Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan first smashed his way onto screens during “The Walking Dead’s” season 6 finale. The infamous episode introduced the iconic comic-book villain alongside a highly-controversial cliffhanger in its final moments. When the season 7 premiere finally came along, Morgan’s Negan had his moment in the spotlight with arguably the show’s most disturbing episode.
The death of fan-favorites Abraham Ford and Glenn Rhee at the hands of the villainous character sent shockwaves through “The Walking Dead” and its fandom. Negan quickly rocketed to the top of everyone’s most hated villain list. The following 2 seasons focused on the sinister character’s antics alongside his pesky crew of Saviors. Seasons 7 and 8 are certainly some of the most divisive in the show’s long-running history, but the interest in Dean Morgan’s twisted performance was a constant throughout.
Flash forward into the show’s refreshing tenth season, and Negan is well on his way to redemption in the eyes of Alexandria. After effectively backstabbing Whisperer leader Alpha and helping Daryl take down second-in command Beta, Negan has continued to prove that he is a valuable ally to the survivors. Things seemed to be going well for the reformed character, that is until Maggie Rhee, widowed by Negan himself, returned to Alexandria. Once again faced with someone who has been extremely affected by the actions of his villainous ways, Negan struggles to figure out how to prove to Maggie that he is a changed man.
That’s where “Here’s Negan,” directed by Laura Belsey, comes into play. The 6 bonus episodes of “The Walking Dead” season 10 have been rather hit and miss, ranging from the aimless adventure of “Diverged” to the downright chilling confrontation in “One More.” “Here’s Negan” is the “finale” to the extended season 10 run, closing a chapter on the show’s most inventive season yet with a deep dive into “The Walking Dead’s” prominent big bad.
Morgan has portrayed Negan with a hefty amount of charisma and charm for the majority of the character’s run, yet since the show’s season 9 time jump he has conveyed a softer side of the character. Rarely are such twisted antagonists given room to grow and reflect on the errors of their ways. “Here’s Negan” does exactly what all of these bonus installments should’ve done, and that is providing an intimate and focused exploration of a complex character.
Loosely based on the comic-run of the same name, “Here’s Negan” depicts the origin of the character including his relationship with wife Lucille (played by Morgan’s real-life spouse, Hilarie Burton) and his first outing with his trusty barbed-wire wrapped baseball bat. The narrative is told through a series of interconnecting flashbacks, each going farther and farther back into the past as Negan reflects from within a small wooden cabin. “Here’s Negan” feels as if it exists as its own short film, mostly featuring an entirely new location, cast, and editing style. To top it all off, Bear McCreary’s beautifully haunting score surrounds the visuals with the perfect audio component.
“The Walking Dead” is at its best when it embraces its iconic history that audiences have experienced over the past 10 years. Negan’s self-reflective journey kicks off with a trip back to the infamous tree where the war between Rick’s group and the Saviors ended in season 8. The stained glass windows still hang eerily amongst the empty field. It’s a nostalgic and powerful sequence, placing Negan back at the place where his life was spared and the endless cycle of war was broken by Rick and his team. It feels like a monumental locale in the history of the apocalypse. After digging up his trusty baseball bat, Negan begins to reminisce on how he got to this point.
The chemistry between Morgan’s Negan and Burton’s Lucille is simply incredible, obviously thanks to the fact that the actors are married in real life. The moments between the two just hanging around and poking fun at each other are beautifully refreshing amongst the darkness of the show. The cinematography is intimate and lit with soft light in conjunction with Negan at his most gentle and vulnerable state.
As the relationship between Negan and Lucille is explored throughout the various time jumps, audiences are keyed in on the origins of many of Negan’s famous qualities. “I hope you got your shitting pants on” Negan quips as we find out the line he delivered to Glenn and Abraham before bashing their head in was something he would frequently say while gaming with teenagers. This is a perfect representation of the twisted reality of the world of “The Walking Dead,” where a character uses the same potty-mouth insults from online gaming right before murdering someone in cold blood.
The episode analyzes and explores how the dynamic of a relationship can change when the entire perspective on life is drastically altered. The transition from Negan being an uncommitted, and lazy husband to someone whose sole focus is to protect his cancer-stricken wife amongst the end of the world is an excellent representation of his dedication to preserve the things that mean the most to him in this new world. Negan’s persona and outlook shifts on various occasions throughout the flashbacks, peeling back layers until it reaches the villain audiences know today.
