In the latest episode of “The Walking Dead: Dead City,” titled “Everybody Wins A Prize,” fans were treated to a surprise cameo from the show’s past, shedding light on one of Negan’s most puzzling decisions as the leader of The Saviors. As one of the spinoff series keeping the franchise alive after the main show’s conclusion in 2022, “Dead City” offers a compelling storyline that pairs Maggie (played by Lauren Cohan) and Negan (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the former leader of The Saviors and the killer of Maggie’s husband, as they join forces to rescue her kidnapped son in Manhattan.
Throughout “The Walking Dead,” Negan’s character has undergone a remarkable transformation, as the show has made efforts to redeem him following the defeat of The Saviors. His journey of redemption has been one of the most captivating story arcs, and “Dead City” continues to explore this theme. However, the spinoff takes a different approach, aiming to reframe Negan’s past actions as those of a man who believed he was acting in the best interest of his community, rather than an outright villain.
In episode 4, titled “Everybody Wins A Prize,” viewers are presented with a flashback that explains why Negan turned against a figure known as The Croat (portrayed by Željko Ivanek). This flashback features a surprise appearance from Negan’s former right-hand man, Simon (played by Steven Ogg), who reveals that The Croat had brutally tortured and killed a young girl, despite being instructed to release her. The extreme cruelty of The Croat’s actions disgusts Negan, while Simon passionately asserts that The Saviors draw a firm line at harming children.
Following this revelation, Negan attempts to kill The Croat but fails, resulting in Simon assuming the role of Negan’s right-hand man instead. However, this proves to be a regrettable decision, as Simon turns out to be impulsive, ambitious, and disloyal. Despite providing comic relief during the show’s darker moments, Simon hinders Negan’s leadership and even attempts to take over The Saviors, leading to a fight that ultimately results in Negan killing him personally.
The flashback in episode 4 of “The Walking Dead: Dead City” portrays Negan as someone with moral boundaries, despite his reputation as a remorseless killer. He initially viewed The Croat as an intelligent ally skilled in torture, but the death of the Kingdom scout shattered Negan’s trust in him. Additionally, these scenes highlight Simon’s power-seeking nature, painting The Croat as a sadistic individual who derives pleasure from inflicting pain.
Simon’s assessment of The Croat is accurate, but considering his own violent tendencies, he appears hypocritical. Nevertheless, the flashback reveals why Negan, despite his brutality, would place his trust in an unpredictable character like Simon. Negan likely believed that Simon would be easier to control and would, at the very least, follow orders and remain loyal. In hindsight, having The Croat by his side could have led Negan and The Saviors to victory in the war against Rick and the other communities.
However, what strikes fans as odd about this flashback is that Negan’s character feels different. Simon does most of the talking, while Negan observes The Croat’s actions with moral outrage. Although Negan’s appearance remains reminiscent of his earlier seasons, complete with his signature bat named “Lucille,” his behavior deviates from what fans have come to expect. This is part of a larger issue with “The Walking Dead: Dead City” in its handling of the former villain.
A significant aspect of the other survivors’ acceptance, if not complete forgiveness, of Negan’s past was his willingness to take responsibility for his actions. He acknowledged his monstrous nature and the lasting psychological scars he inflicted on his victims, working hard to earn a semblance of trust from the other survivors after years of imprisonment. Negan’s character arc was one of the strongest elements in the show’s final seasons, but “Dead City” seems intent on rewriting the past.
This particular flashback in “The Walking Dead: Dead City” depicts Negan during his time as the leader of The Saviors. However, instead of the arrogant bully that audiences once feared, he is portrayed as a remorseful leader doing his best in a post-apocalyptic world. This portrayal does not align with the character’s true nature, and it is more likely that Negan chose Simon as his right-hand man because he believed Simon to be an obedient idiot, rather than someone with shared morals. Regardless, it was a decision he would later come to regret.