HEAVY HANGS THE HEAD – 9/10.
While viewers of The Walking Dead are only just beginning their love affair with Negan, fans of the comic book have been enjoying his dastardly antics for years. Following the conclusion of the fantastic All Out War storyline, Negan found himself incarcerated in a makeshift jail where he was kept as Rick’s prisoner for 2 years. Ever the cold pragmatist, Negan bided his time, patiently waiting for an opportunity for escape to present itself and plotting his revenge on his captor and nemesis, Rick Grimes. That opportunity finally presented itself in the last issue when Brandon, a young man with a grudge against the Grimes family, released him from his cage. The caveat being that Negan would lead him to The Whisperers so that he can reveal Rick’s plans to them.
This month’s issue starts with Rick understandably panicked; he knows Negan well enough to know that he would want revenge. Rick has seen Alpha’s super-herd, he understands the threat that it represents and if Negan reveals his plans to her then Alexandria is doomed. He dispatches Michonne and Aaron to track him down, but Rick is soon forced to turn his focus back to current events in Alexandria as his campaign of anti-Whisperer propaganda backfires. In his attempt to quash a mutiny, Rick presented the Whisperers as an inescapable threat. It was only a matter of time before someone got hurt, which is exactly what happens when an Alexandrian nearly kills a visitor from The Hilltop after mistaking him for a Whisperer. Rick has blood on his hands and he knows it.
Unaware of Negan’s escape, Dwight leads his troops on a training exercise in the woods. They are almost overpowered by a group of walkers and Dwight is forced to use Lucille to fend them off. Laura questions why he still carries Negan’s baseball bat and he responds by explaining that it was an icon of oppression and misery, now it has become an emblem of hope. Although it is doubtful that it will remain that way for long, particularly with Negan and Brandon making their way towards The Whisperers’ territory. Brandon presents Negan with his leather jacket and knife, but it still isn’t enough to endear the boy to the former leader of The Saviours. Growing ever more tired of his whinging, Negan thanks Brandon for helping him to escape by stabbing him in the heart.
With Brandon dead, Negan crosses the border into The Whisperers’ territory but what is he actually planning to do? His last words to Brandon, “That was your plan”, implies that he has something else in mind rather than revealing Rick’s battle strategy and unleashing hell on the communities. Negan is power hungry but he is no fool, he knows that The Whisperers would leave him with nothing to rule over. It seems likely that he will play both sides against each other, leaving him free to take control of whatever is left. As brutal as Brandon’s murder was, it highlighted his weakness compared to Carl. Negan was impressed by Carl’s strength when he first met him, however he considered Brandon’s juvenility to be a liability that he took great pleasure in eliminating.
Negan also played a part in the chaos in Alexandria; it was he who planted the seeds in Rick’s mind to turn the Alexandrians’ dissension into a means of control. Of course it was foolish of Rick to take advice from a sociopath but then again he has more in common with Negan than he would like to admit. Charlie Adlard’s artwork in this issue was on point as always, but the panels in which Rick realises that his fear mongering has only served to make the situation worse were particularly effective. Rick has walked the fine line between leader and dictator in the past (lest we forget the Rictatorship), but having seen examples of other leaders such as The Governor, Negan and Alpha we know that he is still the very best option for anyone looking to survive in the zombie apocalypse.
Charlie Adlard once said that despite everything that has come before, he believed that Negan had a unique skill set that could prove useful to Rick. It is all but an eventuality that Negan will reclaim control of The Saviours and when that happens could he and Rick co-exist? If that is the case could it be possible that Negan is heading to Alpha as an ambassador? While that is highly unlikely, it certainly played a factor in his decision to kill Brandon. Negan is far too intelligent to allow a young boy’s desire for vengeance to interfere with his plans, whatever they may be. So now we find ourselves in the same position as Rick as we have to wait a whole month to find out what happens next. One thing is for certain though; anything can happen with Negan on the loose.
POINTS OF INTEREST
- Eugene continues to talk to his mysterious friend on the radio. Some people have theorised that it is a phantom caller that he is imaging as a result of his grief over Rosita, but it seems unlikely that Robert Kirkman would repeat this trick having already used it with Rick.
- Rick said himself that Negan knows “too much” about their plans for The Whisperers. Considering what Charlie Adlard said, if Negan doesn’t betray them then these could be the first steps towards an uneasy alliance. But it still seems highly unlikely.
- With Michonne and Aaron tracking Negan into Whisperer territory there is a chance that they may run into Alpha first. Would Michonne be able to control her thirst for vengeance?
- If Michonne and Aaron do run into trouble with The Whisperers is there perhaps a chance that Negan could play a part in their rescue? Stranger things have happened.