the question of who, exactly, will be on the receiving end of Negan’s bat remains open.
Morgan himself has stayed tight-lipped, saying only, “As far as I know, it’s going to be very much parallel to the comic books. If you know what’s coming, then I don’t have to tell you.”
Gimple also seemed to hint at faithfulness to the comics’ Glenn-killing storyline in an interview with TV Line, saying, “Six years in now, the audience is so smart that the obvious thing isn’t the obvious thing anymore. If you do it exactly like the comics, people might not be expecting that because we [have a tendency to] mix things up. It’s this completely psychological game.”
The future is grim for Glenn, and for the rest of Rick’s gang as well. But Negan isn’t the sort to care. As Gimple added in that interview, “He’s the star of his own movie and we’re all Red Shirts.”