“The Walking Dead” is a show famous for teasing out game-changing deaths — leaving beloved characters in limbo as the credits roll, and perhaps even teasing out their fates for longer than necessary. (Never forget Season 7’s decision to make Glenn into Schrodinger’s cat.) But right now, the fate of one of “The Walking Dead’s” best-established romances currently hangs in limbo.
[Editor’s note: Spoilers for “The Walking Dead” Season 8 Episode 12, “The Key,” follow.]
Sunday night’s episode, “The Key,” exposed perhaps one of the show’s most iconic characters to violence on a life-ending scale. Yes, this might have proven ironic, given how much death has come thanks to this character, but we were still relatively shaken up by this oh-so-important question: Is Lucille the baseball bat okay?
We should have known that Lucille the baseball bat was in for a rough night based solely on our experience with this show, and the knowledge that when a character gets a moment of happiness, their fate is in jeopardy. And this week, Negan and Lucille seemed closer than ever — road-tripping on their own, Negan paying her compliments, even giving her a bath. (A bath in zombie guts, admittedly, but it’s hard to make time for romance in the zombie apocalypse. Sometimes you gotta multitask.)
So, of course, this was the week when Rick decided to embrace his inner Charles Bronson and try to kill Negan once and for all while also engaging in a bit of psychological torture first, by taking Lucille away from him. It’s hard not to hear Negan scream, “Get your hands off her!” at Rick and not think of Jack clinging to Rose on the Titanic, Mulder yelling for “Scully!” or Claire crying over Jamie on “Outlander.” As evil as Negan might be, it was hard not to empathize with him in those moments.
It all culminates in Rick setting Lucille on fire, though the flames aren’t enough to keep the zombie hordes at bay or stop Negan from getting Lucille back and escaping. Yes, they do seem to have been reunited, but after becoming a literal flaming torch, there’s no denying that she’ll never be the same. Not only that, but our last glimpse of him is in the passenger seat of a car being driven by Jadis, and Lucille is nowhere in sight — meaning that yet another star-crossed romance on “The Walking Dead” has potentially met a tragic end.
Okay, there’s an element of this article that is facetious. IndieWire does not actually believe that Negan and Lucille are genuinely in love (at the very least, IndieWire does not believe that it’s a two-sided relationship, though she was also named after Negan’s dead wife, which is undoubtedly a factor here). But it was the writers of “The Walking Dead” who anthropomorphized Lucille first (how else can we interpret Negan looking at his very best girl in the passenger seat and telling her that she’s “beautiful”?) and the show’s pervasive bleakness makes us cherish any chance to have a little fun.
In addition, it is interesting to think about how much Lucille has come to mean in the context of the show, especially given who swings “her” the most often. When we talk about characters being iconic, it often means they literally represent the show on a visual level. Put that person’s face on a poster, and people know exactly what’s being advertised. Andrew Lincoln might still be first-billed on “The Walking Dead,” but since joining the cast in Season 6, Negan and Lucille have become the show’s true power couple (you can’t even call it a will-they-won’t-they romance, because there’s no doubt that they’re a couple). Look at the recent posters for the show, which often spotlight Lucille and Negan together.
Lucille herself as a symbol was always interesting too. While a baseball bat on its own is obviously a weapon, it also invokes thoughts of the great American pastime, sunny summer days at the ballpark, hot dogs, lemonade, and good cheer. Wrap it in barb wire, though, and you’re saying a lot about the state of the world, one where your guard is always up, and you need that extra weight to survive. Every great villain needs a classic weapon, and for Negan, Lucille was just that.
Could Lucille’s tragic fate this week actually represent the end of an era? Is Lucille truly gone? Who is Negan without Lucille? These aren’t the most profound questions asked by this show, but this week’s episode forced us to consider them — and also confront the fact that while Negan might a truly terrifying villain, more menace than man, we still feel a bit sad that he may have lost Lucille.
Though, considering just what the two of them did together…
Maybe it’s ultimately for the best.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.