Can We Really Compare Negan to The Joker?

Monday, 07 November 2016 - 10:21AM
The Walking Dead
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Monday, 07 November 2016 - 10:21AM
Can We Really Compare Negan to The Joker?
Negan has been compared to the Joker many times, both regarding the comics and the television show. But is that necessarily an apt comparison? Negan and the Joker are both amazing villains in their own right, and Jeffery Dean Morgan's take on the character has been charismatic and chilling. But as much as we love Negan, he can't really compare to the Clown Prince of Crime.

First of all, part of what makes the Joker such a good villain is his twisted relationship with Batman – and there is no Batman equivalent in The Walking Dead. So far, none of the characters have developed the kind of dynamic with Negan that would make him or her the Batman to his Joker. And none of them are capable of going head-to-head with him—not just yet anyway.
 
Right now, no one has even half a chance of killing Negan. He's untouchable. If Daryl were to become one of his right-hand men in order to gain access, this could change, but it isn't really in his nature. Carol, maybe, but not Daryl. Even Dwight and Daryl working in unison still wouldn't create the right dynamic, but it would be a start. Without a "Batman," Negan is essentially an openly violent version of the Governor.
 
And speaking of "been there, done that," it seems that Negan's hubris could be his downfall, which is a bit clichéd as far as fatal flaws go. Between the monologuing and the henchmen, Negan is coming dangerously close to comic book supervillain territory—and not a highly original and iconic one like Joker. (And yes, technically he is a comic book villain, but you don't want a TV character to seem that way.) As for the monologuing, Negan can make this work well as a way to build up the tension (thanks to Morgan's charisma), but it's starting to reach a point where less would be more. In contrast, Norman Reedus barely spoke a word the entire hour and still managed to singlehandedly construct the emotional backbone of the episode.
 
Another quality that makes the Joker a great villain is his unpredictability. Negan uses psychological torture tactics and the threat of violence to keep his followers in line. It boils down to excessive "will he/won't he" moments as Negan points Lucille in the direction of even more beloved characters. After six seasons of gruesome character deaths, it's going to take more than the threat of imminent demise to keep an audience invested.
 
You can't have complex hero/villain character relationships when the zombies are the main threat, so the plot has always hinged on character dynamics and morally grey areas. Differences in values, human desperation, and misguided leadership have all made for decent ways to create conflict. If Negan is going to remain this season's ultimate threat (and he almost certainly will, after all the build-up) then he needs to step up his game. And not by bashing in more heads. Life in a zombie apocalypse is full of looming threats of violence; what we need is more human-focused angle. Personally, I want to see more of the dynamic between Negan and Carl. Granted, Carl isn't one of the most popular characters on the show, but their rapport in the comics added an interesting angle and both of them could benefit from that sort of character development right now.  
 
Negan is beginning to seem like he lacks the complexity and shades of grey that could make him a more interesting adversary. He is supposed to be this cold, calculating, menacing threat. But it's easy to imagine him as a sexist bully with an inflated ego. Was his comment about the "consent" of the women in his harem supposed to show some twisted sense of morality? Because under the circumstances, none of his "wives" are in any position to give actual consent. Either way, the whole idea of his "harem" is anti-feminist, unnecessary, and adds nothing to his character. It makes him seem like any other bluster-y, sexist bully you'd meet on the street (or at a presidential debate, for that matter), rather than a larger-than-life, transcendent villain like the Joker.
 
This standalone episode could have benefitted from a bit more direction, and by the end, it had us wondering what the point of the episode was. Sure, we know that Daryl is resilient and loyal, Negan is a sadistic jerk, and Dwight has Daryl-issues. But none of that is exactly brand new information. Still, there were many points in the episode that beautifully demonstrated Daryl's guilt over Glen's death. Additionally, we got a bit of back-story on Dwight that could point to an arc in which he turns on Negan or helps Daryl, but it was glossed over for the most part.
 
Next week, Rick comes to terms with the question of "Who's the Boss?", and the answer to that probably won't be "Rick" anymore. Not for a while at least.

 

Stray Comments

 
*The glimpse into the lives of the Saviors this week drew stark comparisons between life in the Sanctuary versus life in the Kingdom. As for leadership, is it better to be loved or feared during a zombie apocalypse?  
 
*"We are Negan" has a much more ominous ring to it than "We are Groot," but don't expect it to catch on.
 
*Apparently, the "Easy Street" single was just released and now Daryl's torture can become your own for the low, low price of .99!
 
*Carol totally would have taken the offer of being one of Negan's right-hand "men" and used it as an opportunity to plot against him. Unfortunately, Negan's blatant sexism probably would have prevented that anyway.
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