On Sunday night's Season 6 finale of The Walking Dead, Jeffrey Dean Morgan made his long-awaited debut as Negan, the fearsome new villain faced by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) & Co. Negan's entrance was almost exactly how it happened in the comics in terms of dialogue, albeit with the F-bombs taken out. The big difference is that in the comics, Negan smashed Glenn's head with his barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat, while on the show we don't yet know who died. Negan's victim will not be revealed until the Season 7 premiere.
While many fans and most critics were unsatisfied with the cliff-hanger ending, fan reaction to Morgan's performance has mostly been positive (this tweet does a good job of summarizing the mixed response). Negan is reliant on charisma, and even in just a few minutes onscreen, Morgan was able to imbue him with enough charm and menace to meet expectations.
Or as Morgan himself describes Negan's appeal to TVGuide.com, "A little bit of that is fear, a little bit of that is charisma, a little bit is sense of humor."
Morgan says that he's long been a fan of the show and the comics ("I got a stack of The Walking Dead comic books next to my bed here," he mentions), and says that in 2012 or 2013 a fan approached him with the issue of the comics that introduced Negan and said, "'When they get to this guy [on the show], you should be this guy.'" He says that he knew immediately when his agents contacted him about a role on The Walking Dead who he was being considered for, and knew he would be comfortable taking on the role.
Negan is in many ways similar to the Comedian, a character Morgan played in Watchmen, another comics adaptation. Negan and the Comedian are both violent men who could possibly be characterized as psychopaths who still manage to be very funny and charismatic.
For Morgan's part, he never thought of Negan or the Comedian as psychotic characters. "I never approach it like he's a bad guy," he says. "I just approach it like he's a guy" — one who in Negan's case used to be a used car salesman and who, as creator Robert Kirkman put it on Talking Dead, is "the hero of his own story" as much as Rick Grimes is the hero of his.
Morgan still doesn't know much about Negan's backstory, noting that Kirkman is still developing it in the comics. He says he only got the script two days before he shot his part in the finale, which happened in November while he was in the middle of doing The Good Wife, so he just didn't have time to prepare beyond already being familiar with the show and the comics. He plans to do more digging into Negan before Season 7.
"I haven't completely figured Negan out yet," he says.
On a personal level, Morgan, who describes himself as "a private person," may not really be prepared for the increase in notoriety the role will bring him.
"It's already gettin' weird," he says of entering the super-intense world of Walking Dead fandom. "I don't know that I knew what I was tackling when I took on this role. I hope I handle it well."
And as for that cliff-hanger, if he even knows who he killed, he's not going to say. All he claims to know is that in the Season 7 premiere, we'll "pick up directly where we left off."