[WARNING: Spoilers from events in The Walking Dead comic to follow. These may or may not correspond to what ends up happening on the TV version of The Walking Dead. Seriously, stop reading now if you don’t want to know about future events in the comic book series that may come to pass — no pun intended — on the show. Proceed at your own risk.]
Bringing The Walking Dead’s ultimate comic-book villain to the screen is not without its challenges. While producers seem to have aced the casting, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan playing the charismatic, leather-clad lunatic, there is also the question of how the show will handle Negan’s prolific cursing. Producers previously revealed to EW that they actually shot Negan’s entrance in the season finale two different ways, one with some of the salty language Negan is known for, and another cleaner PG-13 version.
But the big question is whether Negan’s barbed wire-covered baseball bat Lucille will be meeting the same face it does in the source material. In issue 100 of the Walking Dead comic book, Negan arrives and immediately bashes the brains out of a fan favorite. If you don’t know whom we’re talking about, you can click here to find out.
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We spoke to showrunner Scott M. Gimple to get his take on what makes Negan such an intriguing character, why he decided to introduce him now, and the deliberations on whether to keep the events of his entrance the same as in the comic or to change things up.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We’ve seen lots of bad guys on this show before. We’ve seen the Governor, we’ve seen Gareth from Terminus, we’ve seen that guy Morgan captured from the Wolves. To someone who hasn’t read the comics, what makes Negan different from all of them?
SCOTT M. GIMPLE: The pat answer is he’s unlike anybody we’ve seen on The Walking Dead, and further, I think he’s unlike anyone we’ve seen. He is a singular character, I think, of the last 10 to 20 years of popular culture. I find him to be a fascinating character. When I was first reading about Negan in the books and talking to [Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman] about it, I was blown away with this character. Through another lens, he’s not a bad guy at all in the comic. He does some horrible things, but our people do some horrible things. He is, though, this unrepentant a-hole. He is somebody who is the ultimate bully.
And a bully with a bat, no less.
The worst kind of bullies in high school, and junior high, and elementary school, and kindergarten, pre-school, and the womb were the bullies that were funny. That was the worst because the bullies that were funny were show people. I’m not going to say show men because there are a lot of girl bullies in school, too. They were funny and yet they were awful. That’s such a combination. And Negan is the ultimate version of that bully. And he is an incredible strategist. He can often appear capricious. He is pure id. He is this force of nature. He’s charismatic. A lot of villains on shows and comics and everything, it’s like, “Oh they’re the villain that you love to hate.” I think Negan is the villain that you hate to love. But you just love him. And he does some horrible things, but he has a reason for them.
He’s not a psychopath, and in some ways, he has this bizarre sort of empathy to him. It’s bizarre that he actually does have some empathy and he does have a system and he does have, in some ways, even reason. There are a lot of moments that are so terrifying because you can’t reason with him because he’s made up his mind on something. But he does reason things out. He isn’t just some psychopath. He’s such an enjoyable character to read. He’s been an enjoyable character to write, although a lot of it is Robert’s writing from the book. I would just say you haven’t seen anything like him on The Walking Dead.
Yeah, or anywhere for that matter.
He’s going to terrify you but he’s really going to make you laugh. A lot of the times you’re going to be ashamed that you’re laughing.
Well, that’s why you cast the Comedian [from Watchmen], I assume.
There you go. Well done.
I remember when I spoke to you last summer, I asked you if Negan was going to come this season and you said you weren’t sure yet — that there were two paths you could go, one where we see him and one where we don’t. So what is it that made you want to introduce him this season?
I guess I can say just as far as some longstanding story plotting and sort of turning the dial in different directions as to aspects of the story into season 7 and season 8. I mean, that’s ultimately what a lot of the timing of things comes down to, is just looking at the story and sort of taking a long view of the story, finding out where things land and how we’re broken into chapters. It really just came down to that.
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Obviously, the big question is how closely you are going to stick to Negan’s epic entrance in the comic book. I’m curious in terms of the conversations you guys had in terms of approaching it. Do we handle this faithfully? Do we do a remix and change it up? So I’m just curious — without knowing what the end result was — what those conversations were like in terms of mapping out all your options and the discussion of how important is it to keep this one faithful, or surprise people by changing it up.
Let me put it this way: Whatever it is, it’s really just all in service to being faithful to the comic book inasmuch as one can. That’s always going to be relatively subjective as to what that means. But taking inspiration from the moments of the comic book and playing them out to the ends of what it can be, it’s all just like taking that moment from the book and figuring out a way to turn it up to get those feelings that it gave you and those emotions that it gave you that much more.
Sometimes we have things from the book that people who read the comics maybe see coming a mile away, and we try to adjust that so that we can give them the same feeling they had when reading the book, which might have been shock or surprise or fear, any of those things. It might be wildly different, but it’s all to get the same sort of feelings that you got when you read them. So will it be different? Absolutely. Will it be the same thing? Absolutely.
So much of the changes of what we do in the comic have to do with that. Sometimes things happen to completely different characters. It wasn’t Lizzie who killed Mika. Carl was the one involved that story when it was Billy and Ben. But I think we still got that same sort of emotion and horror that we got from that moment in the book. So we want to tell the story of the book but from an emotional standpoint first, and that does often create the changes that we do.