The dynamic of protagonist vs antagonist has been present ever since humans have formed societies and has evolved to take countless forms. One of the most anticipated of these being as soon as Negan, portrayed by Jeffery Dean Morgan, was introduced to the survivor-group led by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) at the beginning of season 7 of the hit cable series The Walking Dead.
For the comic book fans and the television series fans alike Negan's presence within the story has been well expected. Negan is not the typical villain as one sees on The Walking Dead. He leads a group titled "The Saviors." He also uses fear mongering, with the aid of a barbed-wire baseball bat named Lucille, to tax resources that surviving communities in their sphere of influence produce.
Negan impulsively kills those who do not fall in line to his vision, this fact being punctuated by his revenge killing of Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun), a core member of the Atlanta 5, as revenge for Rick's group taking control of a Savior outpost. To add insult to traumatic injury Glenn's murder was done in front of his pregnant wife Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan).
However, his carefree personality, showmanship, and comedic lines act as a foil to this. In essence, you somehow get a likable villain, despite his actions. None of the featured villains on The Walking Dead have achieved this so far. A villain having this much plot power and mystery right off the bat (pun intended) is intriguing to the fans. So it would be appropriate for Negan's character to inflict an immense change onto the series and its characters.
One of these changes being that Negan should have killed Rick Grimes.
This is a bold assertion; Rick Grimes has been the main protagonist of The Walking Dead since it first aired in 2010. He has faced down and defeated countless enemies from Walkers and the Governor to cannibalistic communities. He has brought together a group of strangers, who are now as close as family, and has led them through the most daunting of obstacles. Also, because he is the main character of the series, he has had an immense character arch going from friendly neighborhood sheriff to fierce apocalypse survivor complete with a set of equally changed morals.
However, killing off the main character of a television series appears to be a kind of taboo in this day and age, with the exception of Game of Thrones. People grow attached to their favorite protagonist and their story and keep coming back for that story, and the death of a character may put ratings in jeopardy. Yet this expectation has led to a degree of predictability within television shows. In essence the audience is always assured that the main protagonist will survive through whatever is opposing them. After all, they are the hero... right?
But, what if you had an equally interesting villain redeem themselves and take the protagonists place? Negan stands as being a dynamic character like Rick, who also holds a mysterious past which can be revisited to highlight why he became despicable in the first place. I fully believe that this would create an amazing storyline to follow and would act as a great conduit for further plot points and dynamics within The Walking Dead; considering that the redeemed villain trope is rarely seen in other shows.
To summarize the canon outcome of season 8 finale: At the close of a gruesome battle between the Saviors and the United Alexandria, Kingdom, Hilltop, and Oceanside fronts occurs as Rick chases down Negan to an olive tree (nice symbolism) where they then duke it out. After some brief dialogue, Rick slashes at and cuts Negan's neck with a shard of stained glass. As Negan falls to the ground Rick calls over their doctor Siddiq (Avi Nash) to tend to Negan and ensure that he does not die of blood loss. While Maggie's cries of rage and demands of justice for her murdered husband are ignored, Negan is taken prisoner by Rick and transported to the Alexandria Safe-Zone.
This parallels the comics, however; in recent years The Walking Dead has managed to make the zombie apocalypse draw on with slow, predictable action and dialogue. And this is expected at the start of next season where fans are now in store for a good three to four episodes of integration and interrogation of Negan within a prison cell.
This is where the writers get it wrong. Where they stick to the traditional script. This path is inherently slow, actionless, and draw out the plot and dialogue of the show. Essentially, the writers have dug themselves a slow-moving hole that is going to take time and the audiences patience to get out of, which is dangerous when a majority of the audience wants the fast-paced action and a riveting plot that is inherent under the intense pressure of an apocalyptic setting.
This slowness would be avoided if Negan had killed Rick Grimes, the figurehead of the series, and would have created more action-driven plot scenarios.
So let's say that Negan killed Rick, or Rick somehow died, how could that factor into Negan becoming the main protagonist of the series?
A better strategy would be utilizing these several scenarios that could play out to create a redeemable villain:
- One scenario is Negan could have discovered Carl’s letter, which led to a change of heart. This would be the perfect segue from villain Negan into redeemed Negan, who would be acting on and carrying out Carl's dying wish that, "The way out is working together. It's forgiveness." Considering that this letter had no effect on Rick; Carl's letter could have impacted Negan if he read it in full, it could have acted as a peace treaty between the Saviors and Alexandria with it's allies.
This scenario could be made plausible because Negan and Rick both use Carl as a common ground. Negan is equally concerned for Carl's death and even apologizes for his death, despite it not being his or the Savior's fault. Carl's letter had a large impact on Negan and could have changed his viewpoint on life.
- Another scenario that could've weighed in would be that Rick's death could have impacted Negan so much so that he chooses to adopt Rick's set of morals. With the weight of both Rick's and Carl's deaths could have maybe swayed him to end the violence between the warring communities which would put him in good graces with Alexandria and its allies, and would lead to the Saviors' surrender.
This scenario is also plausible because Negan respects Rick to some degree and even views him as an equal in some instances. This, coupled with Carl's death, could act as a tipping point for him.
- Yet another scenario could be that Negan did not kill Rick, but perhaps he succumbs to a hidden walker bite or other wound or illness. This would yield a sadder death because nobody can be assigned blame, which is the first instinct in this circumstance, its only chance that a mortal accident would be his demise. Negan then acts as a mediator between his Saviors and the remainder of Rick's Group.
These plans of action involving Rick Grimes' death would provide a remedy to rumors that Andrew Lincoln's contract with The Walking Dead is void after season 9. Because then it would be wise to set up for a new protagonist to steer the series. Not to mention that a twist like this would provide a riveting plot point for the fans to immerse themselves and could stifle falling ratings the show has encountered in recent years. After all, audiences are drawn to new and fresh circumstances within the shows they love, and this would be no exception.
While Negan killing Rick, or Rick dying this early, would be a divergence from the comics, the television series is no stranger to this, for they have created characters who are not even featured in the comics, as well as creating new plot lines that have managed to capture the audiences attention.
Regardless of how it could've happened, the writers decided not to seize upon this opportunity and we are left with the canon reality. In essence, it is entirely plausible for Negan to have become a redeemed protagonist of the series; however, the writers had chosen to stick with the traditional and underwhelming script.