The Walking Dead returns and advances towards the conclusion of the saga "All Out War". That means the end of the dispute between Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his archenemy Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and maybe that's a good thing. So far, the big bet of the series in Negan has been a little false, with grades that reached staggered minimums last year, and Negan largely absent from the first half of the series' eighth season.
But a climax that ends the season is an opportunity to put all the threads together, so in these last weeks I will analyze the show through his presentation of Negan: how he acts, how he presents his jokes and threats, and most importantly, how he develops his character in contrast to our supposedly virtuous heroes. We will see all the traits in which a villain is supposed to excel, including those we detest, and we will reduce it to a single rating on what we call the Neganometer ™. A score of 10 means that he is the most complex villain we have ever seen in his life; a score of 0 means that it is more or less the same as Negan has always been. With luck, in these final episodes, The Walking Dead can turn Negan into the great evil that the public has always wanted.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
After some episodes in which the program took some positive steps, The Walking Dead returned last week to some of its worst trends. Fortunately, last night's episode, "Still Gotta Mean Something," offered the opportunity for a quick correction of the course, with producer Scott Gimple and his writers concentrating once again on the central dynamics of Rick Vs. Negan who has fueled the general conflict so far.
The death of Carl Grimes and the introduction of the strange new benefactor of Hilltop, Georgie, have made it clear to what extent the series plans to focus on the history of Robert Kirkman's comics, adding an air of uncertainty even to the most fervent fans. But upon entering the previous night, some things seemed apparent. It is very likely that Negan is aware of Simon's betrayal, not that he can do much about it while Jadis has him captive. It is also apparent that Dwight's double agent status makes him a crucial figure that could help change the outcome of the war (although Daryl and the others would have to resolve their trust problems before that could happen). With Rick and Morgan in blood, and young Henry gone altogether, all the pieces were in place for one of the most brutal and satisfying episodes of the season, and "Still Gotta Mean Something" did not disappoint.
Photo of Gene Page / AMC
The value of a man's word
The title of the episode is a direct quote from Rick, a morally committed, who leaves the hilltop after Simon's invasion and begins to stifle his grief over Carl's death with vengeful violence. Michonne implores Rick to read the letter that Carl left him, but Rick refuses, choosing instead to find Morgan and Carol, who have left in search of Henry. Morgan is on a similar boat, as she tells Carol that she does not feel she can shake the ghosts of those she has murdered. Something is obviously very wrong with Morgan, and not even Carol knows how to fix it.
Inevitably, Carol leaves him. Morgan then meets Rick, and the duo enters directly into a trap set by red-haired Savior Jared, the same who made fun of Morgan during an exchange of supplies in episode 13 last season. When Rick comes to his senses, tied with Morgan inside an abandoned warehouse, he discovers that Jared's plan is to use Rick as a bargaining chip to get back to the good side of Negan. However, several of Jared's fellow rescuers are afraid of the play, and Rick sees a vulnerability explode.
This is where Rick's brutal, relentless – and, yes, villainous – side comes roaring back. That aspect of his character has been more or less asleep since the confrontation with the cannibals in Terminus in season 5, but here Rick convinces the saviors that he, like Maggie, wants to integrate them into Hilltop and create a better community. He gives them his word, which "still has to mean something" in the depraved world in which everyone lives. As if it were a signal, the walkers assault the building and the panicked prisoners release Rick and Morgan with the condition that they all work together and return to the hill as a group.
For a moment, you can almost believe that Rick has taken his son's last words seriously. But then he and Morgan quickly assassinate each of the saviors in the room, with only Jared escaping. Morgan comes out in pursuit, and the chase ends with Morgan essentially feeding Jared to a horde of anxious zombies. After all, it is clear that the spectators only witnessed an extreme moral transgression, one that leaves a bad taste even when knowing the anarchic nature of The Walking Dead. Rick and Morgan murdered men who wanted nothing more than redemption and a second chance, and they did it mainly to forget their own problems.
Photo of Gene Page / AMC
The origin of Lucille
Rick is even more cruel and sadistic when compared to what ends up being a surprisingly empathetic look at Negan. It begins when Negan wakes up in the custody of Jadis, tied on his back while threatening to burn his precious baseball bat, Lucille.
The interaction between the two is fascinating. It is clear that Jadis does not really want him dead, or else he would have killed him. Negan, too, seems to understand his sadness, and even apologizes for helping Simon in the slaughter of all his friends. However, when it seems that Jadis could unleash a zombie in Negan as punishment, he manages to put his hands in a nearby flare, threatening to burn a pile of photographs of the fallen allies of Jadis.
The whole configuration feels tremendously impracticable: why are Jadis' photographs conveniently next to a practical flash, and why is Jadis going through so much trouble not to murder the man he presumably despises? But it creates a situation in which Negan feels compelled to open up about his past. He tells Jadis that his baseball bat, like his photographs, is the only thing left that reminds him of someone he loves. He reveals that Lucille is the name of his late wife, a detail that was hinted at in the first half of the season, and that named the bat after her because his wife helped him survive life before the outbreak, and the bat helped through the post-apocalypse. It is the only fragment of Negan's former self that he has continued to cling to, and begs Jadis not to send flames to the bat.
