Warning: There are spoilers ahead for “The Walking Dead.”
We need to talk about Negan. If you’ve been watching season seven of “The Walking Dead,” you may have noticed that in addition to having a penchant for smashing in brains and ironing faces, the foul-mouthed, bantering showman of the zombie apocalypse, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, has a messed up definition of rape.
On Sunday’s episode, we see one of Negan’s Saviors, David, approach Sasha while she’s held captive. Sasha asks for a glass of water and David says he’d be glad to get her one if she’ll do something for him in return. He tears her shirt slightly and is getting ready to have his way with her, but then Negan enters the scene and stops David.
Negan takes a quick look at Sasha and asks David if he was about to rape her. Negan’s crystal clear on his rules with his subordinate, telling him they do not rape. It’s against his rules.
Though David apologizes, Negan kills him and then orders his men to get Sasha a new shirt. The moment seems to puzzle Sasha, who went to the Sanctuary to kill Negan for murdering her friends earlier in the season. But the entire scene, taken straight out of issue #117 of the comics, humanizes Negan a bit. He tells Sasha they’re not monsters.
“I’m sorry you had to see that. Sorry about the rope, too,” Negan said, before offering her a chance to eventually become a part of his team.
“I’m a man short. You can’t really call this piece of sh– a man, but still, I’m short,” Negan said. “You can help me run this place one day. All of us together, following the rules, working on the same side of things. That’s all this was ever about, and it still can be for you.”
While Negan is strict when it comes to following his rules, and doubles down on his “no rape” policy at the Sanctuary, the scene is contradictory to what we’ve seen from Negan in the past. There’s no question that Negan is against what he views as rape — both in the comics and on the television show — but the problem is he has his own warped definition of rape.
This is made even more troubling when the viewer is forced to consider that Negan doesn’t realize (or want to realize) when he himself is raping women in the apocalypse.
Earlier in the season, we were introduced to six of Negan’s many wives, any of whom are available to him whenever he wants them. After Carl shows up at the Sanctuary in season seven, episode seven, Negan says aloud that he may not get a chance to screw one of his wives later that day. Shame.
Negan’s polygamist situation strangely isn’t one that’s discussed throughout the show very much. Eugene briefly questions the fact that Negan has more than one wife when he shows up at his compound later in the season, but nothing more is said about the situation.
“Did you say wives meaning plural?” asked Eugene.
“Hell yes I did,” said Negan.
When I spoke recently with Austin Amelio, who plays one of Negan’s right-hand men Dwight on “The Walking Dead,” he said it’s something his character isn’t too fond of either.
“I don’t think he’s a fan of it [Negan’s wives],” said Amelio. “He’s not, to be honest. Probably a little bothersome.”
We learn throughout the season that these women — some of whom are married when Negan decides he wants them — have made a kind of deal with Negan. In exchange for becoming one of his wives, Negan protects them and their families or former husbands. Negan provides his “wives” with shelter, food, medicine, and more. All he asks is that these women are now 100% loyal to him, regardless of whether or not they were married beforehand. If they were married, they can’t be with their husbands anymore.
That’s exactly what happened with Dwight. Negan explains his arrangement with Dwight and Sherry to Daryl in season seven, episode three. Sherry’s sister needed medication so Negan asked her to marry him. In return, he would take care of her. Negan views his actions as perfectly fine.
“I am a stand-up guy,” Negan tells Daryl. But that all went south when Dwight and Sherry ran off with her sister who we saw killed in season six. Sherry and Dwight wound up back at Negan’s compound and they struck another deal which resulted in Sherry becoming one of Negan’s wives.
“Dwight, he begged me not to kill Sherry, which I thought was kind of cute, so I was just gonna kill him, but then Sherry says that she will marry me if I let Dwight live, which, if you think about it, that’s a pretty screwed up deal because I was gonna marry her sister until she wound up dead, but Sherry is super hot,” said Negan.
Negan then said that wasn’t enough so he ironed Dwight’s face, but let him live.
