The Walking Dead has a Negan problem.
The end of season six introduced one of the show’s most interesting characters; compelling, charismatic, and absolutely insane.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan instantly became one of the more potent actors in the show, and with a few gruesome whacks of his beloved Lucille, Negan suddenly and decidedly became The Walking Dead’s answer to Darth Vader.
Negan was one of the more popular elements of season seven, at a time when The Walking Dead was losing a lot of its audience. People love to hate a strong villain, after all.
So why, now is the show attempting to turn Negan into a sympathetic character?
The most recent episode of The Walking Dead, entitled The Big Scary U, attempts to give us insight into Negan’s madness. We’re meant, not to agree with him necessarily, but to see his point – he doesn’t kill people at random, apparently, but does so out of a mistaken belief that it helps to make the world a safer place.
The Walking Dead needs to soften this character somewhat, because Negan, fun as he may be, is currently far too one-dimensional to be useful in the long run.
This season is all built around the escalating struggle between Rick and Negan, showing them as opposite sides of the same coin. Rick is a righteous lawman, while Negan is a corrupt ruler.
Sooner or later, Rick is going to have to decide whether or not he can break his own moral code, and murder Negan for the greater good.
In order to make this more of a challenge, Negan needs to appear more human. His logic and ideology needs to sound at least a little sensible so that it’s not just a matter of Rick trying to decide whether or not to kill The Devil Himself.
This is the same phenomenon we see in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, where Darth Vader is made softer, more human, and more sympathetic, as Luke Skywalker struggles with the decision of whether or not to kill his father. We’re promised that there is some good in Vader, and that he can potentially be saved from the Dark Side, if only Luke can be strong enough to forgive his dear old dad.
It’s unlikely that The Walking Dead is going to go the same way as Return of the Jedi with the future of the franchise – Negan and Rick are unlikely to have a heartfelt reconciliation.
It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, though, for this season to end with Rick deciding not to kill his arch-enemy, in a similar rejection of violence that Luke goes through in Jedi.
Will Negan then save Rick’s life as some kind of personal penance for his crimes? At present, it looks unlikely – but then, if the show keeps softening Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character, it’s not altogether impossible.
Negan might end up being redeemed – at least partially – before the current season of The Walking Dead reaches its finale.