*Major spoilers below for The Walking Dead's Season 8 premiere. *
To open Season 8, The Walking Dead's highly anticipated premiere put into motion a multi-layered plan that Rick crafted in order to take down Negan and the Saviors once and for all. But fans were undoubtedly scratching their heads whenever Team Family had all the major villains in the crosshairs, with no protagonists making the effort to immediately put bullets in them. And according to showrunner Scott Gimple, there's a very good reason for Rick purposefully avoiding killing Negan in this first big attack.
Scott Gimple's words to THR seem to echo thoughts that we had as the season premiere aired, as far as what Rick's overarching goals are with his big plan. Having already gone to war with The Governor, not to mention all of the other larger-scale scrapes that he's gotten into with other groups, Rick knows that inciting massive violent acts is not the best way to keep the majority of his people alive. And there would be no bigger inciting moment for this war than Rick stopping by and blowing Negan's head off his shoulders without at least mentioning a more peaceful outcome for the different groups' members.
Now, it's not like Rick was interested in a completely bloodless revolution, as Team Family indeed took out quite a few of the Saviors' lookouts in order to bring the plan to life. And it couldn't have been easy for Rick to hear that one assface making threats about Carl and bringing up how Rick begged and cried in the past. As it often goes in The Walking Dead universe, though, the few are sometimes sacrificed to save the many. But in this case, the sacrificed few necessarily did not include Negan, for his murder would have likely just caused all of his underlings to immediately try and kill everyone from Alexandria, Hilltop, and The Kingdom. (Assuming Rick's crew wouldn't have just mowed them all down, of course.)
Let's not forget for all that Negan is a monster and a murderer, he doesn't actually wish for the deaths of everyone outside the Saviors' ranks. If all those other people were dead, then he couldn't take advantage of the unfair deal he's made with all the communities to provide The Sanctuary with food and supplies. It's quite a precarious position to be in for a post-apocalyptic villain, but before now, he's never had much reason to worry about any of those communities suddenly deciding to fight back.
Negan definitely doesn't know that Rick wants to keep him alive, since he likely viewed that Sanctuary-razing attack as one meant to end in his death. Hell, even Rick almost doubled back and went against his own intentions when he kept shooting at Negan crawling through the wreckage, and he only stopped when Father Gabriel reminded Rick that this plan was about more than just him. In that moment, and presumably more in the future, his mercy prevailed over his wrath. But everybody has a breaking point, right?
With lots more to come from the All Out War, The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET. Find out how to see a little more from the premiere that didn't show up on TV, and then check out all the premiere's funniest moments, some insight into Old Rick's weird flash-forwards, and how the show set itself up to survive without Rick leading everything. And then head to our fall TV premiere schedule to see what else is coming to primetime soon.