Negan: The Walking Dead’s Saviour? Emmm…

Negan in the comic books is physically imposing and plausibly psychotic. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a fine actor, but he somehow doesn’t feel like the right man for the role. Negan needed to be part Henry Rollins, part Tony Soprano, and part Wilson Fisk. For his interpretation of Negan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan seems to be channelling Ian McShane’s mid-life crisis. I’m convinced by neither his physicality nor his charm. He spends the bulk of his time on screen slinking about in his ‘geez a gobble’ leather-jacket, cradling a barbed cock-proxy and blathering about pussies. He’s little more than a post-apocalyptic, post-watershed Del Boy; a washed-up Fonzie after a long spell in AA.

TV Negan doesn’t seem especially cunning and, crucially, he doesn’t inspire dread, tension or terror like the Governor or the crazy cannibals before him. When he raises his voice to shout, employing his weirdly over-emphasised, sub-Shatner shtick, it’s not a mercurial, megalomaniacal, homicidal demigod that’s brought to mind, but a hitherto mild-mannered deputy head teacher losing his shit at the school assembly. TV Negan is simply a smug, sleazy, cheeky asshole, who just happens to have insinuated himself into a position of supreme authority while everyone was looking the other way. Not only does he not feel like a real and credible threat, he doesn’t even feel like a real guy; just a composite of hammy panto villains, a wicked step-mother that occasionally gets to stove people’s heads in with a baseball bat.

The Saviours themselves are an odd phenomenon, too. Here’s a band of maniacs hundreds strong, spread out across a wide geographical area, with outposts and spotters and tentacles everywhere, and yet the group from Alexandria never encountered them once. Not until Rick and his crew turned up dragging death and bad-luck behind them like a plough. These days, no-one can sneak out for a piss without a man with an AK47 jumping out from the bushes and demanding half. Negan himself was introduced as a near mythical figure, always spoken of in hushed tones; a living legend that was as elusive as a smile on Michonne’s face; a man who never revealed himself, and kept to the shadows, his people even employing the old ‘I Am Spartacus’ technique to keep his identity hidden from the masses… what happened to all that? Now the gobby fucker pops round for tea about six times a week, usually without back-up. He’s an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in an illuminous jacket with a GPS tracker in the top pocket. He’ll be doing a fucking book tour next.

I can’t wrap my head around the mechanics of how TV Negan managed to amass such a cowed and loyal, multifarious following of normals and nutcases alike; deeply puzzled as to why he hasn’t been assassinated. He doesn’t seem to have an especially sympathetic or trustworthy high command around him to act as his buffer, and any carroty behaviour he exhibits is rendered pretty much void by his vast preference for the stick. I get that other people’s greed and fear, and the carte blanche he gives them to unleash their ids while in his company keep them enjoying (or submitting to) Negan’s reign of terror, but that again begs the question: why hasn’t one of the innumerable violent psychopaths in his crew assassinated him?

All Negan seems to do is talk. And talk. And talk. And talk. Punctuating every other line with a triple knee-collapse, like he’s just finished a particularly tricky tap dance: ta-da! Or perhaps auditioning for a new, post-apocalyptic boy-band (sometimes I think he’s going to launch into that thing people do where they pretend to be walking down a set of stairs). And talk. And talk. And talk. And talk some more. Man, does that guy talk. Every episode in which he’s yet featured has consisted of five per cent Daryl scowling, five per cent Rick’s cry face, ten per cent Carl’s atrocious attempts at emoting, forty per cent people wandering in the forest, twenty per cent miserable people whispering in dark rooms, twenty per cent cheeky ‘I’m yer pal but I’m no really yer pal’ winsome grins, and six thousand per cent Negan talking.

In the comics, Negan’s talking is a joy to behold, principally because he’s allowed to talk as a real murderous dictator would, and not in a watered-down, neutered way to make his stylings appropriate for American network television. Negan does the ‘poopy pants’ line he utters upon first meeting Rick in the comics, too, but because he also peppers his sentences with a barrage of fucks, the discordance of the ‘poopy pants’ line renders it – and his entire subsequent speech – both scarier and funnier.

