The Walking Dead: Negan's backstory revealed
How does what was divulged on the TV show match up to the comic source material?
[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “The Big Scary U” episode of The Walking Dead.]
A lot of big things happened on Sunday’s “The Big Scary U” episode of The Walking Dead. Daryl and Rick started beating the crap out of each other. Eugene appeared to figure out that Dwight had turned spy. And Father Gabriel finally realized his ultimate purpose/mission of being there to get Dr. Carson out of the Sanctuary to deliver Maggie’s baby.
But perhaps even better than all of that was learning a big chunk of the big bad’s backstory. That’s right, after almost an hour of prodding, Negan finally gave his confession to Gabriel, and it included some juicy bits of intel. What did we learn about Negan and how does it match up the comic book source material — specifically the Here’s Negan spin-off? Let’s take a look. (WARNING: Comic book spoilers to follow.)
In Sunday’s episode, Negan tells Gabriel he worked with kids before the apocalypse. And he seems to consider it important, life-changing work: “You don’t show them the way, they turn into garbage,” he warns. “The little assholes become great big ones. So you show them the way. And adults, they need it too. People are weak.”
Negan presents working with kids as the first step in his evolution into a leader of men and women, but what kind of work was it exactly? In the Here’s Negan comic, we learn that Negan was actually a high school gym teacher, although he still has his salty language — even back then and even around the kids. In the first few pages of the comic, we see Negan graphically cursing out some of his students while defeating them at ping-pong.
While his specific job is never mentioned in the latest episode, the fact that he does say he worked with kids means the show is likely following the source material in terms of Negan’s pre-apocalypse employment.
Here’s another way in which what we learned in the episode directly mirrors the comic. The initial hint occurs when Gabriel challenges Negan on the evil he has done. At first, Negan keeps his composure and calmly deflects Gabriel’s attempts. When the priest asks him to defend his killing, Negan says, “I haven’t killed anyone that didn’t need it.” When Gabriel takes him to task for treating the Sanctuary workers almost as slaves, Negan explains that workers are an economy.
But Gabriel clearly strikes a nerve when he asks about Negan’s harem of wives, causing the villain to scowl and turn away. Following up on this, the priest inquires if there was a pre-apocalypse spouse. You can see Negan tense up at the question, looking at his bat and uttering, “Lucille, give me strength.”
It is only later when Negan finally agrees to give his confession that we learn the truth. “My first wife was a real wife,” he tells Gabriel. “My only real wife. Till death did us part. It was before this. I lied to her. I screwed around on her. She was sick and when she went, when she went it was during this. I couldn’t put her down. That is how I was weak. That is what I will confess.”
This also falls right in line with what happens in the Here’s Negan comic. When we first meet Negan’s wife there, she collapses while reading her husband the riot act for cussing out his students during the ping-pong game. After she is diagnosed with cancer, Negan calls off his extra-marital affair to help take care of his spouse. She eventually ends up in the hospital, right when the zombie apocalypse begins. In fact, Negan barricades himself in her room as chaos breaks out in the streets and hallways outside. But then his wife dies and turns as well. Negan leaves her there — asking a stranger he had helped to finish her off, not having the strength to do so himself.
All of this story — at least the broad strokes — have now been carried over to the TV show. Oh yeah, the name of Negan’s real wife? Lucille.
Not a lot of intel is dropped in this episode in terms of how the Saviors formed and how Negan ended up leading them, but nothing directly contradicts the events of the comics. At one point Negan tells Gabriel that he brought together gangs of animals and that “The last guy who was in charge. He wasn’t in charge of s—. He allowed people to be weak. I don’t. I make them strong, which makes this world strong.”
So this may or may not follow what is shown in Here’s Negan. In the comic, Negan meets up with various people (one of whom is carrying the baseball bat that will end up being Lucille #2) who all eventually get bitten, putting him back on his own. Finally, Negan is approached by a stranger in the woods who invites him back to the camp where he is the assumed leader. That stranger is none other than Dwight, at that time with wife Sherry.
Negan eventually supplants Dwight as the decision-maker in the group and then they join up with another gang. But when that group’s leader attempts to pimp out one of his women, Negan retrieves his baseball bat while caught up in barbed wire, creating a lightbulb moment and giving Lucille #2 her first victim.
So the line in the episode about bringing together gangs of animals definitely tracks with the events of the comics in terms of the way he combined two groups in the source material, but it’s unclear if the “last guy in charge” TV Negan was referring to is the one from the comic book whose brains he bashed in. Or is it Dwight? Or is it a different backstory and someone else entirely?
Regardless, the Here’s Negan comic ends with a big speech about weakness and strength — a major theme of Negan’s trailer conversations with Gabriel here. (It’s also when Negan first coins the term Saviors.) Only time will tell if we will get more information about TV Negan’s backstory and if it will follow the source material or veer off into a new narrative, but so far, the similarities are pretty striking.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.