The Walking Dead's new showrunner, Angela Kang, has been discussing the fresh dynamic in season 9 between Rick Grimes and his former nemesis, Negan. In last season's All Out War finale, Rick risked the ire of his people by showing mercy to his long-standing enemy once the war against the Saviors had been won, instead opting to lock Negan in a cell to watch the united communities find a "better way" than the dictatorship previously forced upon them. This decision will seemingly lead to a civil war in season 9, with Maggie and Daryl going against their former leader for not executing Negan on the spot.
Rick's show of benevolence wouldn't have come as a huge surprise to those familiar with the The Walking Dead comic books. Although there was speculation as to whether Jeffrey Dean Morgan would be willing to continue as the character, it was widely known that comic-Negan survives All Out War and is subsequently locked away in Alexandria. While this doesn't rile Maggie anywhere near as much as it seemingly will on TV, it does lead to a very interesting relationship between Rick and Negan which evolves from utter hatred to begrudging respect over a long period of time. Of course, with Andrew Lincoln due to exit the show this season, that story likely won't have the chance to play out in the same manner.
Nevertheless, showrunner Angela Kang recently discussed the pair's dynamic during The Walking Dead season 9 preview special, stating:
“I think in a lot of ways Rick goes down there and it’s part therapy and part gloating. They’re just trying to work their way through it. They both feel in some ways like dinosaurs after the war. As Rick is trying to figure out what’s the next step, what’s the next mission, Negan kind of needles him. But Rick needs to be able to justify, ‘this is why I kept you alive, it’s so that we can have a future.’ So that’s really what it is, him trying to kind of work it through and also tell him though, like, ‘hey man, you’re suffering, we’ve got a good thing going.’”
Based on Kang's comments, it appears as though Rick and Negan will have the same kind of relationship as their comic counterparts did immediately after the war, with a sense of distrust and one-upmanship foremost in the duo's minds. It remains to be seen as to whether this will slowly fade and turn into something altogether more healthy, or whether Rick will meet his demise before this comes to pass.
Interestingly, the The Walking Dead comic series has taken steps to turn Negan into a protagonist, giving him a humanizing backstory and having him show remorse for his actions while he was leader of the Saviors. Since Andrew Lincoln's exit is now confirmed, it could be argued that The Walking Dead is in need of a new leading figure and Morgan's Negan would certainly be a candidate for this position. Although it may be far too jolting to have the former villain turn hero as soon as season 9, watching him come around to Rick's way of thinking before ultimately taking over leadership of Alexandria could be a fascinating story for future seasons.
The Walking Dead season 9 premieres October 7 on AMC.