Here are some choice excerpts of comic-book Negan getting his swear on:

“So now I’m going to beat the holy fuck fucking fuckedy fuck out of one of you with my bat.”

“And here I am. Friendly as a fuckless fuck on a fuck free day.”

“You think I got all these little communities at my feet because I roam the countryside bashing in Asian-American skulls? That’s no fucking way to make friends. Everyone toes the line because I provide them a service. I keep them safe. We’re the saviours, not the kill your friends so you don’t fucking like us at alls.”

“I assure you, m’am, he’s dead as fuck.”

“So now our big swinging dick is going to swing harder…and faster, until we take off like a motherfucking helicopter and blow all these motherfuckers away.”

Isn’t it odd that the network and its advertisers aren’t too concerned about things like a man being literally torn apart in a set of revolving doors, or rotten corpses chasing after children, but absolutely will not tolerate the use of the word ‘fuck’? That’s the word I use when I stub my toe. I can only imagine what I’d say if a zombie tried to rip my cheek off with its stinking, contaminated teeth. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be ‘Cor blimey, guv’nor, this is a pickle and no mistake.’

I often wish that HBO had picked up ‘The Walking Dead,’ thrown a bigger budget and a more authentic cavalcade of sex, swearing and violence at the screen. More and more, I’m coming to prefer the insane inventiveness and all-round bat-shit craziness of SyFy’s Z Nation, which – while clearly ridiculous – always leaves me with a grin on my face. The arrival of Negan in The Walking Dead comics heralded an upswing in risk, excitement, tension, horror, hope and humour. I can’t say the same for the TV show, which appears to have slipped into a coma in its seventh season, awaiting a final and merciful headshot. Season six wasn’t perfect, but it at least had a smattering of excellent episodes to balance out the dreck and the crass manipulations. Season seven has Negan. That should’ve been enough. Sadly – at this stage at least – it isn’t.

Come on, Negan, Mr Poopy Pants. There’s still time for you to save the show by fulfilling your destiny as Mr Motherfucking Shitty Fuck Pants.

The Walking Dead Review: Season 5 Episode 9

rick

So, the Walking Dead is back from its mid-season break, and with it our appetite for gorging on the harrowing exploits of the only group of people in the world with less chance of happiness than the characters in Eastenders. It’s fair to say that The Walking Dead is a show low on hope, and high on showing what little hope there is being dashed. An average episode can often make you long for a more uplifting way to spend your recreational time, like reviewing CCTV footage of fatal road traffic accidents. 

The cancer of hope is the theme hammered home more explicitly than usual in the latest episode, What’s Happened and What’s Going On. Rick, Michonne, Glen, Tyreese and the group’s newest member Noah travel to Virginia to the gated community Noah and his family called home before the outbreak; a community that poor, naïve Noah believes will both still be intact, and safe enough to act as the group’s new home and fortress. It isn’t. And it isn’t. A combination of bad people and zombies has converted the once-safe haven into the kind of dangerous, dilapidated ghost town we’ve come to know, love and expect from the show. 

The episode’s pre-credits montage offers a haunting array of images chronicling the futility of hope in the new post-civilisation world: we see Woodbury, the Prison, a painting of a cottage – with blood seeping over it – that bears an eerie resemblance to the one in which Carol mercy-killed a kid. These are all places where hope slowly established itself only to be quickly, cruelly and brutally deposed. And yet it’s clear from the expressions on Rick’s and Glenn’s faces during their conversation early on in the episode that they allowed themselves to hope that Noah was right about his former home – that it was safe, that things would get better – despite all evidence to the contrary based on the unending disappointment and suffering they’ve endured across four and a half seasons of The Walking Dead. We’ll return to that feeling later. 

