8:28am PT by Josh Wigler
'Walking Dead': How the Comics Play Out After Negan's Violent Introduction
[Warning: this story contains spoilers for the season seven premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead, as well as the Walking Dead comics.]
What, you don't think Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is really going to let Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) get away with this, do you?
The seventh season of AMC's records-smashing zombie series premiered with massive impact, removing not one but two of the Grimes Gang's survivors by way of Negan's baseball bat: Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun), their heads turned into nothing more than piles of gore. It's a devastating turn for the Alexandrians, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) especially, the death of the "Sunday dinner dream." Indeed, it's hard to imagine where things go from here, now that Negan has Rick pinned so effectively beneath his thumb. … But there is indeed a road map for moving forward, for those inclined to seek it out.
In Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's Walking Dead comic books, Negan arrives and kills Glenn in the 100th issue of the series. But that's just the start. From there, Negan becomes an ever-looming presence, changing the day-to-day existences of Alexandria's denizens, and the survivors of other nearby communities as well. But true to their spirit, Rick and his people aren't the type to play second banana to any bad entity for too long.
While the show and the comics often diverge on how deaths play out, the two are just as often aligned in terms of the story's general structure. Both versions of Walking Dead follow Rick through Atlanta, Hershel's farm, the prison, the Woodbury conflict, the open road populated by cannibalistic hunters, the Alexandria safe zone, and eventually the conflict with Negan. It's safe to say, then, that the comics after Negan's violent introduction will be at least somewhat instructive of what's ahead on the show.
With that in mind, here's how the Walking Dead comic plays out after Glenn's brutal murder:
** The show sees Maggie, Sasha, Rick and the rest rallying together behind Glenn and Abraham's bodies. In the comics, the healing process doesn't begin so swiftly. Maggie punches Rick and blames him for getting Glenn killed, and the tension eventually builds to Carl drawing a gun on her to protect his father. Things cool down from there, but it's a rough follow-up to Glenn's death.
** Rick gets Maggie to the Hilltop, just as she thinks Glenn would have wanted. There, Rick gets furious with the community's leader for not telling him about the full scope of Negan's operation, leading to a very brief fistfight. With veteran actor Xander Berkeley in place as the snarling Gregory, look for him to take a punch or two over what happened here with Negan.
** Rick and his crew return to Alexandria, where Andrea — who is still alive in the comics and is in a romantic relationship with Rick; Michonne (Danai Gurira) clearly occupies this role on the show — informs Rick that they have a prisoner: Dwight (Austin Amelio). Rick's people haven't apprehended Dwight on the show, and maybe they won't, but it's still likely that they'll capture somebody from the Saviors.
** So, Rick tortures Dwight for information on Negan, right? Wrong. Instead, he cuts Dwight loose. He also denies Eugene's plan to manufacture bullets. He tells all of Alexandria that Negan is their leader now, and this is the new world order. Many people are upset. Maybe they wouldn't be if they knew Rick's true intentions, as he privately orders Jesus (Tom Payne) to follow Dwight, in the hope of learning how to reach Negan's actual headquarters.
** Soon, Negan makes his first official visit to Alexandria, where he has Rick hold onto Lucille the entire time — much the way he taunted Rick with the ax throughout the season premiere. As is his style, Negan broadly mocks the people of Alexandria, nearly starts some physical altercations, and eventually leaves — but little does he know, a very angry Carl (Chandler Riggs) has stowed away in Negan's convoy, cradling an assault rifle in his arms.
** Meanwhile, a bunch of Saviors catch Jesus following Dwight on the road, but that's exactly what Jesus wants. They take him to the Saviors' compound and he breaks free, with the information on how to get there firmly intact.
** At the same time, Negan returns to home base, and Carl makes his move. He shoots up a few Saviors, but Negan eventually overpowers Carl. Negan, much like Ron Burgundy, isn't even mad; he's impressed. He takes Carl all throughout the Sanctuary, and we learn more about the culture through Carl's eyes (too soon?). For instance, Negan has multiple wives, and he presses hot irons to people's faces after acts of disloyalty. (Suddenly Dwight's scar makes more sense, doesn't it?) Negan even takes a minute to make fun of Carl's shot-out eye socket, finally making the boy cry. It's an unusual bonding session, but something of a bonding session all the same.
** Rick's not happy about Carl going after Negan, obviously. When Jesus returns with directions to the Sanctuary, Rick hits the road, risking his carefully laid slow-burning vengeance plot against Negan in the process. The two forces collide on the road, and Rick lashes out against Negan, the two of them left to brawl for a bit. Even though he's furious at getting hit, Negan's somewhat impressed that Rick still has some fight in him, even after everything. Negan surrenders Carl as a sign that he can be reasonable — that he doesn't need to kill one of Rick's people every single time they step out of line, even if he's well within his rights.
** Maybe Negan has a point when it comes to killing his enemies, because in showing contrition toward Rick and Carl, he lets a few secrets out of the bag. Carl reports back on the Sanctuary's layout, manpower, and relatively low ammunition supply. Rick gains confidence that he can take down Negan after all — and with that, Jesus decides it's time to introduce Rick to a friend of his.
** Enter: the Kingdom, a former high school turned into a feudal society of sorts, overseen by a former zookeeper turned king named Ezekiel (Khary Payton). He and his pet tiger Shiva are both set for appearances on Walking Dead, likely as soon as the second episode of season seven, judging by previews. Ezekiel is an eccentric man, to put it lightly, but he makes a big first impression on Michonne — the spark of a romance that could find its way onto the show, perhaps in the form of current Kingdom denizen Carol (Melissa McBride) instead.
** Rick and Jesus are here to meet with Ezekiel, who is also tired of living under Negan's thumb. As it turns out, Ezekiel has a surprise guest of his own: Dwight, who insists that he's part of the movement against Negan, and can be useful in the coming conflict as a double agent. Will the show's version of Dwight boast a similar stake in Rick's war against the Saviors? Given his current hatred toward Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), it's going to take some healing first.
** With some forward momentum now on their side, Rick and Jesus start letting people in on their plan to take on Negan. Meanwhile, back at Alexandria, Negan shows up for another check-in. It does not go well for Spencer (Austin Nichols), who wants to stage a coup against Rick and work directly for Negan. The boss man is unimpressed with Spencer's gutless plan, and so he turns Spencer into a literally gutless man, spilling his insides out on the town street in broad daylight. For the show, it's a smart bet to expect Spencer to follow Abraham and Glenn to that ethereal Sunday night dinner in the sky sometime soon.
** When Rick returns to Alexandria and sees that Negan has killed Spencer, Rick decides it's time to act. They might not have another opportunity to completely surround Negan and his men. So they block Negan into Alexandria and a firefight breaks out. It's looking like bad news for Rick and company, until Ezekiel and soldiers from the Kingdom show up, making their true allegiance known.
** Negan manages to escape, now knowing all too well that Rick Grimes won't ever fully cooperate with his new world order. This can only mean one thing: "It's time to go to war." In Alexandria, Rick comes to the same realization, just as Jesus tells our hero that he's an inspiring leader that people can get behind.
All of that fallout plays out over the course of 14 comic book issues. It leads into "All Out War," one of the most action-packed storylines in Walking Dead history, with more high-profile casualties along the way — meaning potential for great loss as the show moves toward this territory. But for now, it's likely that the show will focus on the road toward that war, saving the full breadth of "All Out War" either for the second half of season seven, or perhaps even season eight.
That said, for anyone concerned that Rick and his family will respond to Glenn and Abraham's violent deaths with nothing more than passive obedience, the comic books certainly paint a very different picture.
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