On tonight's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead, Daryl and Michonne hear a voice on the radio (see the clip below). It's borderline-inaudible, but when we first heard it, it wasn't quite as bad.
When the Comic-Con trailer was officially released this summer, it was a bit easier to hear: "Sanctuary--those who arrive, survive."
Obviously, it's a trope of zombie fiction at this point to have the false sanctuary, a message for which is delivered over some hand-cranked radio signal. The typical story is that your group of survivors will hear about it early on and, by the time they make their way there, the place will already be overrun.
It is, in fact, a very specific place--and a locale that's key to events taking place in the comic right now.
The Sanctuary is the home base of The Saviors--a locale first seen in The Walking Dead #104, by which point we already knew that we didn't particularly like The Saviors--a group led by a lunatic called Negan who find other groups of survivors and extort them to survive. During the "A Larger World" arc, Rick Grimes and company were introduced to Jesus, who helped them find a community they could move to long after the fall of the prison and dozens of issues spent mostly on the road. Jesus brought Rick to Hilltop Colony, a farming community that survives by trading with other similar communities. It's terrorized regularly by Negan's men, who have a Mafia-like Protection racket set up, whereby they bully other colonies into giving them a share of their farming, hunting and other spoils in exchange for "protection," which basically means that the Saviors won't attack you themselves.
In The Walking Dead #100, when Rick refuses to play ball with Negan, the survivors are met with overwhelming force and ultimately forced to watch while Negan brutally murders one of their group. Cowed into a strategic retreat, Rick lived under Negan's rule for a time, although Carl represented the readers' first look into The Sanctuary, when he launched an attack on the facility and killed a half-dozen members of the cult-like community, of which Negan is the undisputed and brutal leader.
Within the community, The Saviors are divided up into castes depending on how much goodwill they've managed to curry with Negan, who presents himself as a kind of spiritual leader. Retribution for perceived crimes against Negan is brutal and he's free to do to people what he wants, including taking a harem of "wives," one of whom was actually married to one of his closest lieutenants before Negan took over.
The Saviors have been the central antagonists in the series ever since, and a number of factions--including Rick's survivors, Hilltop Colony, The Sanctuary and more--went to war in this month's The Walking Dead #115, the start of a story celebrating the tenth anniversary of The Walking Dead.
The Sanctuary itself is a large factory, surrounded by a chain-link fence, with a wall of walkers (chained or staked in place so as not to threaten The Sanctuary but still a threat to anyone trying to infiltrate the property) and stone barricades. In many ways, it's as similar a setting to the prison as the Survivors have seen, in that most other places meant to provide living arrangements for large groups of people have been more like Woodbury--gated, fortified communities where there's at least an illusion of comfort--as opposed to the spare, utilitarian accommodations of the prison, where the primary and arguably only focus was on survival.
Of course, in the TV series, the prison has lasted a bit longer than it did in the comics and, as a result, has started to take on a more pastoral and communal aspect itself. In that way, The Sanctuary--if it is indeed introduced soon and if that introduction sees it fairly true to the comics--could serve as the prison's opposite number, showcasing the difference in priorities that Rick and the survivors put on life in the prison as opposed to Negan's group.
Negan has been the most popular and longest-running villain introduced since the death of The Governor which, in the comics, happened nearly more than half the life of the series ago (issue #48 out of 115 so far).
Reception to the character has been varied: some fans finding his particular brand of sociopathy a change of pace from The Governor, the emotionless walkers or even the more officious and self-important leaders of the Alexandria Safe-Zone, who had made themselves a minor nuisance to Rick and his group shortly before Negan arrived, with some challenging their right to live in the community on account of Rick's violent tendencies and the survivors' history of conflict with everyone they meet. Others have dismissed the character as a foul-mouthed, poor man's version of The Governor, but without the latter's appeal or complex motivations.
While it's known that Abraham, Rosita and Eugene--characters met on the road shortly after The Governor's death--will appear in this season of The Walking Dead, Kirkman and company have been evasive on the question of when fans might see Negan.
“It’s sometimes a struggle because I feel like there are very cool things that are waiting in the wings in the comics that we could do earlier in the show,” Kirkman said back in July. “But those things only work the way they work because of everything that came before them. We have to build up to them properly. Negan isn’t going to be as cool if we don’t set up this, this, this, and this. We do want to do Negan, and it seems likes everyone on the show does want to do Negan, but we are going to have to do all these other things first.”
Added showrunner Scott Gimple, “Reading the book now and reading Negan as a character, I’m like, ‘Damn, there’s so much to do before we get to him!’ One of my favorite issues with him recently was the Carl/Negan issue. I think it’d be such an amazing episode of TV, but we have a lot to do before we get there.”