'Walking Dead' Season 10: What's Next After That Sudden Departure

The Hollywood Reporter speaks with Jeffrey Dean Morgan about the journey ahead for Negan: "I think it's the best stuff I've gotten to do on the show."
Courtesy of AMC

[This story contains spoilers for season 10, episode 4 of AMC's The Walking Dead, "Silence the Whisperers," as well as Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's comic book series on which the show is based.]

The chicken has flown the coop, and with it, its baby bird wisdom.

Which is one way of saying, Negan's gone rogue. Again. Jeffrey Dean Morgan's ex-baseball-bat-swinging Savior king is once again AWOL, missing at the end of the latest round of Angela Kang's Walking Dead. The mysterious exit comes at the end of a tense hour for the character, who breaks his own rule and interferes with Alexandrian in-fighting when a trio of angry civilians tries to take out their anti-Whisperer sentiment on Lydia (Cassady McClincy). Negan accidentally kills one of these people in an attempt to save Lydia, leaving Alexandria's council with the tough choice of figuring out how to mete out justice. Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) asks for a night to consider the matter. In the morning, Negan is nowhere to be found, and no one's owning up to aiding in the jailbreak. By the end of the episode, there are no easy answers, and still no trace of the one who once wielded Lucille.

Where is Negan? Obviously, forces behind The Walking Dead are understandably tight-lipped on the matter, but here's Jeffrey Dean Morgan himself, speaking previously with The Hollywood Reporter about what viewers should expect from his take on Negan for season 10, beginning by looking back on his prison stint in season 9: "It was a long year. About ten years in show time. It was very nice for Negan to get out, stretch his legs, get some fresh air … but I think it was good for everyone to have Negan on ice. I think it was good for the audience to see this guy who they mostly hated, and see a different side of him, to see him tortured, wanting to give up on life, ready to die at the hand of Maggie (Lauren Cohan). Then there was a sort of redemption with Judith (Cailey Fleming), who brought out a side of him that no one else has. Negan's suddenly turned into a three-dimensional character. Taking that into this year is really fun. I'm thrilled with what the story has done for me this year. I think the buildup and the foundation from the last couple of years is great. We have this fleshed-out character now. This year is going to be a lot of fun for the audience, and for me. I'm having a blast. I think it's the best stuff I've gotten to do on the show."

Additionally, there's this previous comment from Kang to THR worth considering: "Even as we were working on season nine, there was some sense of some things in season 10 that we knew we want to hit, and here are some things that we want to find twists on. I would say one example of a story that we really knew that we wanted to tell, was we knew we wanted to tell a big Negan story. And so the way that we structured Negan's story in season nine had a lot to do with what had come before in season eight, and then kind of our own goals within season nine of showing these different sides of Negan, and being true to the comic and his journey within the prison cell, but also knowing that we wanted to get to certain places with him in season 10."

With all of that said? Some takeaways: Negan's departure has been a storyline in the works for at least a full season and change at this point, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan himself is very pleased with the results. Anyone who is concerned about the man's well-being, then, should A) not be all too worried for the immediate future, and B) should really check themselves because they are worried about the guy who killed Glenn and Abraham what is wrong with you — but that's the beauty of modern Walking Dead, where even quasi-redemption for Negan is possible.

Of course, this is not the first time Negan has escaped Alexandrian captivity on television. In season nine, Negan briefly broke free from his jailers around the midseason, only to learn that the world had moved on from his ken during the ten or so years he spent behind bars. That twist was at least partly inspired by the comic books from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard on which the show is based, in which Negan flees Alexandria and undertakes a top-secret operation against the Whisperers — but for the show, the operation ended rather swiftly, with Negan back in Alexandria in no time at all.

Now, Negan seems poised to once again resume his comic book counterpart's story arc, one that has devastating consequences for soldiers on both sides of the Whisperer War battlefield. Spoilers from the comics are ahead.

In the comics, a young and angry survivor breaks Negan out of prison on a quest to seek vengeance against the Whisperers. On the road, Negan kills this survivor and makes a play for it on his own. He meets up with the Whisperers, ingratiates himself within their hierarchy, assassinates their leader Alpha (Samantha Morton) and brings her head back to Alexandria as a sign of goodwill. It's all pretty shocking, very violent, and extremely Negan.

As the show often does, expect some mixing-and-matching in the adaptation process over the next few weeks. For one thing, the boy who breaks Negan out of prison is very dead on the television series; but he could easily be replaced by Gage, played by Jackson Pace, one of the bullies who beat up Lydia and has a grudge against the Whisperers for beheading his friends. Would the Negan of the show outright kill Gage on the road? Maybe not on purpose, but as we just saw, accidents happens — also, it could totally happen on purpose, because, again, it's Negan, he kills people, it's sort of his thing.

How about Negan killing Alpha? It's one of the biggest and most unexpected deaths in the later days of the comic books — in all of the run, really. Will Kang and company shy away from such a twist for the TV series? There's reason to believe so, yes. For one, Alpha's endgame seems inextricably tied up with Carol (Melissa McBride), and for these two grieving mothers to part ways in season 10 without tying up loose ends… it just doesn't feel like the route the show's going to take. For another, speaking recently with THR, Samantha Morton suggested she's still filming season ten, which means she's involved in the closing stages of the arc — a much longer shelf life than the comic book version of her character, in other words. Unless Negan's going to hang out in Whisperer territory for a full season, then his shot at Alpha may pass him by.

Then again … maybe Negan will hang out in Whisperer territory for a full season. His stint with Alpha and friends is relatively short in the source material, but that side of the aisle needs more active eyes and ears on the ground; Beta (Ryan Hurst) and Gamma (Thora Birch) aren't going to cut it. Keeping Negan in Whisperer territory for the better part of a season gives us as an audience an unexpected viewpoint into their culture, through an avatar we cannot wholly trust, not to mention someone who is not going to adjust to the Whisperers' way of life so easily, given his verbal grandiosity. Maybe Negan will stick around long enough to pull off his most shocking death from the comic books after all — okay, not his most shocking death from the comic books, but you get the picture.

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