The long wait to learn the fate of one unlucky member of The Walking Dead cast is almost over; meaning that Jeffrey Dean Morgan's performance as Negan will soon take on an entirely different connotation. After the season 7 premiere, Morgan will go from charismatic menace in a leather jacket to murderer of a potentially well-liked character and individual who irrevocably changed the course of one of the biggest shows on television. In other words, the arrival of Negan on the show is a pretty big deal.
Fans of the comic book already know how Negan's presence has affected the series. In addition to introducing himself by killing a member of Rick's group who'd been a part of the series since its inception, the foul-mouthed leader of the Saviors has gone on to become a force to be reckoned with as the story continues to unfold. That's somewhat surprising given that, at first, Negan assumed the role of antagonist, one that is not altogether unlike the Governor in that he makes a big, splashy (or in the case of The Walking Dead, bloody) debut and then goes on to make things worse for the book's core group of survivors. The assumption, then, is that, like the Governor, the villain will eventually be dispatched in some climactic battle that will serve to shake up the series once more. And according to series creator Robert Kirkman, that was initially his plan for Negan, but, much like fans of the series, he simply couldn't get enough of the character.
While speaking at New York Comic-Con, Kirkman addressed the current goings-on in The Walking Dead comic and the role that Negan plays in 'The Whisperer War' and what fans can expect from that plotline. But he also spoke about how when he initially conceived of Negan, the character's lifespan was admittedly short-lived. Kirkman said:
"Negan was supposed to die at the end of the [‘Something to Fear’] arc. He was only supposed to be in the book for four or five issues [but I thought,] ‘I loved this guy too much. [His story] was supposed to end when Maggie takes over the Hilltop. Rick was going to deliver Negan’s head in a box to Maggie."
One of the more surprising aspects of Rick's ongoing war with Negan in the comics is that when the two finally come head-to-head, the former choses not to kill the bat-wielding psychopath, effectively leaving the door open for his return – which he has. And since his reappearance, the decision to leave Negan alive has proven to be the right one for Kirkman, who has used the character to impact the story in dramatic ways recently, raising the question: Would another character have been as effective in that storyline?
The answer is: probably not. With Negan, Kirkman has tapped into a new avenue of storytelling potential that his readers can't seem to get enough of. And while another character could conceivably have come along and swept the fans off their feet, it's a good bet he or she would forever be in Negan's shadow. Besides, The Walking Dead has had plenty of villains come and go over the course of its lengthy run, so having one continue to influence the story and blur the line between good and bad in the way Negan has makes for a better product at the end of the day.
And now, as the character prepares to share the spotlight with Rick on the television series, fans can rest assured that Negan and his beloved bat Lucille won't be going anywhere for awhile.
The Walking Dead season 7 premieres Sunday, October 23 @9pm on AMC.