Photo of Gene Page / AMC
As it seems that two adversaries are reaching some kind of understanding, the whole scene is altered by the reappearance of the helicopter Rick saw in the first half of the season. Several verbal cues disseminated over the past two seasons have made it clear that Jadis' garbage heap is home to a heliport, and Jadis immediately tries to snatch the flare from Negan to get the helicopter's attention and, presumably, save himself. herself. She accidentally soaks it in a puddle of water, and while searching for a second flare immediately, it's too late to take the helicopter. After a last plea from Negan, she lets him go.
For a scene that feels remarkably forced in its basic configuration, it ends up delivering a remarkably satisfying look at Negan, the human being, instead of Negan, the villain of the cartoon. But really, what is the deal with the mysterious helicopter, and what does Jadis really know to whom it belongs? Could it be Georgie, the benefactor of Hilltop, who comes and goes by air? Hopefully the answer is delivered sooner rather than later, since the mystery is one of the most exciting elements of the plot in The Walking Dead these days.
Photo of Gene Page / AMC
Given the dizzying number of minor subplots splashed throughout the episode, the final stretch manages to pack in a clear conclusion and some well-deserved ridicule of what's to come. Carol, who refuses to give up Henry as Morgan did, manages to find the child trapped by zombies in a swamp. She releases him, and the two are welcome to the top of the hill by an ecstatic Ezekiel. Carol opens up and shares that she once had a daughter, and that dealing with that loss helped her learn how not to fall victim to her worst impulses. The lesson seems wasted on the king, however. It's Morgan, who also lost a child earlier in the series, who really needs to hear it.
Meanwhile, Negan picks up a mysterious stranger on his way back to the Sanctuary (TWD does not reveal the identity of the person, although it is clearly someone that Negan recognizes). When Negan finally returns, he arrives in the middle of the night and instructs the guard on duty not to warn anyone of his presence. It seems he intends to surprise Simon, but those plans will undoubtedly be complicated by another revelation: Daryl and Rosita are shown in the distance, devising a plan to kill Eugene in order to stop the bullet-making operation of the saviors .
The most important part of the final section of the episode focuses on Rick, who returns to Hilltop with Morgan. Rick looks appropriately dejected. He knows that he betrayed Carl's last wish, and despite having brought out a number of saviors, he seems to realize that the only thing he really did was pointlessly kill people desperate to get out of their own desperate situation. He did the exact opposite of what Carl would have wanted him to do. The final scene shows Rick reading for the last time the letter that Carl left behind, with tears in his eyes. The show does not reveal what Carl wrote, but it's clear that Rick is considering the violent and morally disgusting side of himself, an aspect of his personality that he knows he has to resist if he's ever going to pursue Carl's vision for improvement, and more peaceful, future.
Photo of Gene Page / AMC
Evaluate the villain:
Empathy: a less emotionally manipulative person may not have been able to come out of an almost certain execution, but Negan does it with Jadis based on his ability to recognize and understand the pain others feel. A cold and sterile sociopath could not offer an apology as credible as Negan does, and it's hard not to think he really means it when he takes responsibility for Simon's misdeeds.
Cunning: Negan always seems to know how to get out of a difficult situation. While the various elements of his scene with Jadis do not necessarily feel credible, it remains a testament to Negan's quickness and composure that he can use a flare and his own story to help win the heart and mind of his captor.
Virtue: In "Still Gotta Mean Something", Negan is positioned as morally superior to Simon and Rick, something that is best illustrated by his treatment of Jadis. Negan does not respond to being captured with violence, and once he is released, he does not attack or demand that he follow him to the Shrine. It is clear that for Negan, there is a moral line that he does not want to cross. And unlike Rick, who openly lied to his captors and murdered them in cold blood, Negan moves away from a similar hostage situation with clean hands and a cleaner conscience.
Negan-o-meter ™: 7 out of 10
Moving the needle:
What we saw of Negan in the episode of the previous night was unprecedented. Not only did he reveal a crucial detail of his past, he did not even bother to retaliate against his captor. In fact, Negan genuinely seemed concerned about the loss of Jadis, and felt involved in having played a role in how everything was reduced. Like episode 10, in which we see Negan mourn Carl's death, The Walking Dead finally gets more deeply involved in the moral and philosophical debate about what it means to be virtuous and evil in the post-apocalypse. For a long time, it felt as if Negan was a one-dimensional cardboard cutout of a comic book villain, and Rick a defective, but otherwise well-intentioned hero. Now, more than ever, viewers are forced to wonder why they are supporting Rick, and if Negan could be redeemable after all.
For all this to work, however, The Walking Dead needs to rely even more on the narrative that Negan is less morally committed than Rick and the others, and that the decisions he makes as a leader of the Saviors could really be the best for him. . of all the parties involved. Only by further blurring the line between good and evil, right and wrong, and hero and villain, The Walking Dead can fulfill its investment of several seasons in Negan, especially if the character stays for the rest of the series as an important player. There are only two episodes left this season, and it is unlikely that the program will drag Negan's bow to the ninth season. So I hope the writers will use this valuable time to make the final confrontation between Rick and his nemesis emblematic of the prevailing world view of his main characters, just as Carl would have liked.