by Transmute Jun
Warning: this review contains multiple spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 22.
This episode bears the same title as a standalone graphic novel from The Walking Dead universe. The novel shows Negan’s background, starting just before the apocalypse as he deals with his wife’s cancer and declining health, through the early days, to his eventual meeting with Dwight and Sherrie, and how the Saviors were started. Comic book readers were excited for this episode, expecting the television program’s take on the same storyline.
While television Negan’s background is different from that of comic book Negan, this episode served the same function as the graphic novel: to illustrate how Negan became the person who founded the Saviors, and why he became as brutal a leader as he did. Negan’s evolution from a man whom life had beaten down to a no-apologies killer was significant, and in a way, it explains why he was able to change again, after Rick defeated him at the end of the Savior War. As a person, Negan is capable of change, and his backstory illustrates how he changed to meet the needs of the moment, to make up for his past mistakes and ultimately do the ‘right’ thing. Negan made the mistakes of beating up a man in a bar, and cheating on his wife, but made up for them by putting everything aside to take care of Lucille as she was dying of cancer. Negan made the mistake of giving up the doctor and his daughter, but made up for it by coming back for them and saving (at least one of) their lives. And as the leader of the Saviors, Negan made the mistake of taking things too far, and being too brutal, but made up for it by working with the Alexandrians to defeat the Whisperers, and trying to become one of them.
Ultimately, this most recent repentance has not worked out exactly as Negan wanted. Just as the Alexandrians were beginning to accept him, Maggie returned and old resentments arose once more. Having been gone for more than 6 years, Maggie has not seen what Negan has gone through, nor how he worked to redeem himself and help the Alexandrians. Even if she had, could she ever have forgiven him for killing Glenn? Had Sasha survived, could she ever have forgiven Negan for killing Abraham? While many viewers have come to sympathize with Negan, it is also easy to understand how Maggie would be unable to give up her grudge. Clearly, this tension is something that will carry forward into the final season.
As for Negan, it is evident that he has, as much as he is capable, forgiven himself for his past actions. His cremation of Lucille showed that while he misses his wife, he can now put her behind him and move on. At the same time, he was putting his past as the leader of the Saviors behind him, wanting to become someone new. Negan is no longer willing to apologize and kowtow to what Carol and Maggie want, but is ready to stand up for himself and his position within the community. He will no longer give ground, and while Negan is not the selfish person he once was, neither is he the supplicant he has been over the past couple of seasons. Negan now has ties to Alexandria, having bonded with its children (most notably Judith). It seems that he does not want to venture somewhere new, but wishes to stay with the people whom he knows.
Carol’s part in this sheds a new light on the situation. She lied to Negan about his being ‘banished’, because she wanted to remove the reminder of her own guilt. Carol is the one who let Negan out of his cell, and ordered him to go kill Alpha. His presence implicates her to the Alexandrians, and especially to Maggie. It’s a reminder that Carol was willing to ignore what Negan had done, as long as she could get her own revenge (on Alpha). In that sense, is Carol really any better than Negan himself? That’s a question that Carol, in her current depressed state, does not want to address.
This extended season of The Walking Dead was designed to focus on character development, showing more behind-the-scenes details about different characters. In this sense, the extended season was both a success and a failure, with a mix of good and bad moments. While I generally enjoy character development, it needs to include actual development. There has to be a journey from the starting point of the episode to the ending point. In the cases of Princess and Negan (and even Gabriel), we clearly saw this kind of evolution, yet with Carol (and to a lesser extent, Daryl and Maggie), we did not.
Ultimately, it’s better to have these additional episodes than not, as Season 11 will not be released until August, and it would have been far too long a stretch without anything new if viewers had had to wait until then. Yet I wish that there had been a little more thought, and a little more storyline, put into these scenes, to make them as good as they could possibly have been, even given the COVID-conditions under which they were filmed.
For those who play the AMC Walking Dead mobile games, this week’s Walking Dead: No Man’s Land season episode features Negan as he goes after the bikers near the stolen camper. Walking Dead: Our World has a Here’s Negan event where players must use Negan to fight special Negan infestations.
Do you watch The Walking Dead? Join the conversation on the FoCC forums!