Caution: Spoilers Ahead For The Walking Dead
Although he has largely been a figure of mystery in The Walking Dead thus far, a few teases, nods and reveals were dropped regarding Negan's past in this week's episode, "The Big Scary U." The villainous leader of the Saviors has been trapped inside a tiny trailer with Alexandrian Priest Gabriel for the past four weeks but viewers finally got the opportunity to catch up with this odd couple in The Walking Dead's latest offering.
Ever the pragmatist, Negan sought to team up with Gabriel in order to escape the crowd of zombies surrounding them but, still keen to atone for allowing his congregation to be eaten alive, Gabriel had other ideas and offered to take his enemy's confession instead. Negan initially scoffed at the idea but did eventually reveal a few personal nuggets of information that offered insight into his pre-apocalypse life.
This may the be the first time that the surface of Negan has been scratched on TV but the The Walking Dead comic series has already spilled the beans on this character's full backstory, particularly in spinoff volume, Here's Negan. This story covered the Savior leader's life before the zombie outbreak and gave some insight into what molded him into the ruthless dictator currently tormenting Rick Grimes and co. on screen. For TV-only viewers however, here's an exploration of Negan's comic past and whether or not this established backstory falls into line with the reveals of this week's TV episode.
In "The Big Scary U," Negan was surprisingly candid about his romantic life. Despite his philandering ways in the Sanctuary - using his power and status to coerce women into becoming "wives" - Negan reveals that he only ever had one true love - his pre-outbreak wife whom he admits to cheating on and mistreating, despite his love for her. Negan reveals to Gabriel that his wife became badly ill before the apocalypse and died soon after it began but he couldn't find the courage to put his zombified spouse down, something Negan greatly regrets.
Although not revealed explicitly on TV yet, it may not come as a great surprise to learn that Negan's wife was actually called Lucille. This was hinted at in this week's episode when Gabriel asked about Negan's past relationships, to which the villain replied "Lucille, give me strength." For all his faults - and heaven knows there are plenty - Negan clearly had genuine feelings for Lucille (the human, not the bat) and it remains one of his few weak spots, emotionally speaking.
As far as the comics go, the recent TV revelations match up perfectly with the comic book version of Negan, who spent the early days of the outbreak in hospital by his wife's bedside. Once Lucille turned, Negan asked a fellow survivor to go back and put her down, a development that also matches up to what Jeffrey Dean Morgan's character told Gabriel in this week's episode. The main comic series of The Walking Dead even features an emotional scene where the villain buries the remains of his iconic bat, tearfully apologizing to his late wife for naming the weapon after her. Whether this moment will ever be adapted for live-action remains to be seen.
While quite a lot can be gleaned from Negan's conversation with Gabriel about the baddie's wife, there is only a brief allusion to what he may have done for a vocation before the world turned into a zombie playground. In the midst of telling Gabriel about how he spent his life attempting to weed the weakness out of people and make them stronger, Negan reveals that he used to work with kids in some capacity.
Once again, this tallies up to what comic book fans already know about the character. It will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who was picked last every week in Gym class to learn that the most sadistic villain in The Walking Dead was a high school P.E. teacher in his former life.
As demonstrated in Here's Negan however, the character was far from a strong role model for his pupils. In order to gain the admiration of his young charges and be considered the "cool teacher," Negan would regularly invite pupils over to his house for games of Table Tennis but often became aggressive and crude in his language and demeanor, prompting complaints from parents. Even back then, the character had a charming way with words.
One of the biggest surprises in Negan's comic backstory is that at the start of the zombie apocalypse, he acts more or less like a protagonist. From single-handedly saving complete strangers to beating down a man who decided that it was acceptable to rape women in the post-outbreak world, early Negan had a lot in common with a certain Rick Grimes.
The difference between Rick and Negan comes in their response to death. While Rick managed to bounce back from losing characters such as Dale, Shane, and Tyreese, Negan unravels once his early survival companions begin to fall one after another. In Here's Negan, this culminates in the formation of the Saviors: a group founded by Negan with the intention of protecting the weak, albeit only if they accept the absolute rule of their leader.
This ties in perfectly with TV Negan's "weakness" rant to Gabriel in this week's episode, within which the dictator states his intention to address the fragile nature of those around him. As revealed in the comics, this desire essentially comes from Negan's determination not to lose any more people, rather than an outright hunger for power.
Based on what the TV adaptation of The Walking Dead has revealed so far, it seems that Negan's backstory will stay largely true to that established within the comic books. Naturally, this means that Jeffrey Dean Morgan's character could be significantly humanized in future episodes and this may potentially pave the way for a protagonist-turn further down the line.
The Walking Dead continues with "The King, The Widow And Rick" November 26th on AMC.