The images in the montage are interspersed with a eulogy that Father Gabriel is delivering, which we have no reason to suspect is for anyone but the recently departed Beth, especially when we see the grief-stricken reactions of Maggie and Noah. While some of the images – the prison, Woodbury – are there to contextualise the theme and set the tone of the episode, others, like the service itself, are actually flash-forwards, something that doesn’t become apparent until the episode starts moving towards its heart-breaking conclusion. The whole of the opening montage is a clever – and very artfully directed – piece of misdirection which pretty much buries the death of one major character in the grave of another. We don’t realise it at the time but what we’re watching, in essence, is a trailer for the death of Tyreese. 

ty

Inside the gated community Rick, Glenn and Michonne move off to reconnoitre, leaving Tyreese baby-sitting a distraught Noah, who has just realised that everything and everyone he had ever known, loved or taken for granted is gone. Gripped by grief and rage, Noah runs off to his family home to see with his own eyes what has become of his mother and brothers. Tyreese follows him into the house and there, in the room once occupied by Noah’s twin brothers, he stands staring slack-jawed at photos of happier times that are stuck on the wall. While he is lost in this fugue of empathy and horror one of the reanimated brothers staggers up and sinks his teeth into the big man’s arm. 

In the scenes leading up to Tyreese’s death there are many references and allusions to childhood, both direct and indirect: Tyreese’s recollection of his father’s words about the price to be paid for becoming a citizen of the world; the very site of the attack itself, a little boy’s room; how Tyreese wedges himself under a desk like a frightened child (it reminded me of the scene in Eternal Sunshine where Jim Carrey relives his experience of being an infant).

The bulk of the episode concerns Tyreese’s battle against the infection which manifests itself through hallucinations of people from his past, both the good and the bad: the Termite he lied about killing; the two little girls who met a grizzly end in the cottage he shared with Carol; his sister’s boyfriend Bob; Beth herself, and even the Governor, who returns in the only way possible without causing a fan revolt. His dialogue with these people, his dialogue with himself, revolves around his actions and decisions since the outbreak, his commitment to forgiveness, pacifism and being a good man, and the deaths that may have followed these commitments. Ultimately, Tyreese decides that the price that must be paid to be a citizen of the world is too high – in this world at least – and allows himself to slip away towards death and some form of peace. 

gov

Before that happens – and before the full meaning of the pre-credits sequence becomes horribly clear – there is a thrilling sequence in which Rick and co attempt to save Tyreese by employing ‘the Hershel method’ and cutting off his infected arm. They manage to get Tyreese to the safety of the car, and speed him away, but they’re too late. During this sequence the audience is put in the same position as Rick and Glenn were in at the start of the episode: of allowing hope to seep into their hearts. I must confess that despite acknowledging the scarcity of happy endings (middles and beginnings, too) in The Walking Dead I thought, just for a moment, just for a second, that Tyreese was going to make it, and found myself doubly crushed when he didn’t. 

A sad end, then, to Tyreese, a larger-than-life, loveable character. He was an overgrown child with a heart full of huffs, tantrums, love and absolutes; a man – despite his gentle nature and pacifism – that you’d always feel safe around. It’s a shame to see him go, and even more of a shame that he never got the chance to come into his own, or fulfil the promise of the character we first met in season 3 (or indeed match the original version of Tyreese that exists in the comic books). 

Overall, What’s Happened and What’s Going On was a robust, affecting and effective 42 minutes of television. Unfortunately, the many great things about this episode – its strong and ambitious narrative structure, its haunting air of melancholy, the stand-out acting chops of Chad Coleman – are rather marred by The Walking Dead’s time-honoured over-reliance on shoddy dialogue and silly, contrived plotting that stretches credibility. Here’s a selection of the most mystifying happenings in the episode: a limping Noah being easily able to outrun Tyreese; Tyreese letting his guard down and not sweeping the whole house for threats after all he’d seen of the zombie apocalypse thus far; and Noah being rather too conveniently incapacitated on his way to fetch help from Rick. And most of Noah’s actions in this episode were either jarring or too narratively convenient, which makes me suspect either that a) the writing was a little bit shit, or b) he’s one to keep an eye on, potential-baddy-wise. 

RATING 4/5

PS: Given the way our use of IMDB usually complements our viewing, I wonder if show-makers are deliberately bringing actors back for flashbacks and dream sequences after their deaths in a bid to throw future viewers off the scent. “Oh, so The Governor makes it to season 5? Ah, Bob’s in that episode, so he obviously doesn’t die from that bite. Maybe he’s immune…”