We all suspected this day would come, but after his harsh introduction to the series, I never thought it would be as easy as it was for Negan to gain our favor. Not after Negan so brutally killed Abraham and Glenn. Not after Negan taunted Rick, imprisoned Daryl, leered at Sherry, killed Spencer, had Olivia shot, broke bread with Judith and Carl, made Carl cry, and threw Dr. Carson in the oven.
But it’s happening all the same: Negan is pivoting. He may be the series’ biggest villain, and he still may be the biggest threat to Rick in The Walking Dead history, but in this week’s episode, “Something They Need,” Negan finally gained a modicum of our empathy when he explained that there is a rhyme and reason to his barbaric methods. The man has a code. He does not kill indiscriminately. He kills for a reason: To keep his people safe.
We’ve seen hints of this in Negan’s origins story. Negan may be a sociopath, but there’s context for it. He lost so many people close to him in the immediate aftermath of the zombie apocalypse that he sought to build a community in which he’d finally be able to protect his people, even if it meant brutally killing others. Negan rules by fear, and the best way to introduce fear is by ensuring that everyone’s first impression of him is that of an unforgiving tyrant who is not afraid to murder in the cruelest, unimaginable ways. Negan killed Abraham and Glenn not for kicks, but to strike fear in the Alexandrians and ensure they fell quickly in line. He was especially cruel to Rick because — as the leader of Alexandria — he knew the best way to keep everyone pacified was by breaking the back of their leader.