The Sherlock Subway Game
Relying on public transport, although pitiful, grants me certain liberties: such as being able to channel my inner Sherlock. Over the course of a simple game which entails guessing the subway stop of the passengers around me by inferring clues from passengers’ attire, accessories, ethnicity, etc., I entertain myself. Deriving information from little details such as the ‘newness’ and the size of their shopping bags (petite, slightly ruffled ones suggest that they are older and being substituted for lunch bags), or noticing the ‘intensity’ of the person’s jacket (in Montreal, a heavy-duty jacket means walking in the freezing cold and a lighter one means walking inside the tunnel passageways in downtown).
When the journey originates from a residential area, it is certain that the commuters are going into the city for a) work during the wee early hours of the morning, or b) school during late morning to early afternoon hours, and when travelling in the other direction, that’s when the guessing game gets interesting: figuring out which passenger belongs to which residential neighbourhood (assuming there are societal clusters in neighbourhoods). The trendy fashionistas most certainly disembark in the hipster of town: Mont Royal, but the young professionals (yuppies) belong in the other hip yet yuppie-centric part of town: Saint-Henri. Meanwhile, the more ethnically diverse disembark near the immigrant hubs of Jean-Talon, Plamondon or Snowdon and Namur. Then, most men and women in traditional Muslim garb seem to disembark at Cote Vertu (a neighbourhood with the greatest cluster of mosques in the city). However, there are always wild-cards such as a well-dressed Indian women getting off at a trendy neighbourhood – probably to visit her youthful child on their birthday – apparent because she is carrying a large, freshly packed shopping bag.
Once a Teacher’s Pet, Always a Teacher’s Pet
So, what’s the point? Why do I play this silly deduction game? If I had to dissect this quirk of mine, then not only would my love for the detective extraordinaire contribute but being a literature nerd (among other things), I had a tendency to over-prepare for Literature class in school (and earn the label of being every Literature teacher’s pet). I would painstakingly etch together my character study-essays over the course of the semester, keeping an outline of every little facet pertinent to a character. I would read and re-read chapters trying to understand the full extent of characters’ behaviours, their background stories and also, sometimes I would try to premeditate their moves in upcoming chapters. Sadly, I am not in school anymore and my reading tastes have altered drastically, thus, seldom do I come across vivid characters that fascinate me enough to dissect them, document their moves and form a better understanding of them. Until, well, Negan!
The Walking Dead is a constantly evolving show that teeters around a seemingly simple plot of ‘good versus bad’ interspersed with tremendous complexity. It employs familiar elements in the apocalyptic-world setting and with its unique look at its characters’ differing survival tactics, we are treated to an interesting case-study of the consequences of lawlessness. A rich, ensemble cast leaves the show open for characters’ origin backstories (i.e. pre-apocalypse), however, that avenue is not over-used like in shows such as Orange is the New Black but, rather, it is mostly left to the audience to ruminate over.
Another facet of the show is that it endeavours to introduce a wide range of new survivors continually. Most of these newer characters come and go during the course of the story because their survival tactics are not up to the standard of the story’s core cast. The traditional cast fit into certain moulds: Rick is the leader, Michonne and Daryl are the muscle/second-in-command, Glenn was the advisor/moral compass, etc. but, the characters interchange their roles and it is this mix-up that keeps the story fresh. As a collective whole though, the cast still managed to scrape through every obstacle posed by every new entrant. They were the super-heroes of the story with unmatched powers thus, their story cried out for a worthy villain who could not only break them down individually but demoralize their collective spirit as well. Negan does this with relative ease.
[NOTE: I haven’t read the comics and my only exposure to Negan is through the TV show. I also have no psychology knowledge but simply a person who likes to formulate my own theories about people’s’ dispositions.]
The Scarce Resource Problem
On the Talking Dead, post the season 7 premier, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the actor portraying Negan) defended Negan’s actions amidst the public outcry for his heinous actions. He defended himself saying that Rick’s gang had inexplicably killed innumerable of his men but, he let the gang off easy by only killing one person – Abraham – and Glenn’s killing arose only because of Daryl’s dissension – which, when you think about it, sans the bias and emotion, makes sense. He may not be the monster/villain we thought him to be. In fact, Robert Kirkman, TWD comic book writer, said, in so many words, that if we had followed Negan’s story from the start (of the zombie outbreak) and if Negan had met Rick in Season 7 then Rick would seem like a villain too (from Negan’s perspective). Negan is an antagonist to Rick because of their slightly different survival tactics but he isn’t a conventional villain who is neither pure evil, sadistic nor barbaric like the show’s previous villains (The Governor, The Wolves, etc.).
Instead, he operates with some form of a righteous code to keep himself in his seat of power. He chooses to use his brain rather than brawn to operate in the world. This code is constantly evolving (he justifies killing Abe since Rick & co. killed his men but then again, he deems Carl’s suicide-mission-killings not to be equal to the same punishment). His main prerogative is to bring some semblance into the world with taxation and cooperation between groups – he is the birthstone of an overarching power in a world of lawlessness. In fact, he understands that the greatest resource in that world is human resilience (this would explain why he enjoys feisty individuals). Humans’ stubborn plight for survival is a valuable asset to exploit, thus, instead of killing for survival, he cultivates and controls people for his benefit. The war is not for territory but for human skill – the truly scarce resource in that world.
