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The Walking Dead returned for its eleventh and final season on AMC Sunday night, and as expected it brought high stakes, big moments, and more than a little emotional devastation. As the show's final round of episodes officially gets underway, we're faced with a major cliffhanger that covers years of bad blood — and the showrunner and one of the key stars behind the moment are breaking it all down.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for The Walking Dead episode "Acheron, Part 1" below.**
Well, it was bound to happen eventually. The tension between Negan and Maggie was always going to have to be addressed in some form or another, and it all came to a head in "Acheron, Part 1" on Sunday during a mission through the D.C. Metro tunnels. Convinced that Maggie recruited him for the mission so she could find some moment to sneakily kill him at last for what he did to Glenn all those years ago, Negan didn't help matters on the mission when he declared he wouldn't let her off him "like Glenn was." Whether Maggie had even thought about taking her shot at Negan yet or not, death seemed to be stalking the episode after that.
Then came the big moment. Negan climbed atop a train car to avoid walkers, looked back and realized that Maggie was being pulled down by those same walkers. After a long moment of pause, he decided to let her hang, leaving Maggie's fate uncertain and Negan firmly back in villain-ish territory for legions of Walking Dead viewers who've watched him spend several seasons trying to redeem himself in some form or another.
But, is Negan really that calculating in the moment, or was it simply an act of raw self-preservation?
"You're surrounded by people that are not your ally," Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang explained to Entertainment Weekly when asked about Negan's mindset. "You're looking around nervously going like, 'Oh man, well, at least maybe Daryl [Norman Reedus] could help me out,' and he's like, 'Don't look at me.' And so he feels like he's in danger, and we know that Negan is quite pragmatic and he likes to live. He is not somebody that wants to step in front of the bullet for people, for the most part. Maybe for a kid that he likes, but other than that, that guy is there to survive."
She continued, "And so we just felt that the thing that would show growth and redemption is if he helps her up. But we were like, 'No, that guy is amped up. He would leave her.' So we really tried to come at it from the character's standpoint of, where's his head at? Obviously it does give us a very dramatic moment, but that actually felt true to Negan at the time because she's been talking a lot of s--- since they started on that mission, and he's not into it."
Even if you buy the angle that Negan was "amped up" and acting out of self-preservation more than outright villainy, though, your mind still drifts back to that one line. Negan was so determined to make his point to Maggie about the tension between them that he dared drop Glenn's name, which makes that final moment that much more impactful. According to Morgan, it was the only part of the episode he tried to talk Kang and company out of doing.
"I fought it! That's the one line that I immediately called [showrunner Angela Kang] and I was like, 'I can't say it. I can't f---ing bring up Glenn's name here,'" Morgan told EW. "And I was like, 'Any goodwill that Negan has gotten on his side is going to go out the window the minute I say Glenn.' I tried to nix the line completely. I didn't think it was necessary. And I thought, for sure, they would let me change it. And so I filmed it three or four different ways. I tried everything else. I said, 'Your husband' and other stuff. but ultimately it was like, 'Well, let's just try the f---ing Glenn line.' And then, of course, when I saw the cut, I was like, 'Oh, f---ers!' [Laughs] They had to put it in."
That chilling line aside, though, both Kang and Morgan were keen to discuss the specifics of the actual cliffhanger, namely the question of whether or not Negan can actually be considered responsible for Maggie's fate, whether she dies or not. Is leaving someone just as bad as pulling the trigger yourself?
"Me as a person, I don't think necessarily he should have done that regardless, but I suppose you can justify it. It just depends on the point of view you take," Kang said. "I remember there used to be quizzes on Talking Dead about whether something was the smart thing to do or the right thing to do. Those things are not the same. From Negan's point of view, in terms of 'What keeps me alive,' it was probably the smart thing for him to do, but I don't know that you can justify it from every point of view. It really just depends on what you value in terms of, is it better to try to work together in spite of your differences, or do you just cut bait and run? But we like living in those kinds of questions. That's what's fun for us to write."
For Morgan's part, he noted that he sees a "huge difference" between killing someone and leaving them to possibly die "in Negan's mind," and not just because of pure cold indifference. As Morgan sees it, Negan understands survival instinct, and he recognizes it in his fellow survivors.
"He knows these people well enough to know that they are also all cockroaches, just like him. They are survivors. I'm not going to go out of my way. I'm not going to risk my neck for yours right now. If you survive, you survive. If you don't, bully for me. And that's kind of the thinking there," he said. "When I'm looking at her and she's hanging on losing her grip, there's no evil f---ing grin. There's no malicious f---ing twirl of the mustache. It's just like, f--- it. He knows that there's a bullet with his name on it, and he's not going to go out of his way. He's not going to risk his life for her. And that's sort of where he is."
The Walking Dead returns for "Acheron, Part 2," and presumably the reveal of Maggie's fate, next Sunday on AMC.