“Then I married his super hot wife, ex-wife. And then after all that, he still got on board and now look at him … one of my top guys. And we are totally cool,” said Negan.
Why it’s rape
Negan sees nothing wrong with the fact that he coerced Sherry into becoming his “wife” and sleeping with him after he had just chased her down, threatened to kill her husband Dwight, and still assaulted him with a hot iron. Sherry, rightly fearing for her life, acquiesces to Negan — a textbook definition of sexual coercion or, to put it more starkly, rape.
When one of Negan’s other wives, Amber, cheats on him a few episodes later, he makes it clear that is not acceptable. In his mind, he’s not forcing the women to be there, and anyone can go whenever they please.
But if she does, he warns her that life may just be harder for her moving forward — and for her family.
“Amber, baby, you know I don’t want anyone here that doesn’t want to be here, right?” Negan asks.
“If you want to leave and go back to Mark, you can,” he adds. “There’s plenty other gals who would love to take your place and there’s a few job openings that I can think of. You want to go back to Mark and your mom? Hell, I’ll put you all on the same job.”
What Negan doesn’t understand is that these women are being blackmailed into relationships with him. Either be one of his so-called wives — which is reality is much more akin to becoming a sex slave — or take your chances on your own in the zombie apocalypse with your family without the protection of the Sanctuary.
While most of the women on the show are clearly unhappy with Negan, viewers never see him get physically violent with them. He makes sure they’re well dressed, fed, and taken care of. They regularly have doctor’s visits — though it becomes more horrifying when you realize they’re stopping by the doctor to make sure they’re not pregnant.
Negan’s wives in the television series are also watered down compared to how they’re portrayed in the comics. In the show, the women are always wearing some sort of dresses and jewelry and — compared to everyone else in the zombie apocalypse — seem to live a life of luxury. But in the comics, the women live in some type of brothel where they’re all dressed only in lingerie.
Negan’s entire relationship with his wives is so jarring because he is adamant when he tells his Saviors that rape is not allowed. In Negan’s world, sex only becomes rape when a woman doesn’t verbally consent.
Negan believes his wives are his property
He also views the women as property that he can dole out to the men when they do a good job. In season seven, episode three, Negan offers Dwight a one-night opportunity to reunite with his former wife Sherry or any of Negan’s other wives as an incentive for a job well done. His one stipulation: “Pick whoever you want, as long as she says yes.”
Dwight passes on the offer to rape one of Negan’s wives.
Later, in season seven, episode 11, Negan also offers up his wives as a prize when he tells Eugene he’ll send a few of them over to his apartment to show him a “good time” after Eugene helps him solve a security issue at the compound.
“As a token of my gratitude, I’m gonna send you over a few of my wives to your apartment tonight to show you a good time,” Negan tells him. “Now, I don’t think I have to worry about this, but who knows how truly smart you are. No sex. That is a grave no-no. However, you can have a little dinner, drinks, share a few laughs. There is nothing like beautiful women that smell good to make you feel human ago.”
These women are constantly raped, reduced to sexual objects, treated like property, and have the threat of violence and death looming over their heads. Yet as far as the audience knows, Negan doesn’t believe he’s mistreating his wives because they have all given verbal consent to be with him. Like he tells Amber, he isn’t forcing any of them to stay or have sex with him. They can go anytime they like.
While he may mean that, it’s unfathomable to viewers that Negan believes any of the women truly want to be there. He’s ripped many of them away from their own husbands by violence. He made them feel like they had no choice but to surrender to him in order to survive. The alternative is fending for themselves in a post-apocalyptic world.
And Negan should know they’re not happy with him just based solely on their actions. None of the women look happy to be with him, they long to go back to their former families, and Sherry, Dwight’s ex-wife, escapes the compound because she knows that submitting to Negan was no way to live.
While I can appreciate moments when Negan goes toe-to-toe with anyone who wants to sexually assault women or anyone else in the zombie apocalypse, it rings hollow when you realize he’s guilty of the same thing, many times over.
No matter how much the comic and television series attempt to humanize Negan, fans should never forget his hypocrisy or normalize his crimes.
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