Has Negan Earned Redemption on 'The Walking Dead'? (POLL)

Emily Hannemann
Spoiler Alert Jace Downs/AMC

[WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead comics and potential spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 10.]

Forget the "Caryl" vs. "Donnie" debate for a moment. Let’s talk about another Walking Dead Season 10 controversy: Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)’s redemption arc.

Some fans are excited to see the head-bashing former Savior work his way into the good graces of those in charge, while others don’t believe he’s truly turned over a new leaf — and even if he has, he doesn’t deserve life outside that cell.

Has Negan earned his freedom? Let’s investigate.

YES: He’s saved plenty of good people in the past few seasons.

Negan wouldn’t have to help anyone: after all, the Alexandrians are keeping him locked in a cell indefinitely. But even so, when someone’s life is in danger, depending on who it is, he'll rise to the occasion and be an actual savior. Throughout the past two seasons he’s rescued Judith during the snowstorm, kept Aaron (Ross Marquand) from being devoured by walkers and put a stop to Gage’s group terrorizing Lydia (Cassady McClincy). The guy clearly has some kind of moral code, or will at least step in to save people who he deems worthy. But…

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NO: He definitely still has a violent streak.

OK, it’s The Walking Dead. Everyone on the show (save for Judith and RJ and Jerry, probably) has a violent streak. But Negan’s predisposition to violence is more pronounced, and sometimes it appears he can’t control it. For example, take his killing of Margo. He wasn’t trying to hurt her — he was just trying to keep Lydia from being tortured — but he stopped that torture by throwing Margo against a concrete wall.

Even more recently, his killing of Brandon, while justified, was grotesque in a way that very few people in Alexandria, Hilltop or Oceanside would find acceptable. (Also, is anyone in Alexandria looking for Brandon? Or are they just happy to be rid of him?) If Negan can’t control his darker impulses, he really shouldn’t be outside that jail cell… for Alexandria’s good.

YES: It seems like he’s changed for the better.

Following his breakdown in Season 9 when he begged Maggie (Lauren Cohan) to kill him and repeatedly hit his head against the wall, it appeared Negan had started to turn over a new leaf. He made friends with Judith (rather than Carl (Chandler Riggs), who had that storyline in the comics), he kept his s**t-stirring among the Alexandrians to a minimum and even when he got out of his cell, he came back. Old Negan likely would’ve used freedom as an excuse to settle old scores, and he probably would’ve killed Michonne (Danai Gurira), Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and anyone responsible for his imprisonment. New Negan, as he himself pointed out, didn’t do that.

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And, when Brandon hands Negan his leather jacket, scarf and a new Lucille, he doesn’t seem overcome by nostalgia. Years earlier, Negan probably would’ve been ecstatic to regain such mementos of a time when he was in charge; now, he appears almost ashamed of his past. Something inside him shifted during those years he spent under Alexandria’s streets, and it seems like the person he once was is no longer who he is.

NO: That personal growth might not make up for what he did.

Whether or not he would if he could, the fact remains that Negan can’t go back and change what he did to Rick’s group. He can’t un-kill Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) (though it’s worth mentioning that Rick did kill plenty of Negan’s men before he retaliated, so it wasn’t as though the Lucille-ing was unprovoked). When Maggie returns, she’s probably not going to be pleased to see Negan outside his cell, though it’s not likely she’ll try to kill him; if the story was going to go that route, she would’ve done it last season.

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Others have taken issue with components of Negan’s past not related to what he did to the main group; namely, the “wives” he took. There’s no way around it — that aspect of Negan’s time as a leader was disturbing, and no matter how he improves in the rest of the show, it’s impossible to forget it and move forward. As many have pointed out, it’s incredibly ironic that Negan’s staunchly against rape, but he kept women, many of whom had husbands and clearly weren’t enamored with him, to do with as he pleased. Sure, he appears to have treated them well, but does treating them well excuse the objectification? Absolutely not. No way.

It’d be easier to “forgive” Negan if the show hadn’t incorporated that aspect of his character from the comics (where it’s still utterly skeevy, but it blends a little better into the tone of Kirkman’s world). Seeing as it did, and the show hasn’t shown him regretting that aspect of his former self, realistically redeeming Negan is difficult.

YES: Depending on what he does with the Whisperers, he might prove his loyalty to Alexandria once and for all.

This strays into speculation territory, since the show doesn’t usually adapt plot elements identically from the comics. It’s totally possible that Negan might not end up serving the role he did in the source material. But if he does, he’ll prove his loyalty to Alexandria in a major way.

[WARNING: Comic spoilers, and thus potential show spoilers, follow.]

In the comics Negan uses his position within the Whisperers to kill and decapitate Alpha (Samantha Morton), and he brings her head to Rick. Rick’s not around on the show, so Negan could bring his prize to Michonne, Daryl or even Carol (Melissa McBride). Of course, all of this assumes Negan even gets the Alpha kill. TWD could subvert expectations by giving that to someone else, and it really should be Carol; and it’d be kind of a bummer if the only scene Melissa McBride and Samantha Morton share ends up being that standoff by the pikes.

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Negan could kill Beta (Ryan Hurst) and bring his head back to Alexandria, but that wouldn’t have the same power — I’m not sure Carol or Michonne really know who Beta is, and while Daryl and Beta have beef, killing him wouldn’t upset the Whisperer order in the same way as getting rid of Alpha. So Negan’s story, given the overall narrative on the show right now, is unpredictable. It has followed the comics so far with just a few small changes, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll take down Alpha. If he doesn’t, his path to redemption is a little less clear and a little more twisty.

Do you think it's time to let bygones be bygones, where Negan's concerned? Vote in the poll below!

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