Negan is one of the most sociopathic characters in all of television history, and easily the most evil of The Walking Dead villains, so far. He introduced himself to the series by bashing Abraham’s head in. He then taunted Daryl to get a rise out of him and then used Daryl’s outburst as justification for bashing in the skull of Glenn. Worse still, Negan subsequently used Daryl’s guilt as a psychological weapon against him, as he has done with all of his followers. Negan needles at their weak spots, breaks their minds, and then he owns them. In the case of Dwight, for instance, he took his wife and now brags to Dwight about attempts to impregnate her. But if Dwight pushes back, Negan threatens to kill Dwight’s wife.
Negan is an evil dude, but the series itself hasn’t given much context for why Negan is the way he is. However, in the still-ongoing 48-page origin story, “Here’s Negan,” which is currently being doled out in four-page increments in the pages of The Walking Dead comic, readers have gained a better understanding of what motivates Negan’s unorthodox leadership style.
Comics Spoilers Ahead
Negan’s origin may make it into the television at some point — next season, most likely — so if you don’t want to be spoiled, here’s where you should exit.
The first 20 pages of “Here’s Negan” explain the heartbreaking story behind Negan’s baseball bat, Lucille. The bat is named after his late wife, who died of cancer in a hospital bed during the initial hours of the outbreak. However, that’s not, by itself, what transformed Negan into the man he is today.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Even in the pre-apocalyptic world, Negan was never a particularly good guy. He was a high-school coach who bullied his students and was not especially well liked, although he tried to be. He didn’t want to be seen as a teacher with a “stick up his butt,” so he cussed out, berated, and humiliated his students because he wanted their respect and adoration. As he’d explain later, he “traded in nice for funny a long time ago.”
Negan also slept around on his wife, although he truly did love Lucille. In fact, when his wife got sick, Negan broke off an affair off with his mistress, even over the objections of his wife, who thought perhaps he’d be better off with a healthy woman than a sick one.
It was what happened after his wife died, however, that really transformed Negan. During the initial days and weeks of the apocalypse, Negan kept meeting people and bonding with them, only to see them eaten by zombies. The first was a boy whose life Negan saved and who, in exchange, agreed to put down Negan’s wife, Lucille, after she’d turned into a zombie. Negan quickly bonded with the kid, even helping him plot to win the affections of a girl. During their bonding conversation, however, a zombie snuck up on the kid and ate him.
This happened repeatedly to Negan. He later met a group of guys that he tried to rob of gasoline. Ultimately, however, he befriended them and they shared macho stories about penis size and zombie kills around the fireplace. That is until a herd of zombies invaded their camp and killed the group of men. Before he died, one of the men did leave behind a baseball bat, which Negan used to kill all the zombies in the herd. That bat would become his beloved Lucille.
Later, Negan also met a married couple, who succumbed to walker bites. Then he befriended some strangers around a campfire, who were also killed by the dead.
At a certain point, Negan got fed up with losing everyone he met to walkers, and that’s when he met Dwight. We don’t know the rest of his origin story with Dwight yet (there are still eight pages remaining in “Here’s Negan,”), but it’s not hard to piece it together. By the time Dwight entered the story, Negan had clearly decided that 1) he didn’t want to get close with anyone ever again because they always died, and 2) he wanted to ensure that everyone he did meet survived.
Presumably, Dwight was Negan’s first test case in a dictatorial experiment that eventually led to the founding of the Saviors. Negan decided to rule by fear, which kept him emotionally detached from others, but also allowed him to keep them alive. There is a sick and twisted method to his madness. He’s callous and cruel with others, but it’s part of a designed effort to ensure they stay alive. We’ve seen glimpses of the same behavior in Rick from time to time, especially when he decided to turn his Ricktocracy into a Ricktatorship, but unlike Rick, Negan refuses to bond with those around him. In fact, the bullying, taunting, and fear-mongering actually bars him from developing an emotional attachment.
However, earlier this season, we were given a brief glimpse into the man Negan once was in his interaction with Carl after he forced Carl to remove the bandage around his eye, humiliating Carl.
“Damn. Holy hell kid,” Negan said to Carl. “It’s easy to forget that you’re just a kid. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings or anything. I was just screwing around.”
That’s who Negan was before the outbreak: He was an asshole, but he acted that way, in part, to gain respect from his students, who he wanted to like him. After the apocalypse, and after losing so many new friends along the way, Negan unselfishly gave up his desire to be liked, and all that was left was the sociopathic asshole. One could certainly argue that his means are sadistic and inhumane, but it’s hard to argue with the results: The Saviors are the largest known colony on The Walking Dead, they die less frequently (at least until Rick came along), and they control all the food and supplies in the area.
Clearly, Negan’s leadership skills work.