The Walking Dead is again, and for us right here at The Verge that’s a chance to look at simply how efficient the present may be in creating a posh villain. As performed by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, mbadive unhealthy Negan has all the time been violent. But due to his man-baby antics, he’s stubbornly remained a comic book e book thug, by no means actually turning into the nuanced character the present so sorely wants.
Each week, I’ll be badyzing a brand new episode of The Walking Dead via its presentation of Negan: how he acts, how he delivers his jokes and threats, and most significantly, how his character develops in distinction to our supposedly-virtuous heroes. We’ll take a look at all of the traits a villain is meant to excel at, together with these we detest, and boil it down into one single rating on what we’re calling the Neganometer™. A rating of 10 means he’s the perfect, most advanced villain we’ve ever seen; a rating of zero means he’s just about the identical ol’ Negan he’s all the time been.
Warning: There will likely be spoilers.
AMC’s description for final evening’s episode, “Monsters,” is punctuated by the closing line “Morality proves tricky in wartime.” That a TV itemizing must reminder viewers that full-blown human battle results in moral murkiness is, on its face, comical. But for a present about dwelling in a zombie apocalypse, the badertion is each a reiteration of the present’s overarching theme, and a glimpse at how the writers might deal with the messy Negan storyline. This season, Rick and the opposite teams have Negan on the run, and so they’re searching down each final Savior they’ll to finish the risk as soon as and for all. But that entails making laborious decisions, past simply “kill or be killed.”
The Walking Dead has spent years with Rick Grimes and his badociates slowly working in the direction of one thing resembling stability. They’ve cycled via the deterioration of societal norms, relationships, and private boundaries, earlier than lastly exploring the restoration of these ideas. The present is now at a degree the place the remnants of society are attempting to rebuild, and The Walking Dead needs us to consider that Negan is absolute evil, whereas Rick and the others are righteous and good. But in “Monsters,” the present as an alternative will get extra severe about blurring the road between the 2 — even whereas missing any on-screen appearances from its mbadive villain.
Aaron pays the worth of warfare
When we final noticed Aaron, he was shepherding his boyfriend Eric — bleeding profusely from a bullet wound in his abdomen — away from the battlefield. With no medical badist in sight, the 2 say their goodbyes in “Monsters.” It’s a young second for a duo which have spent a lot of the present on the periphery. Yet for Aaron, who’s all the time deserved extra display time than he will get, it’s an particularly robust loss. Later within the episode, he breaks down whereas watching a zombified Eric stumble off into the gap to affix the ranks of the undead.
Aaron has trusted Rick all through the various ups and downs of their shared journey, ever because the native residents of Alexandria had been first recruited to show the struggling metropolis round — to admittedly blended outcomes. Now, having fought alongside everybody else, Aaron is paying the identical worth as Maggie and so many others earlier than her. Returning to his comrades a bit later within the episode, Aaron discovers the battle has been received. He volunteers to relay the result of the struggle to Maggie — and to take care of the kid Rick found. In a method, he’s accepting a brand new presence into his life simply because the particular person closest to him exits it. But little does he know that one other group is marching dozens of captured fighters towards the Hilltop, establishing a possible battle between the mourning Aaron, who simply misplaced his badociate to the Saviors, and the merciful Jesus who needs to maintain them safely imprisoned.
Jesus and Morgan get bodily over philosophy
Jesus and Morgan’s disagreement over the therapy of the Saviors boils over when the group is swarmed by a zombie horde. It offers a gaggle of prisoners — together with a Savior that Morgan’s had a long-running feud with — the chance to run off into the woods. Morgan chases them with a rifle, stopping the group at gunpoint earlier than executing considered one of them with a shot to the pinnacle. Before he’s in a position to shoot anybody else, Jesus steps in.
What ensues is a little bit of well-done struggle choreography, during which Jesus deftly dances round Morgan, deflects his employees swings, and redirects his aggression towards the actual subject at hand: the execution of unarmed prisoners. Morgan finally concedes that his lack of empathy might make him unfit for the sort of warfare Jesus, Maggie, and others appear intent on waging. But he does get in a single ultimate verbal jab. “I know I’m not right, but I’m not wrong,” Morgan says earlier than strolling away, momentarily pausing over the prisoner he executed.
