“Here’s Negan” closes out with an examination of Negan’s past that also tees up a major conflict for the final season.
This recap of The Walking Dead season 10, episode 22, “Here’s Negan”, contains spoilers.
Probably the best episode of Season 10’s bonus run, the fittingly-titled “Here’s Negan” is a complex thing. On the one hand, it’s asking you to not just empathize with a psychotic serial killer who was the show’s primary antagonist for multiple seasons and was personally responsible for the brutal deaths of several fan-favorite characters, but actually like him and root for him. And it employs a lot of tricks to do that, from tried-and-tested flashbacks to entering the cheat code of having Negan “become” Negan by undergoing a great deal of relatable trauma and then taking his frustrations out on some goons who’re uncomplicatedly, irredeemably awful. None of this works unless you’re willing to completely forget a lot of the show’s own history.
But on the other hand, Negan absolutely rules.
These 10C episodes have been the perfect place for little capsule stories like this, which have some bearing on the larger overarching plot and will probably pay off in a big way in the final season, but mostly work as isolated stories involving one or sometimes more characters. After last week’s metaphorical examination of the growing distance between Daryl and Carol and a whole hour devoted to the complex interiority of Princess, The Walking Dead season 10, episode 22 seemed like the perfect place to explore Negan’s tortured backstory. And it was, while also teeing up an obvious conflict between him and Maggie for whenever the show returns for its swansong.
Beginning with Carol doing Negan a solid by taking him to a secluded cabin in the woods (this one?) to save him from Maggie killing him in his sleep, I half expected a similar outing to Princess’s claustrophobic therapy session, especially when Past Negan, in his leather jacket and sporting the bloodied Lucille, began talking to him about his inner self: “It’s time to face facts, old man. You are nothing without her.”
But “Here’s Negan” spends barely any time at all in the present, instead opting for various jaunts to a jumbled past, triggered by Negan digging up Lucille from where “she” was buried after he and Rick’s climactic eighth season showdown. It’s in these flashbacks that we finally meet the real Lucille (Hilarie Burton-Morgan), Negan’s cancer-stricken late wife, and learn more about the sequence of events that led to his “birth” as the monologuing villain we all came to know and loathe and ultimately love.
The flashbacks are out of order. They begin with Negan tied to a chair, being interrogated by a gang leader named Baxter (Rodney Rowland) for the location of a mobile medical center where he acquired coveted chemotherapy drugs – the logic being if the center is in possession of something that rare, they’ll be in possession of plenty more goodies besides. But we don’t return here for ages; it’s almost a framing device within a framing device as we see how a timid Negan kept Lucille alive and medicated throughout the early days of the post-apocalypse, learn how prior to Lucille’s cancer diagnosis he was a layabout philanderer who had lost his job as a high school gym teacher for assaulting a man in a bar, and discover that he left Lucille behind to hunt down life-saving medication after an accident ruined their supply. This is how Negan finds himself on the receiving end of Franklin’s (Miles Mussenden) generosity after he makes an unconvincing attempt to rob the medical center, and it’s also how he ends up with Lucille the bat, which Franklin’s daughter used to bonk him over the head after he threatened them with an empty gun.
In all this The Walking Dead season 10, episode 22 displays a new, unseen side of Negan, a bumbling coward who is simply devoted to the love of his life. So devoted is he, in fact, that he ends up ratting Franklin out so Baxter and his goons let him go, but by the time he returns home Lucille has committed suicide, fastening a plastic bag around her head and leaving a note on the door reading, “Please don’t leave me like this.” It’s a harrowing discovery and the one that truly puts this version of Negan on the path to becoming the one we know. After sitting with his wife a while as she desperately, frenziedly claws at him, he snips some barbed wire from the fence outside to wrap around his new bat and burns the house down.
But the transition isn’t complete just yet. For that, Negan returns to Baxter’s hideout, where he finds him torturing Franklin for the location of his stashed supplies. Beating and shooting his way through Baxter’s man, Negan finally gets his chance for a demented soliloquy. While we haven’t seen this version of the character for a good while, it’s the one we know, and his embracing of the identity we’re familiar with plays like gangbusters in this new context. When he’s finally finished talking, Negan bludgeons Baxter to death. “Here’s Negan”, indeed.
But in the present day, Negan’s relationship with Lucille, both the bat he has just dug up and the wife whose memory has never left him, has changed. When he clubs a walker over the head, the bat is rotten and splinters. He takes it back inside the cabin and addresses it as though he’s speaking to his wife directly, apologizing for leaving, for hiding from the pain of losing her, and for naming the bat after her in the first place. Then he burns it like he burned their home.
Having had his fill of exile, Negan returns to Alexandria. Carol, having given him the opportunity, will no longer have his death on her conscience when Maggie inevitably kills him, which she insists she will if he stays. He understands. But as he walks back inside the gates, he turns to a horrified Maggie and smiles. Perhaps he isn’t nothing without Lucille after all.