By now, the survivors of The Walking Dead have learned that the living are far more fearsome and problematic than the dead will ever be. First there was Rick's former best friend Shane (Jon Bernthal), then the Governor (David Morrissey), the Terminus cannibals, and then the Saviors. Of course, more trouble was on the horizon with the arrival of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a fan-favorite villain whose brutal introduction in both the comics and the show left audiences reeling. Morgan has earned raves and awards consideration for his performance, but as season 7 draws to a close the question remains: will Negan make an appearance in season 8, or have we seen the last of the bat-wielding menace?
The season ended with a reenactment of one of the comics' more famous Negan vs. Rick showdowns, as well as the loss of Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). People were double crossed, side character lives were lost, and zombie mayhem ensued; all in all, it's what you'd expect from a Walking Dead finale. Negan escapes the carnage alive, and is furious that the survivors have decided to rally against him. Apparently, he can't hold sway over them with the threat of violence any longer. Enraged, he declares open war on the other survivors.
Things have not been going Negan's way this season. Despite the first half of season 7 showing the survivors all but cowed by his presence, the back half has shown them slowly rising up to meet the challenge set by him. Now, he's stuck fighting a war over turf that was once easily his. The promise of war seems to ensure his return for season 8, as well as the actor's earlier remarks on the subject, but as usual there are still questions left about the capacity in which Negan will return. Will he be season 8's main threat, or will another rise up to take his place as he makes his plans to strike back at those who would dare rise up against him?
It would be easy to have the killer return immediately in season 8 as the primary antagonist. After all, Negan has always been present in the Walking Dead comics even after he was defeated and imprisoned by Rick. While other villains have come and gone, none have quite the staying power that Negan has (though you have to wonder why Rick just won't kill him). Between the popularity of the character and his continued presence in the comics, having him reappear instantly in the show would make sense. After all, he's expected to return. It would be more surprising if he did not.
But maybe the show is going for the surprise angle with the big bad. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that a primary antagonist disappeared for a period of time before returning to wreak havoc. The Governor, following his attack on the prison and murder of Andrea (Laurie Holden), disappeared for a good chunk of season 4. The show devoted two whole episodes to what happened to him during the time jump. These episodes were not particularly popular amongst fans or critics, but in terms of how they were used to set up of the structure of the season was interesting. The primary antagonist was the virus sweeping the prison, but that was neatly resolved by the end of episode 5, leaving the Governor time to dominate the remainder of the front half of the season. Of course, his reign of terror did not last long -- he was stabbed, left to die, and shot, in that order -- but it provided a unique way for the seasons' narrative to progress. Rather than dragging out the threat of a single man for all eight episodes, the writers smartly condensed it down.
However, Negan is not the Governor. He does not have a death sentence lingering over his head. Instead, he has issue upon issue of tormenting Rick left. So, should the writers hold back on him for a while, saving him for a midseason finale or premiere, or should they reintroduce him as a threat instantly?
It might be in their best interest to hold back on him for a few episodes and to let the dust settle. If season 8 opens with an attack on Alexandria or the Hillside immediately after the finale involved a similar attack, things might become repetitive. After all, comics are a different medium than a TV show. By spending time building up to the conflict, instead of forcing it to start immediately, that could give the casualties more weight and build tension within the audience and characters about the coming conflict.
It also depends on the planned time jump between seasons. Most seasons have a time jump between them, though season 6 to season 7 was a notable exception. If the season does have a time jump at the beginning, that could be a way to reintroduce Negan immediately by showing the survivors in the middle of a war. It wouldn't build tension, and the writers would risk the character overstaying his welcome, but it could be a way to get Negan back into the action immediately rather than wait for a few episodes before bringing him back into the fold.
Regardless, Negan will no doubt be making a return in season 8. We have many months of waiting ahead before some details inevitably leak or are presented for fans at Comic-Con and elsewhere by the cast and crew. In the meantime, Screen Rant will keep you updated with details regarding Negan's return as soon as news is available.
The Walking Dead season 8 will premiere in October of 2017.