[This article contains SPOILERS for The Walking Dead comics and TV series.]
The Walking Dead season 6 had more than its fair share of surprises for the audience. In addition to teasing the death of Glenn Rhee early in the season, only to walk it back (under a dumpster), the season also ended on a contentious cliffhanger in which incoming villain/series game changer Negan murders a key character from their perspective, leaving the identity a secret until the season 7 premiere (presumably). But that wasn't all the series managed to deliver in terms of surprises. Perhaps one death in the series that went overlooked in all the chatter about Glenn and the season finale is the unexpected, unearned demise of Dr. Denise Cloyd (Merritt Wever), whose final moment bared a striking resemblance to the death of a major character from the comics.
For those who read the comics, the moment might have been especially surprising as Denise's death by crossbow bolt through the eye was originally delivered to the red-haired military man Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz). That deviation from the comics wasn't the first that the television series has made in its six seasons, but it was one of the more conspicuous given the graphic nature of what occurred and the implications that immediately arose as a result. With Negan's impending arrival common knowledge amongst viewers at the time, Abraham's survival meant more than him simply switching places with another character; it opened up a whole new avenue of storytelling possibilities, as it afforded Sgt. Ford a chance to meet and interact with the bat-swinging Negan.
It remains to be seen whether or not that proves to be a good thing from Abraham's perspective, as he may yet be revealed to be Negan's victim, but the actor is aware the potential upside in deviating so dramatically from the source material. While talking with PopSugar, Cudlitz discussed his character's survival and how the departure from the comics actually served to make series creator Robert Kirkman happy.
"Well, [Robert] Kirkman was never happy with the death Abraham had in the graphic novels. He always said it was sort of a last-minute decision and that he regretted how he took him out. I think transferring that specific death of the crossbow arrow through the eye to Denise was sort of an Easter egg for the audience who follow the graphic novels. They know what that death should have been, but there's also nothing lost on the television audience by not knowing that. It was a little gift just for them. Her death spurs on a whole bunch of other stuff, and then the audience knows that Abraham will continue for a while now. Now we get to see what a world with Negan and Abraham both in it will be like. That's something we don't see in the graphic novels. So a lot of cool stuff happens. For me, knowing that his potential death had come and gone, it was a moment to go, "Oh cool, they really aren't going to stick with what the graphic novel does." As a fan of both the novel and the show, it was cool."
Obviously, the big takeaway is Cudlitz mentioning Abraham "will continue for a while now," which, despite its spoiler-y nature, will likely please many fans and also set up a potential conflict (or not) between two willful, violent characters. Beyond the TV series allowing key moments from the comics to be altered to make what the creator sees as a correction, Cudlitz makes an interesting point about the change having a ripple effect that creates an entirely new dynamic from which potentially interesting character developments may arise.
What will a confrontation between the leader of the Saviors and Abraham look like? Well, fans only have less than two months to wait in order to find out.
The Walking Dead season 7 premieres Sunday, October 23, 2016 @9pm on AMC.