THERE ARE A FEW SPOILERS IN THIS POST. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
I have mentioned in a previous blog post that I have stopped watching AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” That has not stopped me from looking up recaps of the show (including Funny or Die’s hilarious rundowns). I am still aware of the show’s going-ons. One thing I am keenly aware of is the fact that Walking Dead-Heads seem to love the villain Negan. It is not unusual for fans of a particular series to love certain villains. Batman fans love the Joker, for example. The reason some people like villains is because they play by a different set of rules. They are a representation of what it would be like to not restrain evil thoughts and ideas because we live in a society where we must act on social contracts. Negan represents unrestrained and brutal power. He can assert his authority however he likes. He can pretty much say whatever he wants. It is these qualities that make us (if but just a little) want to be like Negan. However, a sense of envy is not the only reason he is so popular. There is also the angle of the villain one loves to hate. There is the anticipation of satisfaction when Rick finally takes him down. All of these reasons speaks to a certain mindset people have when they watch the show. It is for this fact that each of those reasons needs to be fully explored in order to expound why Negan exposes different qualities of the human condition and thus granting him popularity.
Negan Represents Unrestrained and Brutal Power
In a world where one can often feel helpless to control the status quo, it is not unusual to find characters so appealing. Negan is the “what if” situation where one imagines what it would be like to be in complete control and able to act beyond common decency. Negan makes the rules (he is the leader of the Saviors) but he is a different type of leader than Rick. While Rick maintains some of the more humane qualities of a leader, Negan appears to eschew those altogether. He can say whatever he wants, have sex with whomever he wants, have whatever he wants, and do whatever he wants. Most people fantasize about a life where at least one of those freedoms existed. And in addition to being free-er than everyone else, he gets to mete out brutal punishment when one of his followers breaks the rules. There are countless fans of the show who have made their own “Lucille,” Negans baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. How many fans wish they could unleash Lucile’s fury upon others they have problems with? During the course of season 7, Negan has bashed two characters heads in with Lucille as well as burnt a man’s face with a hot iron, cut open a character’s belly and pulling out his guts, and sliced a woman’s face with a knife. I am sure I am leaving a few punishments out. The point is that Negan is free to do what he wants because he maintains a tight ship by “shutting that shit down” as he puts it. He has the types of freedoms that many of us wish we could have from time to time.
He is a Villain Fans Love to Hate
Interestingly enough, the same power than Negan has that fans sometimes wish they could have is also a point of contention with the character. In our more rational side, we hate what Negan does because he is essentially a bully. He controls the actions of others through shear psychological and physical brutality. We grit our teeth as we watch him kill or maim our favorite characters (and some not so favorite ones). We sit and anticipate his demise with eagerness. We were bitterly disappointed when he did not get it in the season finale. We cannot do the things Negan does because we live in a civilized society. So part of us thinks “if we can’t do it, why should he get to?” Others may simply be appalled by his brutality not ever once wishing they could do the things he does. For his brutality, we want Negan to face justice.
In sum, Negan’s popularity exposes a few things about human nature. It shows that many people may envy Negan’s powerful position to some degree. It shows that in a world where many people exert their authority over us, we may wish we could exert authority over them, perhaps even Negan-style. The powerless may wish to have Negan’s power. It shows that part of us may wish for simpler times such as the Middle Ages where physical and often torturous punishment was commonplace. A time when you did not question your lord, you just did as he said or else. However, despite all of those negative fantasies, his popularity also shows that many of us still have an inward since of justice and fairness. Negan is a bully and someone needs to take him down. We want Rick and the gang to overcome him because it not only would be a victory over Negan, but it would be a victory over a brutal and medieval mindset. We want him to be destroyed so that within us our own lust for his type of power may be quelled. Mostly, we want him defeated to restore humaneness to what is left of post-apocalyptic humanity. Negan exposes in us a duality of craving domination through socially unacceptable means and an inward sense of humanity. The battle against Negan is also an inward battle between our sense of right and wrong.