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Of all the new characters that The Walking Dead fans got to know in Season 7, nobody ranked higher in importance or impact than Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan. (Sure, he first came in during Season 6, but barely.) The AMC show's current embrace of the comic series' All Out War storyline would almost necessarily mean that Negan will be a huge part of Season 8, but that might not entirely be the case, as Morgan apparently hasn't been seen around the Walking Dead set since the filming of the premiere.
Take note that all manner of explanations could exist here, but we're going to start off with the most damning of speculations, that Negan's presence in Season 8 may not be quite as large and dominating as we expected. Barring some big adjustments from the source material, this war-torn section of the narrative is a spot where Negan's presence should definitely be noteworthy and not dictated by performance frugality. So if his absence from the set is indeed indicative of a temporary absence or downplayed role, then what does that mean for how the story will be laid out?
The Walking Dead is currently filming Episode 5, according to Digital Spy, meaning there are at least three episodes that were filmed where Negan doesn't appear to have any major scenes. (At least, scenes set in outdoor locations where Jeffrey Dean Morgan's leather-bound presence could be witnessed by onlookers, but more on that in a bit.) Season 7 didn't just embellish on developing Negan's personality, so there are technically a bunch of other newish characters and angles that could be examined should the current big bad not be around to point Lucille at people on a regular basis. We know that Jadis is getting a bigger role, and Negan's second banana Simon could continue serving as the resident threat in the leader's absence.
If Jeffrey Dean Morgan indeed has missed out on some production time on The Walking Dead, it almost definitely isn't something guided by the show's plot. The actor was cast in the upcoming big budget actioner Rampage, co-starring Dwayne Johnson, and the unknown capacity of Morgan's role makes it unclear which of the projects is more time-consuming for him at the moment. There are still plenty of episodes left to film, too, so a Negan-lite beginning could make way for a dour and expletive-filled second half of the season.
To hit the flip side of the argument, though, it's entirely possible that showrunner Scott Gimple planned for this, and that Jeffrey Dean Morgan will simply film scenes for Episodes 2-5 (and beyond) whenever his time can be focused on the post-apocalypse. Another optimistic way of looking at it -- for fans of Negan, at least -- is that Morgan could be hunkering down within The Sanctuary following whatever massive events go down in the season premiere, which happens to be Episode 100. That's probably the most sensible explanation here, but one that does seem to imply that Negan's confidence will be shaken up enough to keep him homebound. Not the most likely of scenarios.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn't the only Walking Dead star whose Season 8 presence is possibly getting limited by extraneous means. Danai Gurira was tapped to reprise her Black Panther role in the currently filming Avengers: Infinity War (though the closeness in locations likely doesn't make for the biggest obstacle), Christian Serratos is pregnant with her first child, and Corey Hawkins is basically on perma-AWOL. No one is confirmed to be showing up less, of course, but as it goes with this show, rumors run wild in all directions at once.
The Walking Dead will return to AMC at some point in October, which is sadly still months and months away. In the meantime, check out our summer premiere schedule to see what else is hitting the small screen soon.