It's been fascinating to watch The Walking Dead develop simultaneously as a hit comic book series and a hit TV series over the last nine years, particularly as the show began to build up the kind of storytelling momentum that allowed it to branch out an away from the comic while still finding a way to echo its source material. Now that the comic book series has come to a surprising end, there will be even more freedom for the series to strike out on its own with new stories and characters, as well as new directions for old favorites. For many fans, that freedom leads to one key question: Will Negan be freed in Season 10?
The comic book ultimately left the former sadistic leader of the Saviors to live in isolation and depression in the wake of war with the Whisperers. Rick Grimes granted him life, but also placed him in a state of pseudo-exile, living only off food left for him by Carl Grimes and deliberately avoiding other survivors.
In the TV series, things are different, in no small part because both Rick and Carl are now gone while the series has jumped forward in time several years. In Season 9 we saw that Michonne (Danai Gurira) continuing to carry out Rick's sentence that Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) would live in a cell to watch the world the survivors were building without him, rather than die and be spared the opportunity to think about his crimes. In his time in captivity, he's developed a major bond with Rick's and Michonne's daughter, Judith (Cailey Fleming). In the season finale "The Storm," this relationship creates a moment of redemption, as Negan saves Judith during a blizzard and earns Michonne's gratitude.
So, does that mean Negan has repaired his relationship with Michonne to the extent that he'll be set free? Has he proven himself worthy of trying to live a real life again? Showrunner Angela Kang seems to think so.
"We had a whole year with him in his cell," Kang told Entertainment Weekly, "so I think after his heroic rescue of Judith, people might’ve noticed that when he was in that bed in the infirmary, he was not tied up or cuffed. So we’re dealing with the next stage of what things are for Negan. I think for people who have been wanting us to release the Negan, there will be some satisfaction there."
Negan was introduced to the TV series with a great deal of fanfare at the end of Season 6, and his debut was further heightened by a cliffhanger ending that showed him bashing in the skull of an unnamed survivor with his bat, Lucille, before cutting to credits. We didn't find out who Negan had killed until Season 7, which only added to fans' anticipation for what he might do next. That level of hype, plus Morgan's gleefully wicked performance, made him a fan-favorite character, and now Season 10 presents an opportunity for the show to echo the comics and allow Negan to participate in the war with the Whisperers in a major way. We still don't know exactly what his Season 10 arc will be, but Kang was also quick to warn fans that a Negan who's willing to save a little girl he's grown fond of, deep down, is still Negan.
"Negan’s story is one of my personal favorites in this season," she said. "Things get complicated because it’s Negan. Some of the stuff [Morgan] is doing is so compelling, because here's this guy who has been on a path of trying to redeem himself in some way, but he’s still Negan. He’s not the hero. He’s, at best, an antihero, but there’s definitely darkness and an edge to him."
The Walking Dead returns this fall on AMC. Stay tuned to SYFY WIRE for our coverage of the show's Hall H panel this weekend at San Diego Comic-Con.