Major spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched The Walking Dead's winter hiatus, "Evolution." Be sure to watch before reading what we learned from showrunner Angela Kang.
Its midseason finale brought the mysterious Whisperers to the forefront in a very deadly way, but The Walking Dead also quietly dropped a mini-bombshell by giving Negan his freedom again. Jeffrey Dean Morgan's smile was infectious as he realized he was no longer locked up, but what will happen next? Speaking with showrunner Angela Kang, I asked how Negan's TV escape will compare to how it played out in the comics, since Rick isn't around to be Negan's moral compass. She said:
I think because we've done different time jobs and we do have a different array of characters, that story of escape will play out in its own way unique to the show. But, you know, it is something that will tip off the start of a longer story for Negan as a whole.
Kinda sounds like we won't be spending a whole lot of time dealing with Negan's bed pan antics whenever The Walking Dead comes back, for better or worse. (Father Gabriel, if no one else, might be pleased.) Could this show's most confidently brutal villain actually be out and left to his own devices again? According to Angela Kang, we won't be waiting long to find out when Season 9 continues.
We'll see quite a bit of what happens in the first episode back after the break in airing. I think Jeffrey, as Negan, just does some really great work. And I know that he was really excited to be out of the cell, and so that was fun for us to see that, finally.
Comics fans may be able to read something deeper into everything Angela Kang said there when putting the show's events into context. When Negan's cell accidentally (or not) gets left unlocked in the source material, he chooses not to make a grand escape, instead wanting to prove to Rick & Co. that his rehabilitation was genuine. To his dismay, he would have been better off slinking away mischievously in the night.
A later comic issue provided Negan another chance to grasp freedom with his fingertips, which he gleefully took. To me, it sounds like Angela Kang might have been hinting that the TV show is skipping Negan's first comic escape altogether. The AMC series did give the former leader some humanity when he broke down and begged Maggie to kill him, so that could have been a quasi-stand-in for him trying to win Comic Rick's trust.
In the six years or so since that Maggie and Negan's confrontation, he had to have been planning all kinds of things to do if he was ever able to escape his cell. So I expect his story to eventually catch up with the Whisperers in a way similar to how Robert Kirkman originally plotted it. Still, I'm hoping Angela Kang and her creative team will explore Negan's post-War personality in interesting ways.
It's been almost surreal to have only seen The Walking Dead use Negan in such a limited fashion after he'd spent more than two full seasons raining shit on everyone else's lives. But Angela Kang did have a reason for that happening. Elsewhere in our conversation, she explained why Negan hasn't been around much so far in Season 9, saying this:
I just felt that for the, for the way that the particular story was going this season, that less was more, you know? Negan definitely has his moments to shine, and he's got more coming up, but it was a conscious decision, just from a storytelling perspective of wanting to show where everybody was at in the aftermath of that war. And it felt more powerful to kind of focus on the people who were not in the prison cell, while also giving us an insight into Negan.
Nobody keeps Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a corner! And the world may be his oyster when The Walking Dead returns to AMC from its midseason hiatus (on Sunday, February 10, 2019), depending on how effective those conversations with Judith have been for his psyche. While waiting to learn about Negan's next steps, check out what could be everyone's next big TV obsessions with our fall TV rundown and our midseason premiere schedule.