Since season 6, The Walking Dead’s biggest antagonist has been the barbed wire bat-wielding Negan – but could he possibly be redeemed? The instant reaction from most Walking Dead fans to that question is likely to be a resounding no, for completely understandable emotional reasons. After all, Negan brutally murdered popular characters Glenn Rhee and Abraham Ford in the season 7 premiere. He was also indirectly responsible for Sasha’s suicide, and even threw one of the Doctors Carson into a furnace. In short, Negan is far, far from a good person.
That said, there was at least one Walking Dead character who firmly believed that he could be, that of course being the recently deceased Carl Grimes. The fact that Carl wrote Negan a letter as he prepared for death – and perhaps more importantly, envisioned Negan in his ideal future – means that the admittedly perhaps too idealistic teenager truly thought that Negan could be convinced to turn peaceful. As absurd that might seem on the surface, one should consider how genuinely sad Negan seemed to be when Rick told him Carl had died, and how his first questions made it clear that Negan was hoping against hope that neither he or his Saviors had played a hand in the kid’s demise.
Further evidence that Negan is in fact capable of genuine human emotion can be found in the episode where he and Father Gabriel are trapped together inside an RV by a horde of walkers. While Negan initially persists with his bravado and intimidation, Gabriel’s pointed questions about his past clearly unsettle the usually stone cold villain, and his answers suggest that Negan did indeed love those he lost when the apocalypse hit. These suggest a man that was not always a brutal and ruthless killer, but instead a man fashioned into one by the desperate circumstances he found himself in.
That all said, many Walking Dead fans are likely to argue that no matter what made Negan who he is, he’s killed too many innocent people to ever go back to being the man he might have been before. While that’s a very valid argument, there is a clear counterpoint, and his name is Morgan Jones. As revealed when Morgan returned to the series in season 3, losing his wife and child had driven him completely mad, and he had taken to wantonly slaughtering anyone he crossed paths with from then on, calling it “clearing.” While he was eventually rehabilitated, it’s unclear (no pun intended) how many people he massacred before that happened. If he can manage to recover his humanity, why not Negan?
Additionally, as brutal as Negan’s rule is, it all has a sort of twisted logic and sometimes even honor to it. If Negan makes a deal, he doesn’t break it, unless directly provoked. Negan sees people as an invaluable resource, and goes out of his way to try and kill as few of them as he can, even when someone has earned his ire. In fact, it’s important to remember that Rick’s group massacred a compound of Saviors first, not the other way around. Plus, if Daryl hadn’t attacked Negan, Glenn would most likely still be alive.
Are Negan’s rules truly fair? Of course not, no one is arguing that he’s a good person, only that he might not be an entirely bad one. Remember, he told Simon to kill one of the garbage people, not all of them, and Simon will likely now have hell to pay from his boss. Why? Because Negan prefers to “save” people, not kill them. The man definitely has a code, as bizarre as it may sometimes be. Is Carl right? Can Negan be redeemed? As unlikely as it may seem, one shouldn’t rule it out.
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