THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 1022, “HERE’S NEGAN.”
In this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, we dive into the long-awaited Negan backstory about his life with Lucille. Though an odd choice for the season finale, it is actually one the better episodes of the series. This despite having a turducken of flashbacks. It is a strange way to close out a season, but at least the season ends on a high note in quality.
The episode starts with Carol taking note of Maggie’s dagger eyes for Negan. Negan has earned every bit of vitriol that Maggie directs toward him. With Hershel at Maggie’s side, Maggie’s anger is also juiced with plenty of mama bear energy. As a mom, Carol knows that sooner or later, Maggie is going to make a move. Gregory’s fate at Hilltop is a testament to what Maggie is capable of when she feels threatened.
Carol takes Negan with her to retrieve a rabbit from a snare, and they stop at a cabin. One glance through the open door at a pile of Negan’s things on the floor is all that Negan needs to understand the situation. Carol says the council voted to banish Negan, but Negan is as insightful as ever. Negan clocks that Carol has made one of her patented unilateral decisions. In response, Carol smiles in that way she does that simultaneously answers the question and it says “it is what it is.”
ALONE AGAIN, NATURALLY
Almost immediately the isolation from the community opens the door to Negan’s inner Devil Negan. Adorned in the leather jacket, wielding bat Lucille, Devil Negan is more than happy to say “I told you so” about the group. Negan doesn’t really argue with himself, because he knows the group will always have a wall up between them and him, metaphorical or actual. But this isn’t about the group. This is about Negan: who he is and who he wants to be.
Devil Negan mentions Lucille the bat, and he tells Negan that he is “nothing without her.” Just like the last time Negan was off on his own, he seeks out a remnant of his previous life. This time it is the bat, which had been left at the tree where Negan and Rick had last fought. With a walker in the distance, Negan digs hole after hole, looking for his lost bat. As Negan digs, he thinks about the other lost Lucille.
As mentioned previously, this episode has a turducken of flashbacks. The story is told through a series of steps back in time and then forward again. The first visit to the past is twelve years previous, when Negan was at the mercy of a biker gang. Negan was in possession of chemo supplies for his wife when the gang had captured him, and the time sensitive nature of the supplies was being used for leverage. The leader of that gang wants supplies, but Negan resists.
The second flashback is a few days before this interrogation, when Negan talked to an apocalypse wandering doctor that furnished the supplies for his wife. The story then hops back in time six weeks earlier. We watch Negan care for his wife. Whether that is reading Lucille “Pride and Prejudice” (which he hates), or tracking down supplies and finding a stale stash of pot, Negan does whatever he can to keep Lucille happy. When Lucille shivers with sickness from the treatments, Negan spoons her tightly and sings “You are so Beautiful” to his wife. We also watch Negan show an aversion to killing any walkers.
A Warmer Side Of Negan
When Lucille asks Negan why he refuses to kill walkers, Negan confesses, “I’m worried that I’m going to get used to it.” Over a dinner of dog food, Lucille gifts a leather jacket to Negan for their anniversary. Negan laughs, and Lucille mentions that it was the jacket she had promised to return to the store. The smile fades from Negan’s face. “The man that I was, the pain that I put you through,” Negan says. Negan thanks Lucille for sticking with him.
“I stuck with you because I could always see the man you are right now, even when you weren’t,” Lucille says. The show then skips back in time again to seven months earlier, pre-apocalypse. Lucille confronts Negan about the leather jacket he had bought when they were low on money because of Negan’s unemployment. The next day Lucille goes to her medical appointment alone when Negan opts out in favor of a meeting with his probation officer.
Fresh from a cancer diagnosis, Lucille calls her husband from the parking lot of the doctor’s office. There is no answer. After some sleuthing, Lucille learns that Negan had lied to her about the probation officer, and that he was off with a woman. Alone, betrayed, Lucille peels out of the lot. When Negan arrives home, Lucille is sitting at the dining room table, and under the table she holds a gun in one hand, pamphlets in the other. After a moment, Lucille throws the pamphlets on the table. She has chosen not to give up and not to be alone.
FIGHT FOR ME
At this point, time moves forward again to post-apocalypse. A horrified Negan now realizes that Lucille knew he had cheated on her. Negan swears to Lucille that he had ended his affair the day he had learned of Lucille’s diagnosis. “You made up for it. And you can stop,” Lucille says. With the generator out and the last of the chemo treatment ruined, Negan refuses to give up on his wife. Negan refuses to fail Lucille again. Lucille begs Negan to stay with her, and she asks him to look for a community. Negan promises to find a community once Lucille is better. It is clear that Lucille is done fighting, and she asks Negan to do her fighting for her now. “I’m not going to give up. Not ever,” Negan says.
