***Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for The Walking Dead through Season 7, Episode 1 follow. Spoilers***
The Walking Dead audience is still reeling from Sunday night’s Season 7 premiere, which featured the fully realized introduction of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan, unhampered by cliffhanger season-ending restraints. If nothing else, it quickly became clear this violent psychopathic, masochistic character is one of the most unhinged villains we’ve ever seen on television. This being TWD, we’re used to seeing blood, guts and sometimes sickening scenes, and we’ve become almost too accustomed to over-the-top lunatics popping up now and again, but the gruesome deaths that rained down on Abraham and Glenn will be hard to forget. Above and beyond the carnage, Negan made it his mission to break Rick Grimes — it looks like Daryl’s about to be Negan’s next behavior modification subject — and by extension, the audience. Yet, somehow, Jeffrey Dean Morgan believes that in the grand scheme of things, his character isn’t a bad guy; he’s just doing what he has to do.
Speaking with The Onion THR, Morgan tried to justify the way he sees his character by comparing him to Rick and some of the other characters we’ve come to know.
I love him and love playing him. I don’t see him as a villain and I don’t know how I can. In this apocalyptic world that The Walking Dead has created, how do you decipher the good versus the bad? Just because we’ve been following Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon and their crew for the past seven years, they’ve become the heroes of the show. But if we’d been following Negan and the Saviors for the past seven years and how he became the leader of these people, then he’d be the hero of this show. We’ve seen people we love on this show do some horrible things over the past six years. And so far, we’ve seen Negan tap a couple people with a baseball bat (laughing). It’s two sides of the same coin, really. There’s something about Negan and the way he carries himself and the joy he brings to what he’s doing that’s different and off-putting.”
Wrong. I don’t know anyone who thinks of Rick as a hero, nor Daryl, for that matter. We have seen Rick and his people commit absolute atrocities, Shane and Carol quickly come to mind, and particularly in Seasons 5 and 6, it became very clear that Rick’s mentality had crossed reasonable lines: “The world is ours and we know how to take it”. Many in the group have unnecessarily killed people, and what they did to the Saviors in “Not Tomorrow Yet”, preemptively killing the sleeping compound crew, was seriously disturbing. We may have feelings for these people we’ve come to know over the past six years, but we’ve also known them to do terrible, malicious things that defy them being classified as heroes.
The character of Negan is a textbook defined villain: a person who is malevolent, evil, who deliberately does bad things, and regardless of the environment or Morgan’s attempts to equalize his character’s behavior, there is simply no other way to view him.
Reading through the rest of the interview, it’s also interesting to note what Morgan says when asked about the character’s verbal profanity; in the comic series, Negan is known for liberal use of his favorite curse word, inexplicably verboten on AMC (and most non-premium cable networks). As Talking Dead‘s Chris Hardwick also pointed out when Lauren Cohan said “fuck” several times — and wondered if she was “allowed” to — after watching “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”, how ridiculous is it that we can be shown graphic footage of people’s heads being smashed to a pulp, but we’re not allowed to hear the F-word? This stupidity is right up there with onscreen violence vs. nudity. Profanity comes in many forms, and plenty of people would rather hear cursing or see an exposed nipple (the horror!) than watch a character be hit so hard in the head with a barbed wire wrapped bat that his eyeball pops out.
Meanwhile, for those wondering how Negan’s comic brutality against women will be handled, no worries! You’ll get to see that in all its glory. Asked if AMC will allow it to be shown, Morgan said they’re going to push as far as they can.
We’re not going to lose who Negan is in the comic books because we’re on television. It’s a tightrope. If you’re a fan of the comics, you know his feeling toward women and his wives. There’s so much story to tell with Negan and this year is so packed with making The Walking Dead world explode into such a large place as opposed to what it’s been in the past six years. There’s a lot to get to and we want to remain as loyal as we can to what Kirkman created. My thought on that question is yeah, we’re going to try and encompass all of that, including his relationships with women and how he treats them.”
Yeah, not a villain at all.
There is something seriously wrong with the way our society categorizes obscenity and profanity, differentiates between the forms they take. I’m not advocating for restricting onscreen violence; we’re adults and we make our own choices about what to watch. There are enough levels of programming, from basic networks to cable to pay to web, that anyone can be as shielded as one wants. Nonetheless, if AMC is going to pummel the audience with brutality and disturbing explicit bloodshed, pushing those particular limits to the extreme, their viewers can certainly handle hearing (and seeing) a fuck or two.