Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his new inspiration.
Eighty-one minutes into the season-six finale of The Walking Dead Sunday night, Jeffrey Dean Morgan finally made his appearance. “Pissin’ our pants yet?” Negan says, the barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat named Lucille dangling over his left shoulder. “Boy do I have a feeling we’re getting close.” For the better part of this season, we’ve been waiting for Negan’s arrival. Thus far, Rick and crew had their run of the area, getting a steady supply line to Alexandria and taking out parts of Negan and the Savior’s operation. They had only heard Negan’s name in whispers, with various members of the Saviors claiming they were Negan with Borg-like intensity. The Hilltop was afraid, and it turns out, Captain Rick and his crew had good reason to be scared, too. Negan, the baddest bad guy of them all, was here.
Spoiler alert: The rest of the post contains a discussion of the events of the season-six finale of The Walking Dead.
The entire episode was a buildup for Negan, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, for his part, knocked this out of the park. He looked the part (albeit a little Hollywood skinny compared to his comic-book counterpart) in a black leather jacket and slicked-back hair. He held court, terrorizing Rick and the group during a ten-minute monologue that wisely steered clear of pure villainy. The show’s interpretation of the character hewed closely to the comic’s version (the main differences were scrubbing Negan of his F-bombs and race commentary). In another world, Negan seems like he’d be a pretty fun guy, cracking jokes in a dive bar if this whole zombie apocalypse thing hadn’t happened. In this context though, it’s his levity, and his sense of logic, that makes him terrifying. They killed lots of his men, see, so Negan’s got to at least kill one of them. Them’s the breaks.
The rest of the cast didn’t have much dialogue in those last minutes, but their sense of complete fear and panic was palpable. (Andrew Lincoln, Steven Yeun, and Josh McDermitt delivered some magnificent snot-filled shaking.) We’ve never seen our protagonists so terrified, so completely out of their league. Which is why the finale was ultimately lacking. Here was an opportunity to create a perfectly tense, gutting ten minutes of television. Instead, we cut just short of that, with a cliffhanger that refused what the show had been building toward for the entire second half of the season: the death of one of the show’s beloved characters. That person’s death is what would have destroyed our Alexandrian’s sense of order and sent them tumbling into Negan’s world order. Now that sense of finality has been delayed for a new season entirely, inevitably dulling the emotional impact the death would have had. It’s a bit of a cheap move — and one Negan never would have approved of.