Why Dwight wasn't in the 'Here's Negan' episode of The Walking Dead
Showrunner Angela Kang explains why a different Savior was added into the mix for the big flashback episode
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead, "Here's Negan."
Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead concluded the extended 10th season of the zombie drama in epic fashion, adapting the "Here's Negan" comic to tell the backstory of TWD's most infamous villain and his doomed former wife, Lucille.
However, the TV retelling of the comic made several changes to the original material. While the major beat of the story — that Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was caring for his cancer-stricken wife as the zombie apocalypse began, only to watch her turn into the undead — remained intact, the rest of backstory changed events, characters, and the path Negan took toward becoming the man who would eventually run the Saviors.
In this version, Negan went out searching for medicine for his dying wife, only to be intercepted by a biker gang who held him until he revealed the source of his supply. By the time he made it back to Lucille (Hilarie Burton), she had already killed herself and turned into a zombie. The tragedy unleashed a fury in Negan, who went back and took out his anger on the men who held him while his wife died.
One of the biggest changes from page to screen involved the first future Savior that Negan encountered. In the comic, it was Dwight (Austin Amelio) who first came across Negan in the woods and invited him to join his group (soon to be the Saviors). But here on TV, it was Savior-turned-Alexandrian Laura (Lindsley Register) who first met Negan, and in dramatic fashion: knocking him out with a baseball bat when Negan tried to steal medicine for his wife, the same bat that would become (the other) Lucille.
Why have Laura be the first Savior on the scene in this backstory? As showrunner Angela Kang reveals, that was not the original plan. "We wanted to bring back somebody that was a former Savior," Kang says. "And this is no knock against our Laura, we love that actor and she's wonderful, and it worked out great. But our original desire was to get Dwight because obviously Dwight is who appears in the 'Here's Negan' comic."
So why didn't Dwight appear? Blame it on the TWD spin-off Austin Amelio now calls home… and the real-world pandemic. "The scheduling did not work with Fear the Walking Dead because usually we're not on the exact same filming schedule," Kang explains. "But because COVID pushed everything, it wouldn't have worked to bring him over."
With Dwight out of the picture, the writers had to come up with a new plan. "We were like, 'Okay, well let's think about our other Saviors and who is a sympathetic former Savior," says Kang. "And most of them are not really, but Laura was always a Savior that you go, like, 'She doesn't seem that bad.' And then she joined our heroes until Beta killed her." (Oh, right. That. Bummer for her.)
The switch from the Dwight backstory in the comic is what led to a broader change in terms of Negan first coming across medics instead of a regular group of survivors. "That's how we wound up bringing her in," Kang says. "And so then we knew we had to construct a different story than the one that is Dwight's backstory that you see in the comic."
That's when episode writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick stepped in. Recalls Kang: "David thought, 'Well wouldn't it be interesting if we did it this way and she's with this medical group?' Because for the people who know the comic, Lucille basically died almost right away in the apocalypse, so there wasn't this whole story about how she had to get chemo during the beginning part of the apocalypse. All of that is original to our show, but she just seemed like the right person that fits that story where you'd believe that she had a benign start to the apocalypse, and basically Negan admired her for her strength, and that's how she came to cross with him."
As so often happens, what started as a necessity wound up paying creative dividends, especially when considering the full arc of another key Savior character. "It was partly a matter of circumstance," says Kang. "But at the end of the day, I actually really like that it wound up being Laura, because it helps me understand how she came to cross with Negan and be friends with him. And yet it was so easy to turn her back to our hero side."
We spoke more with Kang about adapting this classic Walking Dead story for the screen, the unique story structure that had flashbacks within flashbacks, and why Lucille took her own life.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is adapting "Here's Negan" something you would have done in season 11 had you not had these bonus episodes here?
