AMC's The Walking Dead frequently makes deviations from its comic book source material, and one of the most interesting detours currently playing out on screen is Eugene Porter's predicament as Negan's Chief Engineer. After finding out Alexandria had a scientist capable of home brewing bullets, Negan was - unsurprisingly - keen to take Eugene into his custody. But instead of treating his new captive like a prisoner as he did previously with Daryl, Negan has employed a softer approach in an attempt to get Eugene firmly on his side.
On the face of things, it appears as if all the schmoozing is having the desired effect. Eugene seems to have taken to his new position of authority like a duck to water, bossing people around in his distinctive metaphor-heavy Southern drawl and apparently enjoying the many perks the Sanctuary has to offer such as pickles, video games, and late night science experiments with Negan's wives.
But given the character's past development and some of his recent actions, there's certainly reason to believe that not is all as it seems. Although perhaps not the genius he initially claimed to be, Eugene is undoubtedly one of the most intelligent figures on The Walking Dead, and before being captured was a loyal member of the Alexandria community. With all this in mind, is it possible that Eugene may have some kind of masterplan in mind for taking down his new boss and is biding his time before making a move? Or is he just enjoying the easy life and surviving the best way he knows how?
Fans may well be hoping that Eugene is still a good guy at heart, but everything seen thus far suggests otherwise. During his debut set of episodes, Eugene was mostly portrayed as a coward who relied on stronger figures such as Abraham and Rosita to survive. He lied and manipulated his partners into protecting him and, despite his intelligence, often seemed like dead weight compared to the rest of the group. In later seasons, Eugene gradually morphed into a more respected and useful member of the group and made genuine connections with his fellow survivors.
However, after being captured by the Saviors, Eugene exaggerated his scientific credentials to Negan, echoing the lies he told to Abraham previously and this could represent the character reverting back to him old self: someone solely concerned with their own survival. Although the character has changed dramatically since those early days of deception, it could certainly be argued that the old, manipulative Eugene who would align himself with whoever offered the greatest hope of survival is the character's true nature, a default setting that he would always revert to in times of stress. Being captured by the Saviors could have caused this side of Eugene to re-emerge and having realized Negan is top dog right now, it may not have taken much convincing for the Eugene of old to throw his chips in with the Saviors.
This possibility is strengthened by most recent episode 'The Other Side', which saw the character refuse to escape from the Sanctuary with Sasha and Rosita. Eugene clearly has a better life at the Sanctuary than at Alexandria, and his decision not to take the opportunity to return could demonstrate him prioritizing his own quality of life above returning to the people he once considered friends. Simply put, is Eugene just reverting to type?
Since becoming a part of the Saviors' inner circle, it's been impossible not to notice Eugene's enthusiastic response to being in a position of authority. Despite his growth in recent seasons, the (reasonably) democratic structure of Alexandria meant that Eugene remained a socially awkward outsider, even if he did eventually win the respect of his fellow survivors. At the Sanctuary however, Eugene is an instant big shot and a scene in 'Hostiles and Calamities' showed the character testing out his newfound power as he demanded supplies from the poor woman responsible for handing them out.
It's safe to say that in his short time as a Savior, Eugene has gone above and beyond what he'd need to do just to fit in and get by. The well-read geek has strengthened the Saviors' defenses, bossed around his inferiors and relaxed in front of his new gaming console. Moreover, he's had ample opportunity to assassinate Negan if he so desired, and even refused to co-operate with a murder plot conceived by two of the leader's wives. Although some of these actions could be interpreted as an attempt to prove his usefulness and ensure his safety, Eugene certainly seems more than comfortable in his new home. Sure, it could all just be an act but deceiving the Saviors whilst retaining a perfectly calm exterior would take balls of steel, something Eugene isn't exactly renowned for.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Eugene's turn towards the dark side is the fact it potentially negates all the development the character has experienced up until this point. As previously mentioned, Eugene started his tenure on The Walking Dead as a liar who used stronger figures around him in order to guarantee his own survival. However recent seasons have seen a dramatic change in Eugene's capabilities and attitude and the character has shown a great deal more courage and fighting capability after developing improved relationships with those around him.
This growth was first apparent in the season 5 episode 'Spend', in which Eugene refuses to leave his pals behind when a supply run goes wrong - despite the danger posed to himself. Later in season 6, Alexandria's resident boffin helps fight off an invading Walker herd - despite being told to sit the battle out - and fights valiantly to protect his home and friends.
If it eventually transpires that Eugene has genuinely joined the Saviors and abandoned his loyalty to Rick, all of the development created by such events will become meaningless and subsequently, so will the time viewers invested in Eugene's personal arc. Few things are more frustrating for long-term viewers of any TV show than reversing character development, and if the man with the mullet has truly become a Savior, audience reaction would likely be negative.
Eugene's recent refusal to return to Alexandria alongside Sasha and Rosita may have looked like conclusive proof of the character's allegiance with Negan, but could arguably prove exactly the opposite. The decision effectively rules out the possibility that Eugene's cooperation with the Saviors is just a means of survival, as if the character was simply playing along to protect his own hide, he'd have bolted as soon as a reasonable opportunity arrived. The fact that he didn't speaks volumes. As a result, only two possible explanations remain: either he's all-in with Negan or he has some kind of plan to benefit Alexandria.
Whatever his designs could be, it makes perfect sense that Eugene would be the man to hatch such a cunning plan. Whilst Rick, Daryl and the rest all prepare for war to oppose Negan's rule, Eugene has never been the 'action' type of guy. His high intelligence means that if Eugene was still loyal to Rick, he'd exercise that loyalty in a considered, smart fashion. In arguing that Eugene has genuinely sided with Negan, many would point at the character's refusal to help Tanya and Frankie with their assassination as concrete proof, however this could also be Eugene's cleverness once again coming into play.
The wives' plan to poison Negan was undoubtedly risky and involved many variables that could've easily gone wrong, resulting in one seriously annoyed - and very much alive - Negan. If Eugene is planning to kill off the baddie, he's smart enough to make his plan a sure fire attempt. Additionally, it may have occurred to Eugene that simply assassinating Negan won't necessarily end Alexandria's problems, as another equally brutal figure may step in to fill the breach, leaving Rick with no less of a. It's therefore plausible that Eugene could be planning to destroy the Saviors conclusively and is biding his time in order to execute such a scheme.
To round off the reasons Eugene may not have abandoned his loyalty to Rick just yet, it's important to note that despite claiming to be completely and utterly "Negan", the newly-appointed Chief Engineer hasn't snitched on his pals. Upon discovering Rosita and Sasha lurking on the outskirts of the Sanctuary, he warns them to run and that guards would be coming. Furthermore, after discovering the wives' plan to poison their husband, Eugene doesn't report the attempt to his new leader - something a true Neganite surely would've done. At the very least, these actions prove that Eugene hasn't completely lost his way but whether this translates into something more definitive remains to be seen.
The Walking Dead continues with 'Something They Need' on March 26th on AMC.