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The Untold Truth Of The Walking Dead's Negan

It should come as no surprise that the heroes of The Walking Dead are what drew the majority of viewers to it. Seeing the likes of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira), and more put their survival skills to the test, largely to great effect, is inspiring, to say the least. After all, not everyone has what it takes to survive in the zombie apocalypse, without taking into account the even larger threats such a situation presents. For instance, as TWD has depicted, it's not uncommon for humans of sound mind to turn against their non-zombified kind.

The Walking Dead has put the spotlight on countless human villains over the years, some more effectively than others. Names like The Governor (David Morrissey) and Alpha (Samantha Morton) will live in infamy for their immoral and inhumane tactics to stay alive. At the same time, not every on-screen presence labeled an antagonist turned out to be so twisted beyond the point of no return. Case in point, Negan, as played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, appeared to be just another run-of-the-mill bad guy for the heroes to take down. However, over time he developed into one of the most complex characters in the series.

Here is the untold truth of The Walking Dead's Negan.

Life before the outbreak

Walking Dead viewers first meet Negan in the season 6 finale, "Last Day On Earth," and he sure makes a big first impression. Not only do he and his faction known as the Saviors capture Rick and his allies, but Negan gleefully murders both Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) brutally. He comes off as cold, conniving, and unspeakably violent, leaving viewers to wonder, where could someone so remorseless have come from?

Before leading the Saviors and swinging his barbed-wire baseball bat around, Negan was a pretty average guy. As a kid in Virginia, he quickly gained a reputation as a bully and troublemaker, but that all changed when he met a woman named Lucille (portrayed on TWD by Morgan's real-life spouse, Hilarie Burton-Morgan) later in life. The two fell in love, marrying and hoping to start a family, only for their situation to quickly sour. Negan cheated on her and proved himself unfaithful time and time again.

To make matters worse, Lucille was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly before the apocalypse began. Negan does his best to provide her with medicine in their now walker-infested world, but she ultimately dies from her illness. This drives Negan over the edge and he begins tapping into his darker, more cynical side that we all recognize. Sometime later, the Saviors take power with him as their leader, making him and Lucille — his barbed wire baseball bat — a symbol of fear.

A record-breaking run

Since making his debut, Negan has remained a constant presence on The Walking Dead. To this day he's at the heart of the program, even getting his own flashback episode in season 10, aptly titled "Here's Negan," further exploring his life pre-apocalypse. It's not uncommon for the show's bad guys to be fleshed out a fair bit, but a story this dedicated to doing so is highly irregular. Although, this shouldn't be that shocking considering Negan's run on the small screen has seen him break all sorts of norms for Walking Dead villains. 

Of the series' main antagonists, Negan has secured the most appearances — popping up in over 40 episodes across three and a half seasons. In addition, he has the longest lifespan of the bunch, sticking around the land of the living for roughly 60 installments. Not to mention, his interactions with Alpha make him the first bad guy to meet their successor, and him subsequently killing her makes him the first and only principal villain to defeat another principal villain. Perhaps most importantly, Negan is the sole antagonist to turn a new leaf and become something of a good guy. 

Also worth mentioning is that Negan boasts the highest kill count so far, with roughly 230 deaths on his hands. Included in those deaths are six main cast members — the aforementioned Abraham, Glenn, and Alpha, alongside Spencer (Austin Nichols), Simon (Steven Ogg), and Beta (Ryan Hurst) — which is the most any one character has killed. One has to wonder if he has more records to earn with his arc still unfinished.

Alternate Negan castings

To put it simply, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is Negan, totally making the now-iconic role all his own. The image of him in his black leather jacket, combat boots, slicked-back hair, flashing a devious smile through his tight graying beard is instantly recognizable. In fact, some might even say it's impossible to imagine anyone other than Morgan taking on the part, but that was very nearly the case. When Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard created the character, he based his look on musician Henry Rollins, who auditioned for the Negan role before Morgan gave it a swing (pun intended).

Rollins spoke to Forbes in 2016 and discussed the process, recalling the excitement online about Negan's TWD debut. "The internet was wild with speculation because, in the upcoming season, they were going to introduce the character," he says, continuing, "A woman that works in my office put my name and the character's name into an internet search and all this speculation came up. I went for the audition, and there were five pages of really cool dialogue with all these curses and it was beautiful, but I didn't get it."

He then goes on to add that while many thought he should've gotten the part, he didn't mind and was very impressed with Jeffrey Dean Morgan's approach. "I later saw a photograph of the guy who did get it, and he looks almost exactly like the comic book rendering." Rollins wasn't the only big name who vied for the Negan gig, as Scream's own Matthew Lillard gave it a shot as well, only to lose out to Morgan (via JoBlo.com).

Entering the gaming world

Even though he laid waste to some of The Walking Dead's beloved heroes, and then terrorized those left alive, Negan somehow became one of the show's most popular characters. So popular that he has even managed to cross over into the gaming world on several occasions. Arguably the most well-known of them was his guest spot in the 2015 fighting game Tekken 7 as a DLC inclusion. He became available to add to the existing roster on February 28, 2019, bringing with him his own unique fighting style, moves, and a stage based on his TWD introduction.

Some of his lesser-known gaming cameos span both the MMO and tabletop card game format. In December of 2019, both Negan with Lucille and Michonne with her katana was added to PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds Mobile for a limited time only. September of 2020 then saw Magic: The Gathering receive a Walking Dead expansion, including none other than Negan as one of the new cards. His ability reads "When Negan enters the battlefield, you and target opponent each secretly choose a creature that player controls. Then those choices are revealed, and the player sacrifices those creatures. Whenever an opponent sacrifices a creature, you create a Treasure token."

Staying true to the source material

For as beloved as Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan has become, it's worth remembering that the character itself wasn't conjured up out of thin air for television. Negan first arrived in The Walking Dead #100, surviving to see the series finale in issue #193. Much like he does on the Walking Dead TV show, the leader of the Saviors makes a grand entrance with Lucille in hand, spouting expletives as he sees fit, thus putting all of his enemies on notice. As it turns out, Morgan took great care in nailing Negan's brash yet collected personality.

In February of 2016, Jeffrey Dean Morgan spoke to Entertainment Weekly and detailed why pushing the strong language envelope was so important, regardless of how AMC felt. "We're going to push AMC — the plan is to push them as far as they can because it's who Negan is," he claims, adding "He uses some colorful language. And I use some colorful language. And reading the comic, it's important. So we'll see where that lands."

Morgan then speaks to his desire to get Negan right no matter what, noting "It's our intention that this character is going to leap off the pages of the comic book. It's very important that that's who it is. Some of the characters there's much more leeway, but Negan is a guy that you want to keep as true as possible, and that would be how I want to play him as well." 

Looking back on his Walking Dead journey so far, and the cultural impact of the Negan character, it's fair to say Morgan did just that...and then some.