It has taken six years, but one of the most popular characters from Robert Kirkman's zombie-apocalypse comic series is about to hit the screen for the very first time. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Grey's Anatomy, The Good Wife) will appear in the Season 6 finale of AMC's The Walking Dead as Negan, the most famous villain from the long-running source material. Yes, more famous than those cannibalistic Hunters; more famous than the marauding Wolves (or Scavengers on the page); more famous than unstable Shane; even more famous than Woodbury tyrant The Governor. Given his level of notoriety, fans of the comics are likely wondering how faithful the adaptation of this iconic character will be. Will Negan be different on The Walking Dead TV show vs. his on-the-page counterpart?
I won't keep you in suspense, comics fans: you can breathe a sigh of relief. Morgan himself has gone on record as saying that his onscreen version of the character will remain truthful to the villain so memorably crafted by Kirkman. "The character itself is going to be as close [to the comics] as humanly possible," the actor assured Entertainment Weekly in an interview shortly after news of his casting broke late last year. But just because Negan's portrayal will be "as close as humanly possible" doesn't mean his storyline will be a word-for-word adaptation.
Showrunner Scott Gimple was a little more vague as to the details of Negan's translation when he also spoke with EW earlier this week. When asked how important it is to keep the character faithful versus surprising the show's audience by changing up the source material, Gimple answered:
Let me put it this way: Whatever it is, it’s really just all in service to being faithful to the comic book inasmuch as one can. That’s always going to be relatively subjective as to what that means. […] Sometimes we have things from the book that people who read the comics maybe see coming a mile away, and we try to adjust that so that we can give them the same feeling they had when reading the book, which might have been shock or surprise or fear, any of those things. It might be wildly different, but it’s all to get the same sort of feelings that you got when you read them. So will it be different? Absolutely. Will it be the same thing? Absolutely.
That sure clears things up!
Gimple went on to cite the Lizzie/Mika tragedy from Season 4 as an example of the show changing things up. (In the comics, that same storyline happened to two young brothers named Billy and Ben but it was young Carl that had to pull the trigger, not Carol.) More recently, the show killed off Denise in the same manner that Abraham perishes on the page. So even when the show adapts a specific event, things are known to get altered in translation.
Morgan has already revealed at least one way in which his version of Negan will likely be a bit different than his comics counterpart: namely, the character's more-than-proficient use of foul language. "It’s a speed bump," he acknowledged to EW. "I’m not going to say it’s an issue because they’re working on it. We’re going to push AMC — the plan is to push them as far as they can because it’s who Negan is. He uses some colorful language. And I use some colorful language. And reading the comic, it’s important. So we’ll see where that lands." (FX recently aired the word "motherf*cker" during an episode of American Crime Story — completely uncensored — so maybe basic cable is becoming more lenient in regards to language.)
One of the things that Negan is most known for is his bizarre sense of humor. At the same time as he's cracking a skull with a barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat, the hulking baddie can also be cracking a joke. And this is one aspect in which TWD viewers can rest assured the show has gotten the character right. Those who have seen Zack Snyder's 2009 graphic novel adaptation Watchmen know that Morgan is perfect for this role, having seem him play a similar wisecracking badass as the violent superhero The Comedian. "He’s going to terrify you but he’s really going to make you laugh," Gimple promised EW. "A lot of the times you’re going to be ashamed that you’re laughing."
Morgan will make his debut as Negan in the April 3 season finale before joining the cast as a series regular in the already-renewed seventh season.
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