It’s generally considered annoying when people say “needless to say” and then go on to say it anyway. But sometimes, I find that something I think should be needless to say is actually needful to say. So, with that out of the way…Needless to say, there will be spoilers in this post about last night’s season premier of The Walking Dead.
A lot of people were angry about the allegedly contrived cliffhanger at the end of last season; I was indifferent. Similarly, I think the big reveal in last night’s episode was handled as well as could be expected. It may have been dragged out a bit longer than it needed to be, and the black-and-white flashbacks that Rick had (twice) of every single character may have been overkill, but they made up only a small part of an otherwise phenomenal episode.
The episode was phenomenal largely because of Andrew Lincoln’s acting. His abject terror and humiliation were so convincing that I felt upset while watching the episode, as if a leader I had trusted in real life were really being emotionally and physically reduced to a crawling, cowering dog by a very evil man (back to this in a few minutes). [While we’re on the subject, I was also upset (not offended, just shaken) by the violence in this episode–I had to cover my eyes a few times, which I don’t normally do while watching The Walking Dead.] It was satisfying to watch Lincoln in a rare appearance on Talking Dead and see that he was actually okay! This was, by the way, perhaps the most on-topic and substantial episode of Talking Dead ever–it’s worth the watch even if you normally skip the aftershow.
But there was one comment made during Talking Dead that was absolutely wrong, and I wish I could have been on the show to contradict it. (They invited the wrong English teacher!) Chris Hardwick, obviously trying to come up with an interesting and edgy topic, said something to the effect that Negan doesn’t see himself as a villain, and that our group has done some pretty bad stuff too–it’s all just perspectival. That is crap. I will admit that there have been villains on The Walking Dead before who were villains only (or primarily) because of their positioning on the show–because they came into conflict with the protagonists. But Negan is not one of those villains. I will also admit that the protagonists have done some very bad stuff–but again, this does not put them in the same category with Negan. Neither Rick Grimes nor anybody in his group (nor the Governor, nor the people in Terminus) has ever taken obvious delight in bashing a living person’s head into a bloody pulp in an attempt to dehumanize both the victim and everyone watching. And that’s why we’ve never seen Rick behave the way he did during that horrible, twisted Abraham-and-Isaac scene in which he was nearly forced to chop off Carl’s arm–sobbing, drooling, whimpering. Rick has been afraid before; he has acted irrationally before, but now he’s having his humanity taken away from him, and this is what is so frightening to watch. Negan reminds me of the sadistic Japanese POW camp commander I read about recently in Unbroken. His goal is to reduce his victim to a will-less, soul-less, subservient machine.
I should clarify my post title: I don’t hate Negan as a character; I am grotesquely fascinated by every scene that he’s in, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the other phenomenal actor from last night’s episode. I hate Negan as a human being; I hate him for what he’s trying to do to Rick (still just trying–the final scene of the episode indicates that he hasn’t quite succeeded), and therefore I don’t buy any attempt to get me to see him as a misunderstood “bad guy” who’s just doing what he thinks is best for his group. He’s evil.