And that’s it, Season 10 is at an end. As anyone would know judging by the previous five reviews to The Walking Dead’s extended tenth season, better known as 10c or the ‘COVID episodes’, critical reception has wildly varied.
We’ve had a supreme performance from Terminator 2’s Robert Patrick and perhaps the lowest point of the entire series with last week’s “Diverged”. With less than half of their regular crew and obeying strict social-distancing rules on set, this has radically altered 10c’s production. As a result, for most of the previous five episodes, the show’s quality has suffered and the pacing has dawdled as much as a walker half-submerged in a Georgian swamp.
However, it’s with all my heart that I can happily say, The Walking Dead delivered perhaps one of the best episodes not only from Season 10 but of the entire series itself with last night’s episode, “Here’s Negan”. As the title implies, it’s a Negan-centric story. One I’d been looking forward to since the announcement of the additional six to Season 10. Better yet, this episode takes full advantage of a minimal cast and a small number of shooting locations.
Rarely have the reviews for the past five weeks exceeded more than four hundred words, but this one certainly will. “Here’s Negan” documents the rise of the leader of the Saviors and perhaps one of the show’s most iconic villains. With tensions beginning to run high between Negan and Maggie within Alexandria, considering the bloody history in the Season 7 premiere, Carol does Negan a favour and gets him the hell out of dodge.
It’s the least Carol can do for Negan after he was instrumental in bringing the Whisperer War to an end and helping Carol avenge Henry’s death. However, tensions are still and will likely always be frayed after Negan murdered Glenn and Abraham, changing the lives of the group forever, particularly Maggie who was carrying Glenn’s baby at the time.
Before long, by a log fire in a remote cabin, Negan imagines a conversation with his past self, leather-clad with Lucille in hand, and it’s awesome to see Morgan donning the true Negan attire once more. It’s funny what time will do to you since Negan’s arrival in Season 7’s opener, which sealed the bloody fate of two of the show’s most beloved characters. This left me reeling with sadness and questioning whether or not the show would ever be the same again.
Ultimately, it hasn’t, as viewership and overall quality declined in equal measure. But as we reach the Season 10 finale, Negan is now not only one of the only characters alive that I truly root for, but also care for, and enjoy watching on screen. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has made the role of Negan his own and shines spectacularly in this episode.
“Here’s Negan” makes effective use of time jumps, taking us back twelve years to reveal some long overdue backstory to how a high school gym teacher turned into a tyrannical leader (about three seasons overdue).
We begin with Negan at the mercy of the Valaks Vipers, a bandit group that appears to have stepped off the set of Sons of Anarchy, interrogating Negan for information about a mobile medical clinic. He’s threatened with losing his wife’s chemotherapy medication if he fails to give them up. A few days earlier, Negan tracks down the clinic and meets Franklin and Laura (who later becomes one of Negan’s right-hand Lieutenants at the Sanctuary), played by Lindsley Register, and they generously give him the supplies he needs for Lucille.
Holed up in a cabin, Negan and Lucille spend their time post-apocalypse reading books, watching James Bond movies, wearing wigs (Negan’s looking with his long grey Spinal Tap hair), candlelit dinners, and dog food. Played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s real-life spouse, Hilarie Burton, it’s a smart move on the casting director’s part, as a way to work around the social distancing restrictions and create a far more believable relationship between Negan and Lucille.
The best highlights of the couple include a montage soundtracked by Joe Cocker’s “You Are Beautiful To Me”, an argument over a $600 jacket, to Negan’s final, heartbreaking moments with Lucille after discovering his wife has tragically turned. I’d have never imagined that I’d have felt so much for these characters, particularly Negan, in not only the short space of one episode but when you further consider the barbaric actions Negan committed back in Season 7.
We’re treated to other details too that make this episode so much more memorable, from Negan’s cheating, assaulting a man in a bar for talking over their favourite song on a jukebox, and a deeper understanding of how Negan christened his baseball bat as Lucille.
As we learn in the episode’s closing moments, Negan admits he was a coward to leave Lucille and did not want to face the pain of losing his beloved. In a bid not to feel shame, he decided not to feel anything, and you’d imagine this goes some way to explain his ruthlessness as Negan, the head honcho of the Saviors.
Then we move onto the episode’s brutal and epic third act. Negan returns to the bar and wipes out the Valaks Vipers, telling one of them the story in the bar, expressing a belief that he’s a man capable of so much more, and don’t we know it. An already bloodied Lucille finishes the job.
Morgan’s transformation from a loving husband to a ruthless sociopath is executed flawlessly. Everything from his body language (he doesn’t lean back much yet, but he will), his voice and his merciless attitude make his performance so hugely enjoyable. Plus, there are hints of Bear McCreary’s menacing Negan score pattering throughout the episode’s darker Negan moments, the cherry to the top of the cake.
Going into the show’s eleventh and final season, it’s hard to say whether Negan will be accepted into the group as they reach The Commonwealth, but with Maggie looking like a woman ready to kill as Negan returns from the log cabin, it’d be best not to get our hopes up.
Other highlights from “Here’s Negan” include some dazzling cinematography, from the Valaks Vipers bar to a montage of Negan digging reminiscent of Mike Ehrmantraut in the desert from Better Call Saul’s third season, and the stained glass windows beneath the tree from Season 8’s “Wrath”.
Stellar performances and chemistry from Morgan and Burton are worthy of high praise too, and Negan playing online video games with teenagers is perhaps the funniest Negan moment of all time, and could perfectly summarise life in lockdown as a meme. “Here’s Negan” was brutal, poignant, and a thoroughly memorable installment into an otherwise dismal series of pandemic episodes.
As mentioned earlier in the review, Negan single-handedly wiped out two of the show’s biggest names from the cast list, and yet all these years later, is one of the strongest aspects of an otherwise dying show. For the most part, 10c has been largely forgettable, spinning the wheels and failing to take us anywhere most of the time. “Here’s Negan” will remain as one of The Walking Dead’s finest episodes after the show wraps next year.