Back on the Hilltop, a wounded Gregory manages to persuade Maggie to let him in, telling her he’s lastly realized the error of his methods. Jesus and the others present up shortly thereafter, and Jesus efficiently lobbies Maggie to lock up the prisoners in two trailers out again with round the clock guards, regardless of Gregory’s insistence that they not be let into his residence.
I perceive what the present goes for right here. It’s all a part of a gradual construct towards Rick and the group’s grand ethical realization that solely via honest justice and mercy can they rebuild a normalized society. But this righteousness feels hopelessly shoehorned in and inconsistent, devoid of any narrative logic. What are they going to feed the prisoners? Will they be tried for his or her crimes, and locked up (in a jail that doesn’t even exist but)? Or will they be compelled to badimilate into the Hilltop group? The Walking Dead needs to placed on a grandstanding show about proper and flawed within the post-apocalypse, however there appears to be no true motivation behind it, aside from the truth that numerous characters want one thing to argue about to fill display time.
That Jesus is stepping in to play decide doesn’t make all of it that totally different than the half-dozen different shouting matches about ethical complexity that the present has tossed in over the previous couple of seasons. Now, I don’t doubt that there could be severe moral debates in these kinds of eventualities. But it’s unclear why this must be the second everybody decides to hash out the post-zombie Geneva Conventions — reasonably than earlier than they determined to homicide greater than 100 of Negan’s fighters in brutal first strikes.
Daryl’s brutality and the Morales cop-out
Last week’s episode, “The Damned,” reintroduced a personality from the primary season named Morales. Now a Savior aligned with Negan, Morales trapped Rick at gunpoint within the ultimate minutes. The resolution to carry Morales again proved controversial: jokes with the punchline “who?” flooded Reddit and recap remark sections, even whereas some diehard followers rejoiced on the thought of revisiting the 2 males’s totally different paths via the post-apocalypse. Given the precedent set with Morgan, who additionally pulled the same disappearing act, it however offered a chance to see a personality that might maybe provide an intriguing counterpoint to the journey Rick Grimes has been on.
Instead, “Monster” throws all of that potential out the window in a mind-boggling sequence that pairs a few of the finest dialogue in The Walking Dead’s historical past with a jarring narrative cop-out. Even after Rick pleads with Morales to know his place, his former ally is unwavering, calling Rick a “monster” — and giving the episode its title. Morales tells Rick that Negan has instructed the Saviors to not kill him, “the widow” (whom we all know to be Maggie), or “the King” (a reference to Ezekiel).
Rick then asks Morales if “he’s Negan too,” referencing the cult-like mentality the Saviors undertake to maintain order. “I lost my family, I lost my mind… the Saviors, they found me,” Morales tells him. “So yeah, I’m Negan.” He then proceeds to attract a comparability between himself and Rick’s personal cutthroat actions within the title of survival. And although Rick disputes the thought, Morales cuts even deeper, calling the each of them “badholes who will do whatever it takes to keep going.” In reality, Morales notes how the scenario could be no totally different if Rick was holding the gun.
Before viewers also have a probability to relish within the direct condemnation of Rick’s character, a shadow seems within the background. Rick yells out, nevertheless it’s too late: Daryl places an arrow via Morales’ face, ending the scene, and any sort of deeper understanding between the 2 survivors.
Even for a present that shed its “no one is safe” tagline way back, the dying feels startling, and virtually misplaced. Showrunner Scott Gimple clearly needs to make use of Morales as a character-development stepping stone, with Rick distraught and conflicted over the person’s swift dying. Later on within the episode, Daryl executes an unarmed man Rick promised to not damage in change for info, solely additional cementing the sensation that these scenes are blunt character-building workouts for our principal character. But it nonetheless feels low-cost and pointless to make use of Morales as a cliffhanger, solely to write down him out moments later.
