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THE WALKING DEAD: Is Eugene Really Negan?

BY Jennifer Griffin

Published 5 years ago

“You do not need to be scared anymore,” Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) told perpetual cowardly lion Eugene (Josh McDermitt) in a pivotal moment during Sunday’s Walking Dead episode. “You just have to answer me one question. And it’s a big one.”

“I’m Negan,” Eugene answered without hesitation. “I’m totally, completely, stone cold Negan. I was Negan before I even met you. I just needed to meet you properly to know.”

And just like that, Eugene turned his back on Rick in favor of a life of comfort and privilege among the Saviors.

Or did he?

In a unique stand alone episode, devoid of Rick and co, Sunday’s “Hostiles and Calamities” detailed Eugene’s indoctrination to the dark side. Unlike Daryl before him, it was definitely a case of the carrot over the stick here, and Eugene soon discovered his position as a ‘smartypants’ gained him both privilege and power among the Saviors. All he had to do was commit to the program — something he seemed quite willing to do, despite witnessing the incredible random cruelty of Negan’s law.

But how ‘Negan’ is Eugene, really?

While he backtracked on making a poison he knew would be used to attempt to kill him, Eugene was initially happy to make the pills when he thought it was for one of Negan’s desperate and suicidal wives, and not the boss man himself. He changed his mind in order to spare the women misery when Negan inevitably slipped whatever carefully planned noose they might have had for him. This proves two things. First, Eugene is so beaten down he can’t even imagine a scenario where the poisoning might succeed. And secondly, and more importantly, he understands his place in the new order. Eugene is important to the Saviors, but Negan’s wives can be replaced. By refusing to help them, he wasn’t proving his loyalty to his new master (he didn’t even report the treachery). He was acting out of kindness.

We know that despite his tall tales and innate cowardice (freely admitted to), Eugene has a soft heart. But among the Saviors, he will need to use his quick mind to hold on to his tenuous position, and ultimately to stay alive. He has already vastly inflated his skillset through exaggeration (it was interesting to hear the old CDC story being rehashed in front of a new rapt audience), and he has impressed Negan with his ideas for fortifying the Sanctuary fence with armored Walkers. But while his new status is surely intoxicating (we’ve never seen Eugene with power before), he will need to keep coming up with ideas. One slip up or exaggeration too far could make the Saviors see him in a new and far less favorable light. And let’s not forget that while Eugene found friendship and acceptance in Alexandria in spite of his true nature, he has no such friends among the Saviors — a group who don’t value the soft of heart, as this week’s episode illustrated.

Pictured: (L-R) Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan, Josh McDermitt as Eugene. Photo © AMC

Pictured: (L-R) Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan, Josh McDermitt as Eugene. Photo © AMC

“Eugene can be a bit of a chameleon,” commented director/executive producer Greg Nicotero on Sunday’s episode. “I like that it’s a little vague as to whether or not he’s actually playing a role or if he’s actually going over to the other side. Is he going to shapeshift into another character, similar to what Carol does? Carol does the same thing. She knows how to survive the situation she’s in because she puts on these different personas. Eugene’s not as good at it as Carol is. It remains to be seen what Eugene’s end game is. And I think that’s pretty interesting.”

Going back to that crucial Negan/Eugene moment we referenced at the beginning of our article, we note that it’s not his own decision to comply that causes a palpable sense of relief to wash across Eugene’s face. It’s Negan’s words. “You don’t have to be afraid anymore.” In reality, Eugene is more a slave to his own fears than to his new master, and that will ultimately be the real driving force behind his actions while living among the Saviors.

Eugene may tell everyone he’s Negan, just as he once told Abraham and Rick he was a scientist working on a cure for the apocalypse, but beneath the words, Eugene will always be Eugene.

The Walking Dead continues Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.

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