The Walking Dead has never been a feel-good show. Fans of cable’s highest rated program don’t tune in each week to watch to see Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) petting puppies and picking flowers; they watch to see how a band of ragtag survivors faces the horrors of a zombie-infested wasteland. And Season 6 has been anything but kind to Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Carol, Carl, and the recently introduced Alexandrians.
This season, Walking Dead viewers watched the frightening but often window-dressing walker hordes swell into a vast sea of troubles. As the core group split into their obligatory divided storylines, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his band tried to escape (or lead the walkers from) Alexandria under cover of gore overcoats, a la Season 1 in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham managed to evade the menacing Wolves only to stumble across a blockade of ornery bikers who informed them “your property now belongs to Negan.”
Moving forward from the midseason premiere, comic book and show creator Robert Kirkman warns that all bets are off. Sitting down with EW, The Walking Dead scribe tells viewers to expect a downward spiral for our favorite characters:
“We have lots of shake-ups from season to season. It keeps things interesting — keeps the blood pumping, I like to say — but Negan is kind of an atomic bomb that’s going to be dropped on the show and the show will probably never be the same after that. So buckle up, I guess?”
Kirkman isn’t shy when comparing the latest villain to a weapon of mass destruction. He underscores his warning with a breakdown of the villainy on the show: “I think the Saviors are dangerously organized, the Wolves were psychotic, the Hunters [the group from Terminus] had a lot of weaknesses.” Kirkman says his latest villain isn’t merely a menace. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a capable leader who’s engendered loyalty from his group of rogues by keeping them alive. Kirkman describes the show’s new antagonists:
“When it comes to the Saviors, and Negan in particular, the way I’ve always thought about this in the comics is this is a group that’s led by a guy who’s had his morality dial a few clicks away from Rick toward the darker aspects of his personality, but is still an intellectual and capable leader who’s kept his group alive against all odds just as long as Rick has…When these two forces come head to head, things are gonna get interesting. This is a much different group than they’ve ever encountered. The Saviors are a group they’re not really prepared for.”
And the esteemed creator’s words can’t be shrugged off lightly. Fans of the comic books already understand the gravity of Negan’s arrival. The jovial barbed-wire-wrapped bat-wielding sociopath altered the comic book’s already dark trajectory of the comic books to one of utter bleakness. In the comics, Rick and his band lived under Negan’s thumb after arriving in Washington D.C., making life miserable for them. But the villain also served as a counterpoint – a constant reminder to Rick and the others how thin the line between survival and villainy is.
But the second half of Season 6 isn’t entirely bleak. In addition to a handful of new baddies, the show also promises to introduce a comic book favorite, Paul “Jesus” Monroe (Tom Payne). “Jesus” winds up becoming a valuable asset to Rick’s band. Still, theoretically anything can happen on the show. One thing’s for sure, Negan’s arrival won’t make things boring.
The Walking Dead returns from its midseason break on February 14th, 2016. Its spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, will return for a second season in April.