We flash forward again to the apocalypse doctor, who gives Negan the chemo drugs Negan needs. The doctor’s daughter cautions Negan to beware of a nearby gang, and she gives him a baseball bat for protection. We jump forward again, and we are back in the interrogation with the gang leader. Desperate, Negan finally tells the gang leader where to find the doctor, and the leader lets Negan go. With a cooler full of chemo drugs, Negan hops on his motorcycle, and rides past the screams of the doctor and his daughter in the camper out front.
Now if you’ve ever seen The Walking Dead, you know what happens next. Negan arrives home, six weeks after he had left his wife to find the chemo drugs, but he is too late. Scrawled on the door to the basement are the words, “Please don’t leave me like this.” Negan rushes downstairs and finds an undead Lucille, tied to the bed, surrounded by empty pill bottles, and a plastic bag over her head. Broken, Negan pulls the bag off Lucille’s head so that he can look at her face one last time. Then Negan cuts the barbed wire off the fence of his property, and he wraps it around his new bat.
Negan returns to the gang, and he makes his first kills with Lucille. When only the gang leader is left, Negan tells the leader that he has never killed a man before. Then Negan launches into one of his patented monologues, and he tells the full story of the man he had almost beat to death before the pandemic, and how it had hurt his marriage.
We learn for the first time that when Negan had lost his temper pre-pandemic, that it had scared him. This is why Negan had been reluctant to kill the undead. We learn that Negan had always had a well of violence in him even before Lucille’s death, and that he had fully embraced it once she was gone.
In the present, Negan recovers his lost bat Lucille from the ground under the tree, and he holds it lovingly. As the walker that had been approaching all afternoon reaches Negan, Negan slams Lucille into the walker’s head. Lucille breaks in half. Negan returns to the cabin. With a rueful laugh, Negan apologizes to Lucille for naming a “stupid bat” after her, and he says all the things he had wanted to tell his wife before she had passed. With the broken bat burned in the fireplace, Negan promises to do Lucille’s fighting for her, just like she had asked of him.
Negan returns to Alexandria the next day, and Carol beelines for him. “If you stay here, [Maggie] will kill you. I just didn’t want your death on my conscience. Now it’s not,” Carol says. “Fair enough,” Negan says. With a grin at Maggie, Negan walks into town. Negan’s intentions, his purpose, are unknown. Is this Lucille era Negan or Saviors era Negan? I guess we will see next season.
A lot of groundwork was laid to show that Negan has been working to be a better man post-Saviors, but after this episode, I am not so sure that Negan’s story on the show was ever really about redemption of a villain. This episode clarifies that Negan’s journey has been about an interrupted quest for redemption in the eyes of one person.
Before the end of all things, Negan’s actions had hurt his wife. Lucille had stood by her husband, because she had believed he could be better. Negan had not believed that. So Negan continued to fixate on his wife and her needs, but Lucille had wanted Negan to fight for himself. After Lucille’s death, Negan embraced the part of himself that he had always been ashamed of inside. Broken, Negan did not feel like he should fight his nature.
Lucille’s dying wish was that Negan would continue HER fight. But Negan did not acknowledge that Lucille’s fight was the fight for him to be the man that she knew he could be. After all that has happened since Lucille’s death, Negan’s promise to be a better man appears to be irretrievably broken. How can Negan be a better person after what he did to this community, and to Glenn and Abraham in particular?
The answer is more simply that Negan has the capacity to be violent. Negan has the capacity to hurt people. Though Negan can not fully reform what he is, he can work to act like a better man. Before Lucille’s death, Negan strove to be better for Lucille’s sake. After Negan’s time alone in the cabin, it appears that Negan is now ready to continue that work.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s real life wife Hilarie Burton plays Lucille, and their chemistry adds a moving spark to the story. It is pretty difficult to feel any empathy toward a character like Negan, but the performances and writing of this episode made it possible. Well done all around to the cast, crew, writers, and director of this episode. Although a strange choice for a series finale, it was a beautiful episode, and it made me excited to see what happens next season.
Unlike past cliffhangers in the series, this one hinges on character development. Will Negan work to be a part of a community like his wife had wanted? Or will Negan resort to his old ways now that he has said goodbye to his wife? In a way, Negan’s goal with the Saviors had been to run a community, which she had said she wanted. Will that be his goal again? Or has Negan learned that there is a better way to be a part of a community? It is an interesting way to end a season on a show known for much flashier turns. I guess after ten seasons, there still are some surprises in the show after all. In short, the episode is definitely worth watching.
ODDS & EGGS
- Though we got the origin story of both the jacket and the bat, no luck on the red bandanna
- Would Lucille have committed suicide if Negan had stayed?
- Negan’s former profession was high school gym teacher – do you think he made members of the Saviors run laps?
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