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Spoilers below for The Walking Dead's latest episode, as well as some comic elements.
Negan and Rick's last communication on The Walking Dead was previously their domicile-set brawl in the shocking midseason finale, which occurred not long before Rick learned that Carl was dying. They reconnected in "The Lost and the Plunderers" after Rick and Michonne's grief-filled voyage into and beyond Jadis' junkyard -- more on that here -- and Rick was very, very explicit in declaring he would kill Negan, who continued earning Rick's ire during their radio conversation. But should audiences believe Rick lied to Carl about upholding his wishes for peace and harmony, or will Rick's threats end up unfulfilled?
Let's look at the argument from both sides, delving into the pros and cons. At least the ones we're currently aware of, since The Walking Dead could feasibly soon reveal that Negan actually holds the cure for the walker virus within his DNA, making his survival more necessary than anyone else's. I mean, that won't happen, but it could. Anyway, let's first envision a brighter future for the leather-bound foe.
Rick Will Let Negan Live
In the source material, Robert Kirkman made the massive and fantastic decision to not make Negan familiar with the business end of Rick's hatchet and/or gun at the All Out War's end, which preceded a pretty huge time jump. Without getting deep into spoilers, suffice to say a very different living situation arises for the protagonists' communities in the future, where Negan continued down one of the comic's most entertaining narrative paths. The TV show likely won't play things out exactly as they happened on the page, but having Jeffrey Dean Morgan around as a foul-mouthed behemoth is always an advantage in my book, and there are many different ways to keep him around. Whatever happens, the final moments from "Honor," in which Rick is weakened and bloodied against that tree, will almost definitely become important.
Not long before Carl's death, Rick gave the teen his word that he would find a way to coexist with the Saviors without killing all of them. And those intentions were visited once more when Rick read through the letters that Carl wrote to him and Negan, in which he pleaded for both men to agree to end the prolonged suffering. (That hasn't technically been going on that long, but still probably feels like a lifetime.) Only Michonne can rightfully give Rick any spiteful flak about breaking his promise and extending his revenge mission against the Saviors, and her influence might be enough to convince him to backtrack on these most recently growled death threats.
If nothing else, Negan might have subtly earned his survival by expressing genuine sympathy and pain upon hearing of Carl's death. (He'd just complimented Carl earlier in the episode by saying he was "built for" war games, too.) Negan actually looked close to tears when offering those mostly ignored condolences, and it was strangely almost as touching as Jeffrey Dean Morgan's tribute to Chandler Riggs, though not quite. In his rage, though, Rick may end up coming back to Negan's sorrowful reaction to Carl's death so that he may muster up the mercy required to stop himself from killing the Saviors' leader. Obviously we mean the first chunk of that conversation, and not the part where Negan chastises Rick for being not being around to save Carl from doing something stupid. That part won't save Negan from anything.
Rick Will Kill Negan
Let's put it out there right now that if Negan does end up dying before The Walking Dead Season 8 has aired its final end credits sequence, it most certainly better be Rick doing the murdering. (Or Maggie, if Rick can't do it, but no other circumstances will be welcomed.) Even if he doesn't shoulder all of the blame, Negan has earned himself several one-way tickets to a damnation-filled afterlife, should such a thing exist in this world. So to keep Negan alive beyond this point of the show's run would be a gigantic punch in the throat to everyone who experienced trauma over Negan's actions, which is basically every other breathing character. (Including the Saviors.) Plus, he lit Rick's fuse anew, and we all know Negan will be acting irrationally impulsive after dealing with Simon's misbehavior and finding out about Gavin's death.
Part of the reason why Negan's post-war life was so interesting in the comics is because the time jump completely shifted the dynamics and placed all the characters within completely different contexts. (Not to mention the introduction of the new villains.) It's not clear just yet if the TV show will even bring the time jump to life, either in a faithful way or in a modified manner, but I'd wager Negan's survival wouldn't feel quite as imperative or impactful in live-action if the current timeline remains fully intact going into Season 9.
Speaking of Season 9, another potential reason why Negan may be doomed lies in the big showrunner change that'll officially happen after Season 8 concludes, when longtime writer Angela Kang takes the place of Scott Gimple, who is moving up in the franchise's management. Negan isn't exactly the most endearing villain for a female showrunner, and while Jeffrey Dean Morgan has his mega-fans, the audience response to Negan's presence has remained pretty divided for multiple reasons, despite his overwhelming popularity in the comics. Cutting ties with the dastardly villain -- or shooting those ties or blowing them to smithereens -- might be the preferred route from The Walking Dead's refreshed creative perspective. And it would give Rick some sense of justice, be it the old kind or something less violent.
The Walking Dead will continue to tease audiences with where the All Out War is going, so be sure to tune in every Sunday night on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET. Check out what we learned from Steven Ogg about what's coming soon, as well as someone Simon could be keen on, and then head to our midseason premiere schedule to plan your future evenings.