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The brutal Season 7 murder of Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) came back to haunt Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in Sunday night's episode of The Walking Dead's eleventh and final season when the former leader of the Saviors came face-to-face with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Glenn's young son, Hershel (Kien Michael Spiller).
Upon learning that the person standing before him is the "bad man" who killed his father before he was born, Hershel holds the world-weary survivor at gunpoint, but doesn't end up pulling the trigger. Of course, viewers know Negan isn't going to die just yet. After all, he and Maggie still have a New York City adventure looming just on the horizon.
However, it is high-time the baseball bat-loving antagonist (or rather ex-antagonist) began to confront the horrific sins of his past, especially now that he's got a kid of his own on the way with Annie (Medina Senghore).
"When it comes to kids, that is one of the areas where Negan actually can be just purely altruistic and heroic," Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang explained to Entertainment Weekly. "That's also just something that is an established part of his character, he does admire children. I think he's a guy who, it doesn't bother him being in conflict with his peers, because he's a guy who's got to survive, and if he's got to push some people aside and knock some people down with the bat to keep surviving, he will. But I think when he looks at the generation below, as somebody who used to be a teacher, he really sees nothing but promise in children."
Even so, Negan has never outright apologized to Maggie for what he did, instead voicing regret over the fact that he didn't just kill Rick's entire group from the get-go. "He doesn't have a lot of remorse that he shows there," Kang added. "I definitely think he is trying to make up with it via actions ... I don't think he's all the way there to the point where he's like, 'I'm sorry.'"
Despite his reluctance to beg for any sort of forgiveness, Negan doesn't shy away from the monster he was all those years ago. "The guy is weirdly radically honest at times; he could very easily tell the kid like, 'No, I didn't do it. I don't know what you're thinking,'" Kang continued. "Because clearly mom didn't say that it was him, but I think that there is something about Negan that feels like if he's going to move forward, he can't hide the things he did, because they happened and people know it. So he didn't lie to Annie about it and he's not going to lie to the kid about it. I think that's very true to who Negan is. For better or worse, he'll tell you exactly what he's thinking."
At the end of Sunday's episode (titled "The Rotten Core"), Negan tells Hershel to come find him in a few years, at which point the two can settle up the outstanding debt. Now, that could mean a multitude of different things. Is he giving Maggie's son a blank check to kill him down the road or is he hoping they can come to a more diplomatic solution that doesn't result in more bloodshed?
"I think he wants the kid to have a chance to grow up and be a child, and if he still feels the same way 10, 15 years from now, 20 years from now, then he has the right to come after him and try to kill him," Kang teased. "Or maybe they get to shake hands and talk it out like men, but he just doesn't think it's fair to put the burden of avenging your father on somebody who's still, his hands are too small to even hold the gun properly."
Perhaps the Manhattan-based limited series will give us an answer to that lingering question mark. Maybe it'll center around a rescue mission to Hershel from a band of kidnappers? Perhaps then Negan will truly redeem himself in the eyes of Maggie and the audience.
Episodes 1-14 of The Walking Dead's final season are currently streaming on AMC+, which allows subscribers to watch new episodes a week before they premiere. Episode 15 ("Trust") will make its television debut next Sunday (April 3) at 9pm EST.
Only two installments remain before the next extended hiatus, though when the show does return to the airwaves, it'll be for the last batch of eight episodes. No premiere date has been announced yet, but production on the series finale was slightly delayed when Norman Reedus sustained a concussion on set.