The Walking Dead season 10's bonus episodes have been hit or miss, so thank goodness that the six week run ended on a high. Adapting the much-loved Here's Negan spin-off volume from the comics, the writers have done the impossible with the show’s latest finale – made Negan a character we're not just invested in, but actively rooting for.
That's largely thanks to a combination of a great script and two brilliant performances from both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his on-screen (and real life) wife, Hilarie Burton Morgan, playing Lucille. Yep, that's right, we finally learn the origin story of Negan's terrifying baseball bat, and the significance behind its name. While fans of the comic books have long been familiar with the weapon's legacy, "Here's Negan" still offers plenty of big moments, regardless of how much you know going in.
The episode's nested loop structure, in which we venture further and further down a rabbit hole of stories told within stories, makes for the kind of pacey, dynamic viewing that we rarely see from The Walking Dead, working brilliantly as a way of showing us all the different sides of Negan in his journey towards antihero status.
Not only do we get another rare glimpse of The Walking Dead's pre-pandemic world (no, not that pandemic), but Dean Morgan plays Negan at his most pathetic and vulnerable; whether that's the selfish biker who misses his wife's hospital appointment to cheat on another woman, or the guilt-ridden coward desperately trying to make up to her in the early weeks of the outbreak. The pair's natural chemistry endears us to their relationship, too, and becomes all the more heart-breaking once things inevitably go awry after Lucille's chemotherapy medicine is lost.
Her death is thus the catalyst for Negan's eventual evolution into the braggadocious, ultra-violent megalomaniac that we remember from earlier seasons, and that tragic character arc also progresses in a natural, plausible manner on-screen, with Dean Morgan keeping command of Negan's descent into moral bankruptcy throughout. After all, once this flawed but sensitive soul has lost the only thing that matters to him, in a world now without the societal course corrections to keep his anger issues in check, his transformation into an apocalyptic war baron almost feels inevitable.
"Here's Negan" also offers some neat tie-ins to the wider Walking Dead world, from a clever nod to Half Moon, the rock band fronted by the singer we knew as Beta, to a surprise cameo from Laura, the Saviour-turned-Alexandrian who met her demise during the events of the Whisperer Wars. These small touches speak to the episode's wider value as an important slice of Walking Dead history, fleshing out of the universe and its characters without ever feeling redundant, or as if it's merely stalling for time before events begin to progress back in the present day.
Speaking of the present, episode 22 does move the chess pieces around a little in advance of season 11 later this year, with Negan refusing to accept Carol's offer of self-imposed banishment; another rogue decision made outside of the council's purview, all so she can keep her conscience free of any assassination attempt on his life at Alexandria.
The Saviour is standing his ground, however, ending the episode waltzing back into the town with Maggie looking on in barely subdued rage. Can the pair finally make the peace that Negan is hoping for, or is something going to have to give? Not long now until the show's final season will address that, the Commonwealth, and no doubt many other loose threads before it wraps up for good.