ANGELA KANG: We have been trying to find an organic spot for "Here's Negan" for a very long time. We talked about, "Can we slot it in season 9? Can we slot it in season 10? When can we do it?" So we always wanted to do it, but up until now all of the attempts to do it just felt like it was wedging it into a plot for no reason. So we didn't want to just stick it into something and then go like, "Well, why was that in the middle of the order?" But we found that, by telling the story of Maggie [Lauren Cohan] coming back and having to rewind from where we were planning to start season 11, it gave us this opportunity to go like, "Well, how is Negan reckoning with his past, present, and future?" So it felt like this was a good place to put this.
I think we would've found a way to put it into season 11, but it wouldn't have felt as organic as it felt here. And then obviously, we've strip-mined material from "Here's Negan" over the years for other scenes and other stories, and things that have happened. He's talked a lot about his past with Lucille. We did this with Lauren Cohan's last episode in season 9, we stole some stuff from "Here's Negan" in the vibe where she comes to kill him in the cell, only it becomes clear that he wants her to kill him.
And although it's a different setting, we'd stolen some pieces of that from a comic too. So then we were like, "All right, well, we're using this title 'Here's Negan,' but we have to find our own way into it." And it actually worked really well with where we were at in the story, so that's how it fell here. I do think we probably would've found a place for it, but it actually worked better here, in my mind.
You took some of the big beats of the story but then changed around a lot of stuff in the way you told it. What made you all want to work your way progressively backward in terms of the structure?
That really came from our writer, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick. He came in and said, "I have this idea for the structure of this story. I was trying to think about Negan and how you get from the present into this flashback. The thing about Negan is he's a bulls---ter, he likes to talk a lot, so what if it's a story where you use an idea like One Thousand and One Nights, but he's telling a story within a story within a story?" I was like, "That is so interesting and bizarre, and it feels very specific to Negan," so I loved that and that's how he developed it.
So if you go back and really pay attention to the way the flashbacks work, it is like this nesting-doll structure of it's a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. Then Lucille has her own flashback within that flashback, and then it unwinds itself back out. It was all based on well, who is Negan as a person? How does he tell a story about the past? And it's like, oh of course, he keeps telling stories because he loves to do a long monologue, so that was how that came about.
Why does Lucille eventually take her own life and put that plastic bag over her head? Is that just her speeding along the inevitable?
We were trying to lay in these hints that for Lucille, in a lot of ways, she was ready to let go and knew what the end was going to be, and knew that it would probably be horrible. And all she wanted was for Negan to be there with her as she went through that and lived out those last moments. But when he left, if you follow the timeline, he was gone for some weeks. And it's really likely that Lucille saw the writing on the wall very quickly and was like, "He's never going to make it back before I have to die a horrible death, so I'd rather do it on my own terms." So I think that that was really what went on. And of course, Negan, he was holding onto her and the idea that she'd get better so hard, that it's like he was gone for all this time and just had that little bit of hope left. But she was thinking about it, I think, for awhile.
What's the reality: Did Negan leave her after she asked him not to in hopes of saving her, or was it because he couldn't handle being there to watch her die, as he says later? Or is it a little from column A and a little from column B?
I think he really did think he could save her, but I think in some ways it was denial, it's almost like he couldn't read the room. He was so fixated on the idea that he could save her that it all passed by. She begged him to stay, and he couldn't face the idea that his beloved wife was dying and was going to die very soon.
Obviously, there's more story to tell in terms of how the Saviors were formed up into this big group and how they built it, should you choose to want to tell it, because you don't have that many episodes left. Is there more backstory to come with Negan and how he formed the Saviors, or is that maybe something more that the anthology series could tackle if they want to?
Yeah, there's a ton of story in terms of what happens between this and his very first murder monologue, and when our characters cross him. So I really hope that that is a story that is told at some point, but it will probably not be on the Walking Dead mothership series.
So I think there is this feeling of like, "I'm going to own my own space here. You're here too, and we're going to have to figure out what this is one way or the other." We'll start to learn more about that relationship between Negan and Maggie as we get into season 11. They've got a significant story that they're in together, but that's where he is in the moment.