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The Walking Dead is currently in its tenth season, but one of the show’s scariest villains remains Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan. After making his introduction at the end of Season 6 and killing both Abraham and Glenn in the clearing in Season 7, Negan made an impression that fans didn’t soon forget. Recently, however, AMC president Sarah Barnett admitted that The Walking Dead lost viewers over Negan being “too hopeless” a villain. Here’s what she had to say:
In terms of the quality question, I think that with 10 seasons of television — something like ER or Grey’s Anatomy — shows go through spurts. We’ve done a lot of research on the response to it and we certainly have our own thoughts about it. It’s true to say that that season with Negan [a mega-villain played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan] became a little too hopeless for audiences. I think that there was creative intention behind it that was really smart and thoughtful, but I think it probably pushed people to a place where it was a lot to take at a time when maybe people just didn’t want to see that.
Sarah Barnett’s reveal helps to explain why Negan’s presence on The Walking Dead tapered off. While Negan was an incredibly popular character and loomed large for a while, the show did scale back on his storyline in Season 9. The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang even stated that “less was more” when it came to Negan, who went from murderer to prisoner.
AMC’s president knows that Negan proved too hopeless for audiences because of a “massive segmentation study” that revealed viewer preferences and that’s essentially what drove the creative trajectory for Negan in The Walking Dead. But, hey, at least the writers decided to keep Negan alive instead of killing him off.
And despite Negan’s storyline being scaled back in The Walking Dead, it doesn’t mean fans have seen the last of him. There’s always a possibility that Negan could get his own movie and, according to Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the idea has “been discussed.”
Speaking with The L.A. Times, Sarah Barnett was asked how the network avoids The Walking Dead fatigue, especially since the series has spawned two spinoffs and an upcoming theatrical film starring Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes, without turning away fans of non-zombie shows like Better Call Saul. The study that revealed viewers' feelings on Negan ultimately showed that they don’t mind watching different genres.
When we look at our study with our audiences, it doesn’t turn them off. They love The Walking Dead and they love Better Call Saul just as much. I don’t think fans of AMC discriminate between genre and non-genre in the ways that maybe critics do. ... I would challenge anyone to watch the last couple seasons of The Walking Dead and not say that that is remarkable storytelling that has a lot of complexity and depth and emotion to it that is real and earned, along with the horror aspects.
I think she’s right about fans not discriminating between genre and non-genre shows. Viewers can be passionate about The Walking Dead as much as they were about Breaking Bad without breaking a sweat. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, after all.
The Walking Dead Season 10 returns with new episodes on Sunday, February 23 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC. For more on what to watch, be sure to check out our 2020 midseason schedule to find out when every new and returning show will premiere.