[This article discusses major SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 6 finale as well as the comic book.]
The Walking Dead season 6 finale is roughly two weeks away. And while the series' producers have not exactly been coy about who will be appearing in the reportedly 90-minute episode, and what will be brought with them, they have remained mum on which, if any, of the core cast members will be saying their goodbyes to both fans and their fellow actors. Of course, in this instance, the "who" is the highly anticipated arrival of Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan, and the "what" will be his barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat that he has dotingly named Lucille. The identity of the individual getting up close and personal with Lucille seems locked in place, as showrunner Scott M. Gimple recently teased plans to try and remain "faithful" to the source material.
Readers of the comic book have since taken Gimple's statement to mean that plucky former pizza-delivery boy Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) will depart the series after what has been a rough season for the character. As many fans recall, Glenn's future was in doubt earlier in season 6, when he took a nosedive off a dumpster and appeared to have been eaten alive by a horde of hungry walkers. And yet, the scene struck many as odd. The Walking Dead is known for many things, but subtlety is not necessarily one of them. For a show that revels in graphic proof of its famed kills, Glenn's (non-)death didn't sit well with many fans. The series took its fair share of criticism for what amounted to a stunt that felt intended to draw those aware of Glenn's comic-book fate astray, as anticipation of Negan's arrival had already begun to swell.
After the usually critic-proof series nursed wounds inflicted by fans upset at the ostensibly fruitless deception, The Walking Dead since soldiered on towards the finale. But now, a new report from HNGN (via Vanity Fair) suggests the culmination of season 6 may well stir up some familiar emotions, as it will tease the death of a major character, without actually revealing which one. As confirmation, Lauren Cohan (Maggie) recently said to ET the finale is "the biggest finale I've ever seen in television" and "the cliff-hangerist episode."
The reason for the cliffhanger may well stem from the show supplanting one character death with another, like it did in 'Twice as Far' by having Denise (Merritt Wever) die as Abraham did in the comics. This theory matches recent statements made by both Yeun and Gimple, in which they both understandably work around the issue of what happens in the comics and how it will be translated to television. In his statement, Yeun said, "I know people are going to always go, ‘Negan kills Glenn in the comics,’ but rest assured that we don’t necessarily do what’s in the comics."
Meanwhile, Gimple spoke earlier this week with regard to Negan's arrival by saying:
"…it's really just all in service to being faithful to the comic book inasmuch as one can. That’s always going to be relatively subjective as to what that means. But taking inspiration from the moments of the comic book and playing them out to the ends of what it can be, it’s all just like taking that moment from the book and figuring out a way to turn it up to get those feelings that it gave you and those emotions that it gave you that much more"
Both statements sound as though Negan's fateful swing may well find another skull to crack, rather than the one sitting atop Mr. Rhee's shoulders. And according to the reportedly leaked information, the finale finds at least Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Maggie, and Glenn intercepted by the Saviors and forced into a situation where Negan plays "eenie, meenie, miney moe," before taking a swing that is only seen land from the victim's point of view. This means the presumably soon-to-be-dead member of Rick's crew could be any of the abovementioned survivors, but fans likely won't find out until season 7 starts in the fall of 2016.
While it sounds as though the season finale will certainly deliver on both the promised arrival of Negan and the deadly swing of his bat, it seems the end result of that fated swing will be used to keep viewers guessing for several months afterward. A move like this runs the risk of infuriating the same fans who already feel deceived by Glenn's non-death earlier, and yet that risk may be one worth taking as it all but guarantees The Walking Dead will be part of the television conversation during its off months, as fans debate just who wound up on the business end of Lucille. With ratings down in both the season and midseason premiere (though still incredibly high when compared to everything else), delivering a season-ending cliffhanger of this magnitude might be the proverbial shot in the arm the series needs to open big in season 7.