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When it comes to TV villains, few out there can fittingly stand toe to toe with The Walking Dead's Negan, and not just because the big bad has blood and guts all over the toes of his boots. A character that fans hate to love, and vice versa, Negan has made quite an impact in his time on the AMC drama, and when speaking to CinemaBlend about The Walking Dead's Season 8 Blu-ray, franchise star Lennie James spoke with CinemaBlend about why Lucille's owner is such a great villain.
I think that ostensbly, the reason why he's so iconic in that way -- for me, anyway, since I don't read the comic books, or I haven't yet -- it's a lot to do with Jeffrey Dean and the way that he portrays it. I think one of the fundamental decisions that Jeffrey Dean made was being very clear that he wasn't trying to play a bad guy. . . . So I think part of the huge success of Negan as an adversary for Rick, and I think the reason why he polarizes -- I think the fact that he polarizes is a good thing -- is because he doesn't see himself as a bad guy. He's a guy trying to do the right thing for his people, in much the same way that Rick is; they just have different agendas and different histories. And that's why, I think, the character has lived up to his iconic status in the comic book, if not having taken it even further. And a large chunk of it is down to JDM and the jobs that the writers have done.
First and foremost, let's all agree that as strong as Negan is as a character in the comics, his TV magnificence is wholly tied to Jeffrey Dean Morgan's exuberant swagger in the role. The leather jacket, coupled with the rest of his usual costume, only adds to the badassery aesthetic. Though realistically, Negan could be wearing footsie pajamas and a helicopter beanie and would still come across as a bulldozer of intimidation.
A sadistic bully with more charisma than most survivors had even before walkers took over the planet, Negan saves himself from being a next-level monster by keeping himself grounded in the belief that he's not the evil tyrant in any of these situations. Yes, he very much intentionally murdered Glenn and Abraham (and Spencer and Emmett and Simon and others), but he did these things only after those people betrayed him in major ways. I mean, it's not Negan's fault that there aren't any real forms of authority and punishment anymore, right?
To extend that point, Lennie James spoke a bit further about how easy it would be for viewers to flip opinions about The Walking Dead's true antagonists, since all one would need to do is just pick up on the narrative during Season 7 or 8, instead of back when Rick woke up from his coma. In James' words:
When the groups first meet, our group are doing some heinous things. They are killing people in their sleep. And if your first introduction to Rick and the group was them attacking the Saviors in the Sanctuary, and doing what they were doing, I don't think you would be on their side, and I think you would be thinking about Rick as a baddie.
Of course, no one in Team Family's ranks gets quite as loquacious about things as Negan does, so just listening to him for a while would be all the real proof one needed about how morally respectable the character actually is.
Relive all of the havoc of the All Out War when The Walking Dead: The Complete Eighth Season hits Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, August 21. Fans will be able to learn even more about those twisted final moments between Negan and Rick thanks to the cast and crew commentary track for the finale. And there are more commentaries and a handful of behind-the-scenes features delving into bringing the War to TV, Carl's death, and more.