Ezekiel’s false hope falls aside
Following final week’s interaction between King Ezekiel and Carol, during which the regal tiger tamer defined the reasoning behind his fixed gildings, it’s a little bit simpler to see the influence of his strategies. Ezekiel is popping Carol, nonetheless set in her cynical methods, right into a believer. Could this theatrical goofball actually have all of it found out? Is this the way in which to outlive in a bleak world whereas preserving your humanity intact?
No sooner does the viewers badume Carol and Ezekiel might come out unscathed do they waltz into tragedy. In the closing minutes of “Monsters,” Ezekiel catches the faintest picture of a muzzle within the window of a Saviors compound they plan to brush, earlier than telling his companions to drop to the bottom. They achieve this, however solely after three or 4 Kingdom members pile onto Ezekiel first, shielding him from the gunfire.
It’s a stunning scene — the present makes it completely clear that these shielding Ezekiel are peppered with bullets — however extra importantly, it’s a tragic one. Ezekiel’s followers have such confidence in his talents and worldview that they’re prepared to sacrifice themselves to guard him. What had in a single second been a enjoyable fiction designed to badist folks cope out of the blue turns into a lie that will get folks killed. That’s a burden any ruler has to take care of, whether or not they’re in Shakespearean England or zombie-strewn Virginia.
Evaluating the villain
These previous two episodes have tried to make it clear that the actual villain looming over The Walking Dead is the crumbling morality on the coronary heart of the society everybody’s supposedly preventing to protect. Negan brutalizes his victims, enslaves ladies, and operates a large-scale racketeering operation within the title of guaranteeing security. His method is implicitly bankrupt from an moral perspective, but Rick and his allies are simply as prepared to make use of violence as a method to an finish. The extra cold-blooded members, like Morgan and Daryl, discover all of it too straightforward to execute unarmed combatants to additional their targets, and remove any risk of a risk.
But as we mentioned final week, one other episode during which Negan didn’t seem, the present’s endlessly irritating plotting serves as a basic disservice to viewers. The Walking Dead needs ethical ambiguity and complexity, whereas on the identical time refusing to maneuver greater than an inch in any path. We’ve now spent round 85 straight minutes this season with the present simply spinning round in its personal non-public circle, ready with baited breath for one thing to vary, or for the present’s comic-book unhealthy man to point out even a touch of nuance.
The equivalence between Negan and Rick won’t ever maintain up if the characters solely transfer in jarring, inconsistent leaps that supposedly happen throughout the identical 12-hour interval. It takes time for characters to vary and develop, and which means letting audiences spend time with them, as effectively. Instead, each single storyline of The Walking Dead this season feels segmented off; particular person items of busywork filling house as a result of the present’s not all for moments of precise battle or dialogue. Negan can work serving as only a image or an thought, however not if AMC needs to pull his looming risk out for years — one thing mirrored in the truth that the present simply hit a 5-year scores low.
Charisma: If there’s a defining attribute of Negan, it’s that he’s a sociopath in each vital method, permitting him to sway from charismatic chief to totalitarian maniac. That means he isn’t simply violent and merciless, but additionally manipulative, and able to manufactured feelings. That trait seeps into each interplay with the Saviors, whether or not Negan is current or not. Morales is swayed by the Saviors regardless of their brutality, as a result of Negan offers males like him a goal. Negan buttered up Eugene by taking part in to the person’s superiority advanced, and retains Dwight round for instance of the punishment for disloyalty. The charisma wanted to modify between these gears shouldn’t be underestimated, and if Rick and the others are in reality in a position to remove the Negan risk, one of many greatest points they’ll should grapple with is giving his followers an equally compelling purpose to aspect with them.
Negan-o-meter™: 1 out of 10
Moving the needle
The Walking Dead must put extra of Negan on tv screens, interval. The present merely can not maintain itself with a lacking cardboard cutout serving because the counterpoint to what’s presupposed to be an emotionally advanced hero. It not solely hinders every episode; it actively diminishes the work being performed by each different member of the solid as a result of it hamstrings the central battle driving the complete season.
On a grander stage, AMC ought to have severely reevaluated its resolution to go all-in on Negan a while in the past. Instead, right here we’re, with Gimple and the present’s writers making an attempt to stretch what looks as if a single episode’s price of story into a whole season. The solely resolution is for the present to really resolve to ship.