Major spoilers below for the entirety of The Walking Dead's comic book storyline.
After 16 years as one of the comic book industry's most dependable titles, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's The Walking Dead is now a done deal, with issue #193 serving as the series' swan song. And what an ending it was, particularly for Carl Grimes and the legacy of his father Rick. The issue also added a subtle punctuation mark to Negan's story that could hint at the character's TV future.
Let's set the mood with some table settings first, for those whose memories may be a tad rusty.
What Happened To Negan Before The Final Walking Dead Comic Issue?
Though the Walking Dead comic book and TV show were largely on the same page with Negan's incarceration story through most of Season 9, the AMC drama went off the grid with its snow-covered finale by having the leather-clad villain save Judith and Dog from freezing. In Comic-World, Negan only got out of his jail cell by escaping, thanks to a random dum-dum (Brandon Rose) looking to tip the Whisperers off about Rick's next moves.
Instead of doing that his rescue wished, Negan murdered Brandon and set about antagonizing Alpha and her Whisperers in his own Negan-esque ways. I'm not going to spoil the massive way that situation concludes, just in case the TV show heads down the same path, but suffice to say, Negan made the best case yet for his own redemption story.
Eventually, after the Whisperers are seemingly defeated, Rick agreed to let Negan live out on his own as a free man, but away from the inner walls of Alexandria and the other communities. As Rick, Eugene and others headed to Ohio to meet up with Stephanie and the Commonwealth community, Negan struck out on his own to return to the neighborhood where he buried his wife Lucille, for whom his deadly baseball bat was named.
At this point, Negan's journey was tracked by Dante, Maggie's first post-Glenn beau, who watched Negan bawl his eyes out at his late wife's grave. (Lucille had been hospitalized and succumbed to cancer during the onset of the zombie apocalypse.) It gets to the point where Negan can't even face walkers properly, and he decides he needs to replace his beloved bat Lucille, which got broken during his Whisperers ordeal.
It's at this point where Maggie returns to Negan's life with nothing but vengeance on her mind, and he would have completely understood if she'd taken his new Lucille and clubbed him with it. In fact, he tries to convince her to use her gun to put him out of his misery, but she finds a distinct contentedness with letting him live to wallow in his guilt and regrets now that he was sorry for his actions.
That was apparently just the confrontation that Negan needed, for he soon reversed judgment on his Lucille "resurrection" and threw his new bat into a fire. With an attitude that implied he was now able to completely move on from everything in his past – from killing his wife-as-a-walker to murdering Glenn to burning Dwight to everything in between – Negan headed off into the metaphorical sunset (though it was night) in issue #174.
From that point on, fans were left to wonder what happened to Negan for another 19 months and issues
What Happened To Negan In The Walking Dead's Final Comic Issue?
Robert Kirkman purposefully shocked the hell out of a lot of fans by suddenly (to everyone but his comic team) ending The Walking Dead with issue #193. What he did not do, however, was set fans up with big expectations for Negan's return. Rather, Kirkman has been surprisingly blatant with fans in the Letter Hacks section of Walking Dead issues, saying multiple times that Negan wouldn't be seen again. (He did facetiously imply in #192 that Negan would be the focus of the series following Rick's death.)
Indeed, the entirety of issue #193, which takes place years into the timeline's future, goes by without Negan making a big impact, though that doesn't mean Robert Kirkman skimped out on an update. Basically, Negan appears to be living off by himself, and seemingly in the same house where he was last seen begging Maggie to kill him. (The front door and window look the same, and there's a grave for Lucille beside a nearby tree.)
The final Walking Dead story focuses on Carl Grimes as fully grown adult who got in legitimate trouble for killing a "roamer" years after the central zombie threat had been eradicated. (Grown-up Hershel, the son of President Maggie, has a weirdo traveling sideshow with walkers as his entertainment.) Carl, married to Sofia and father to a young girl named Andrea, briefly goes on the run to bring supplies to those in the surrounding areas, including Jesus, Aaron and Eugene, with the latter on the cusp of getting the country's railroad system back up and running.
With former lover Lydia helping out, Carl also makes a pit stop in Springhaven, and though Negan's name doesn't get mentioned, it's clear that's whose abode they're at. Lydia notes that he's "never there," meaning the protagonists are clearly keeping an eye on him. Though perhaps it's not on a full-time basis, as Carl points out that the supplies that are left at the house are getting used, even if nobody sees Negan doing anything.
Carl mentions that whoever the someone is that's staying in the area – could it possibly be anyone but Negan? – is probably hiding from them. Lydia agrees there are reasons why that might be the case, making me wonder if Negan had another falling out with people after Maggie spared his life, or if everyone still viewed him as a monster for his reign as the Saviors' leader.
It's clear that people still do talk about Negan, though Carl implies that the villain has become something of a myth for the many who weren't physically present during the All Out War and the lead-up to it. It grounds Carl in reality to talk to those who knew Negan, though he apparently doesn't see the man himself with any regularity.
In the end, after the central roamer-killing case is dismissed by Judge Michonne Hawthorne, Carl sits with young Andrea and reads to her from a book written all about Rick and the way he helped to reshape civilization before his untimely death. Here, it's revealed that everyone refers to the zombie-ruled era as The Trials, and as Carl talks about people's survival instinct distorting their beliefs about "good" and "bad," comic readers got one last look at Negan as he placed flowers on top of (assumedly) Lucille's grave.
So while Robert Kirkman largely kept to his word about Negan not showing up in The Walking Dead's pages again, he thankfully did leave enough breadcrumbs for readers to figure out that Negan is still alive and shit-kicking with the best of them. It's a shame for anyone who was hoping to see him get killed off in an extravagant way, but it probably bodes well for Jeffrey Dean Morgan's role on the TV show.
While it'll still take probably take the rest of the summer to get used to The Walking Dead comics now being completely finished, fans can look forward to many more seasons form the TV series. Get set for Season 10 of the AMC drama to hit primetime this October, and keep watching Fear the Walking Dead to see how it will continue introducing crossover elements.