Heading out on a lengthy trip to acquire the medication his dying wife needs, Negan is able to catch up with a traveling medical van where he meets future-Savior Laura (played by Lindsley Register), who gifts him what would become his infamous barbed-wire bat. After receiving the supplies he needs, Negan heads back in the direction of his home only to be stopped and kidnapped by a local road gang in a vacant bar. They tie him to a chair and press him to confess where he received such rare medical supplies. He gives in, finally being released after they confirm his information was valid.
Unfortunately he’s been gone too long and returns home to find that his wife has killed herself. Her freshly turned corpse reaches outward at Negan as he watches on in horror. The one person who he sought to protect and cherish in this terrifying new world has been taken from him. He can’t bring himself to kill her reanimated form, leading into a devastating sequence where he mourns the death of his beloved as she tries to claw off his face while a somber cover of “You Are So Beautiful” eerily plays (a song Negan and Lucille were fond of). It’s a chilling visual and aural representation of the tragedy that is the “The Walking Dead.”
Negan sets his small home, with his zombified wife still inside, ablaze and storms out. He is eager to seek revenge on the gang members who held him hostage long enough for his wife to give up hope. Negan has lost everything and his villainous metamorphosis has begun. Negan emerges from the flames, barbed-wire bat in hand, and heads into the night.
At the bar, the real Negan emerges, accompanied by Bear McCreary’s intimidating guitar riffing score. Once inside the building, Negan approaches the leader of the gang and props him up on his knees in a position that will make all “Walking Dead” fans shiver with fear. This is the first ever Negan lineup, wonderfully accompanied by the nostalgic rumbling score featured in that terrifying season 7 premiere. The cinematography, lighting, and general color palette also harken back to that iconic moment in the show’s history. Jeffrey Dean Morgan gracefully slips into his traditional season 7 performance in this scene, conveying that unhinged and charismatic power that the character is so well known for.
As the bat swings down, the show returns to the present timeline showcasing an aged Negan holding the decaying barbed-wire baseball bat. He takes it for a spin on a nearby walker, immediately shattering the top of the beloved weapon. The item that gave Negan so much superiority is now nothing more than a jagged piece of wood. A beautiful wide shot showcases Negan kneeling with his former weapon alongside the eerie window-pane tree. A new path forward for Negan has begun, much as it did for Rick and his group at this very spot all those seasons ago.
In one of the final scenes, Negan delivers goodbye remarks to his trusty weapon Lucille, apologizing for the pain he put “her” through in what is certainly a moment doubling for his acceptance of his wife’s passing. Negan places the bat within a small fireplace, burning away the object that was such a crucial piece of his legacy. Lucille has been put to rest, and now Negan has a renewed sense of urgency to fight for him and his late-wife’s legacy. By the end of this story, it becomes even clearer that Rick and Negan weren’t all that different to begin with. Both were plagued with tragedy as the apocalypse came crashing in, leading them down a path of strong leadership, power, distrust, and violence.
The episode closes with Negan strolling back into Alexandria with a grin on his face, much to Maggie’s discomfort. Lauren Cohan’s performance speaks volumes without any dialogue as she sends daggers Negan’s way with her eyes. The tension is off the charts and downright exciting as a longtime fan of the show. It looks like a face-off between these two legendary characters will be a key aspect of the show’s final season.
“Here’s Negan” is a brilliant deconstruction of an iconic character, featuring some of the show’s best writing, cinematography, scoring, and performances. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a show-stopper in this installment of the series, which will hopefully garner some award recognition. Morgan has successfully humanized a man who was once one of the most hated characters in pop culture.
If this contained, intimate episode is any indication, “The Walking Dead’s” upcoming spin-off anthology “Tales from The Walking Dead” could end up being a showcase for some beautifully intimate apocalypse stories. Providing singular backstory depth to older or current characters could make for a great draw-in for fans of the flagship show, especially if they are written and produced as elegantly as “Here’s Negan.”
“The Walking Dead” certainly will never be as effective as it was at its peak, but it’s episodes like “Here’s Negan” that remind viewers that the talented minds behind this beloved show are still very much capable of exploring the zombie genre in fascinating ways.