Following what feels like an eternal winter break, The Walking Dead finally returns with the “back half” — the remaining eight episodes — of Season 6 this Sunday night on AMC at 9/8c. And yes, that is Valentine’s Day, so any/all references to bloody red hearts and “Valentine’s Day Massacres” apply.
After hearing rumors and speculation based upon developments in The Walking Dead comic series, which the TV series loosely follows, we finally hear the dreaded name “Negan” uttered on the screen in the opening four minutes of Sunday’s episode, called “No Way Out.”
Rather than opening with the fraught scene upon which the first half of the season ended, with Rick, Carl, Jessie, et al in zombie-guts stealth mode, picking their way through the milling horde that has broken into Alexandria, we open with Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham in their found fuel truck, roadblocked by gun-toting toughs on motorcycles.
The grizzled, greasy little leader of the pack orders them out, demands their weapons, saying, “Your property now belongs to Negan.” We know from the comics that Negan is the biggest bad yet on The Walking Dead, the vicious, authoritarian ruler of a band of predatory survivors called the Saviors, and clearly these motorcycle thugs are they.
Just the portentous way the spokesman says the word “Negan,” you know he fears, reveres, perhaps even worships him, as one might have an Egyptian pharaoh or a Japanese emperor, believed within their respective cultures to be of divine heritage. In a post-civilization world, ruthlessness and sheer audacity count for a lot as the desperate and gullible grasp for any survival straw, any sign of strength, even if it is dictatorial and sociopathic.
With spectacle and intimidation at the highest premium, Negan’s weapon of choice is a baseball bat covered in barbed wire, slyly named Lucille. B.B. King would be appalled. In the comics, Negan’s first interaction with Rick’s group is to kill Glenn with Lucille. There is rampant debate over whether the show will follow this path or take another since Glenn was recently in such peril and thought to be dead.
Back to the opening scene, the smirking, smug tone the spokesman takes as he alternately cajoles and threatens our trio reveals him to be the most hateful kind of predator, the kind that plays with its prey, and in a mere four minutes we have found a new character we want dead in the most painful and humiliating manner. I already hate this character so much, I want to kick the actor.
It is these raw, unformed, and lawless emotions that The Walking Dead conjures up so powerfully, before reminding us that even in this world we still have the options of love, trust, and mercy. Perhaps the most vital talent in such a world is knowing when each should be applied.
Mild spoiler: we know that Jeffrey Dean Morgan will play Negan and that he will first appear in the final episode of Season 6.