He wants a loyal group of followers and he doesn’t appreciate back-stabbers or spineless individuals such as Spencer, nor does he like soft-hearted individuals, such as Olivia. He likes everyone to contribute to the fight for survival thus, he doesn’t appreciate lethargy, meaning he was probably active in his lifestyle (also proved by his impressive physique).
Machiavellian or Psychopathic?
Negan exhibits immaculate or text-book forms of Machiavellian exploits, being a masterful people-controller. Watching him break Rick apart on their short outing in the van is exhilarating; he was able to discern the influence Rick commanded in his group and he decided that the best way to make their group conform was to break down their alpha. He even offers Rick (and later Carl) ample opportunities to kill him, handing them weapons into their hands but is not even attacked. This implies that Negan, in the real-world, worked with people and possibly was at the head of managing people – he is an excellent judge of people. Or, simply, he could have been a psychologist with a hidden dark triad (by way of infamous cannibal Mr. Lecter) but if I had to guess, I would guess that he was in some form of a managerial position/role (he doesn’t have the polish of a psychologist).
Master Brander: “I am Negan”
Another hint to his pre-apocalyptic lofty seat of power is the implementation of his reward-punishment system. His interaction with Dwight is priceless: firstly he punishes him with the branding iron then offers him rewards by tempting him constantly with his ex-wife. He does this to gauge Dwight’s fealty and up until Dwight fully gives in, he keeps tormenting him (the same with Daryl). Thus, he craves loyalty, to be surrounded by people who respond to his beck-and-call. In order to make everyone conform, he develops a simple mantra – “I am Negan” – intended to consolidate his powerful stance and to instil a sense of camaraderie within his group, the Saviors. His choice of mantra also suggests that he has the ability to simplify ideals in order for mass application. Maybe he had a career in advertising?
He delegates power to ones that are deserving i.e. ones that he is able to conform to his ‘I am Negan’ mantra. He doesn’t fuss over the minute details in his operation and he is flexible enough to think on his feet. He doesn’t even deem it important to make appearances in front of all of the other groups (The Kingdom and The Hilltop have never met him) but he has somehow been able to motivate his legions of followers that they needed to scour the land for survivors and fulfill his mandate. All of these suggest that he is a true-blue Machiavellian tactician and not a psychopath as many would like to label him. He does seem like an anarchist with amoral tendencies and a lack of remorse but, that might be due to the circumstances of that dog-eat-dog world. In fact, it is wrongful to say that he has no remorse because he vividly remembers killing Glenn and offers to pay his condolences to widowed Maggie. In essence, his puppeteering skills still indicate a life around people.
“That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain”
Because he does operate with a high-level of flexibility in his kingdom, it might be wise to probe that perhaps he was not in a corporate setting after all. Yes, he is astutely intelligent with plenty of analytical abilities but, he does not seem to crave control as much as a power-hungry individual would. Hints of a more subdued individual pre-apocalypse can be seen when he is insulted by women: he shows his anger in his face but readily changes expression to crack a joke and smile the next instant. He was most definitely the class clown because of his zany sense of humour; he simply can’t be serious for too long. He does occasionally intimidate but he soon backs off with a wise-cracking joke. Bosses don’t generally joke around as much as he does (unless they’re Michael Scott!). His charms could suggest that he was a masterful salesman but then again, he doesn’t persist with his charms, resorting to intimidation and his army just as readily.
Going back to his audacious tongue-in-cheek humor, he has the audacity to personify his deadly weapon of choice. He tries to make others around him laugh and as an audience watching the show, I have grown to absolutely savor his dialogues, quite openly laughing out loud at terse situations, however, no-one in his world is laughing. Maybe people didn’t laugh at his jokes in the real-world either; his jokes can be caustic and cracked at awkward situations, he may have alienated others.
Talking about Lucille, he describes it to be his favourite wife, suggesting that he probably did have a wife named Lucille in the real-world. He claims that “Lucille has taken many lives,” (not him); he justifies his kills by imparting the blame onto the inanimate object possibly meaning that he does not enjoy killing and he wants to distance himself from them. He creates a blood-thirsty, impatient personality for Lucille which is ridiculous yet oh-so-hilarious at the same time. It is curious to note that he christened Lucille after a beloved and not a child, thus he may not have had children at all because he did not christen anything in his children’s names (yes, it is absurd to even name a weapon after a wife as well). He does however, have a fondness for children (evident through his interactions with Carl and Judith) but may never have had his own. In fact, an interesting insight into his character is his interaction with Carl: he seems doubly captivated with Carl because he is a kid and because Carl is uber badass. He does have a nurturing side that seems to suggest that he was a family man once or blissfully happy once.
In the present day, he tends to objectify women, i.e. he is fond of women’s company which could suggest that he might have been a philanderer even in his marriage.
To summarize everything, my guess is that he might have been a salesman, previously married and lost a great love of his life (post-apocalypse), Lucille. And, because he is a great interpreter of humans and body language, he may have been in a managerial role or in a teaching/coaching role (which would supplement his affinity for children).
Sadia Sarwar is an upcoming author with plenty of opinions and rarefied tastes. Follow her on @sadiamhsarwar.