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Spoiler alert for anyone who isn't caught up on The Walking Dead.
When Negan first stepped out of his RV on The Walking Dead, TV viewers finally got a look at the deadly villain in all his leather-encrusted glory, and comic fans finally got a live-action version of the source material's greatest weapon. And though his initial scene was overshadowed by expectations and cliffhanger fury, Jeffrey Dean Morgan has now settled firmly into the role of Negan, and I feel more than comfortable saying if he isn't already The Walking Dead's greatest villain to this point, he's using Lucille to knock at the door.
Long before Negan's face was shown the character had a presence in the back half of Season 6 solely through the words and actions of his Saviors, giving him a mythical quality that is comparable to how the greatest horror films treat their big threats. In that period, Rick & Co. have no second thoughts when it comes to murdering the shit out of people involved with Negan's reign, which is what causes the big bad to come out of the shadows in the first place. And just as we were getting used to the train of thought that maybe Rick's group is more villainous than we'd considered, Lucille shares her opinion with the room, and suddenly the focus shifts right back to Negan.
Just in that build-up, Negan became a better villain than the lowest-tier antagonists like Hospital Cop Dawn or Abusive Alexandrian Pete, and the momentum certainly didn't drop off once Jeffrey Dean Morgan was present and accounted for. The gruesome Polaroids that foreshadowed cranial annihilations were no empty threat, and Negan's first acts as Rick's new master were in no way impaired by the months between seasons. The violent and squish-heavy deaths of Abraham and Glenn will never be forgotten by audiences, and they will continue to punctuate every encounter that Negan has with any of the show's protagonists. Perhaps the strangest thing? How captivating Morgan is the whole time.
Now we have fear tactics and super-brutal confrontations, which puts Negan on par with similar villains like the Wolves' Owen, Joe and the Claimers and Gareth's Terminus crew. But those situations (and others) were more like flashbangs where the confrontations were concerned, with Rick usually ending things with a bite to the neck or a dozen hatchet-chops to the face. The good guys didn't win with Negan, so we get to see this hardened monster's long-term goals in terms of surviving, which includes strict rules and the occasional complete debilitation of one's mind and body.
If his blunt force actions aren't for you, then perhaps you'll find Negan's mind games more to your liking. Also similar to some of the horror genre's best antagonists, Negan has an unquenchable thirst for giving his victims the illusion of hope and free will, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan looks like he truly does relish the ability to rub that in their faces. Negan could have just thrown Rick to the walkers in the premiere, or had Daryl starve to death, but there's no fun in that for the Saviors' leader, who is also smart enough to recognize how useful people like Rick and Daryl are in this world.
At this point in the argument, I think we can all agree that at this point, the only Walking Dead villain that can really compare is The Governor, who was indeed a powerful and daunting presence during his span. But the similarities are mostly tied to actions, such as both of them building up a refuge, treating some people like shit and having problems with Rick. When it comes to personality, though, Negan wins by a (s)mile. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has charisma for days, and now that we've gotten an episode where he's just walking around in his natural element, that charm is on full display.
Even when he's telling that terrible story to Daryl about Dwight and Sherry, he's smirking and acting as if it's a good time, knowing full well it isn't for anyone else. He tells jokes (that he thinks are funny), and while it's all part of his mental domination, it's so fun to watch. Because there is a sense of order within The Sanctuary and the Saviors' ranks, you get the sense that Negan's evil ways have resulted in the actual good of the community, putting his villainy in a new light. The Governor wasn't ever interested in anyone's happiness to the point where viewers could enjoy it, and while David Morrissey rocked out the part, he isn't in the same league as Negan. (Possible baseball bat pun.) Plus, Morgan has already said who would win in a fight, and we trust him.
So yeah, I get why some fans are decrying Negan's presence and giving Jeffrey Dean Morgan some rude feedback. He's mean. He's brutal. He's greedy. All that. But none of it necessarily refutes my point that he's already the best villain The Walking Dead has given us, because that point is irrefutable. All your opinions belong to Negan now. We are all Negan.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC. Perhaps the day will come when an episode turns my lofty opinion about Negan on its head - on their gooey red bashed-in marshmallow of a head - but for now, I can't get enough.