This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead: Dead City episode 6.
Dead City’s first season has wrapped, but the saga of Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) won’t end here for fans of The Walking Dead. Indeed, AMC announced during San Diego Comic-Con 2023 that the show had been renewed for a second season.
Maggie and Negan have grown to resemble one another more over time, with Maggie’s slide into “any means necessary” violence countering Negan’s attempts at redemption in whatever form he can get it. This season saw all of their old animosities dragged back into the light but also showed what “a badass team” they can be when working together.
The final episode resolved surprisingly few of the plot elements established in the first episode and instead opted to set up future developments. When we leave Maggie and her son Hershel, their relationship is strained as the slippery moral slope Maggie has been sliding down for years seems to be catching up with her. Similarly, Negan is offered a return to his old ways, and it’s not entirely clear what path he’s going to choose to follow. Is Dead City setting up another heel turn for Negan? Let’s look at the facts.
Negan’s Unclear Path at the End of The Walking Dead
As of the finale of the original TV series of The Walking Dead, Negan was looking pretty good in regard to his Xena-level redemption arc. After brutally murdering Glenn and Abraham, indirectly causing Sasha’s death, and nearly breaking Rick Grimes as a person back in the middle seasons of the show, he hit rock bottom in the Alexandria jail cell and slowly started to rebuild from the ground up.
By the finale, he had made at least one seriously heroic sacrifice and had been backed up by a community of people who had no reason to save him but chose to anyway. He and Maggie didn’t exactly resolve their differences, but they had a sincere heart-to-heart where they seemed ready to move on. Negan was off with his wife Annie, pregnant with their child, and Maggie was working toward a better future with her son.
The Walking Dead: Dead City Was a Fresh Start for Negan
Dead City wasted no time in shaking up that status quo as it immediately informed us that Negan fully abandoned his wife and child sometime after the finale. This is a heel turn in itself for someone who spent much of the final season of The Walking Dead telling us how much they matter to him, but, as always with Negan, this decision was not without its own complexity. He seems to sincerely believe they’ll be better off without him, yet has taken a young girl named Ginny (Mahina Napoleon) under his care.
Ginny believes that Negan is a good person and someone that she can depend on, and follows him all the way to NYC. She is deeply disappointed when he admits to killing her father, referring to her as a “debt” that had to be paid. Still, it’s hard to tell how honest Negan is being, as so much of this season has seen him intentionally distancing himself from those that care about him.
Although he tries to do the right thing at times, the genuine horror show of his past is never far away. Multiple times in this season, he’s gone nearly over the edge when it comes to doing what he feels he must, seldom trying to find a better way and instead resorting to hyperviolence at the first invitation. This is driven home only further by the appearance of The Croat, (Zeljko Ivanek) a sadist from his days of leading the Saviors that took things a bit too far even for them when he tortured and gutted a young girl, not totally dissimilar to Negan’s ward Ginny.
Maggie and The Croat Make Negan’s Past Inescapable
Maggie and The Croat are dissimilar at the surface, but they both share the ability to directly tie Negan back to the most horrific things he’s ever been involved in. While Maggie, as Glenn Rhee’s widow, is a daily reminder of his absolute worst self, The Croat represents a strange nostalgia for the monster of a man we met back in the original series’ season 6 finale. Each of them had their lives changed by Negan in starkly different ways, but in a strange way, that past self he’s trying to forget is hugely responsible for who they are today.
Maggie somewhat unsurprisingly betrays Negan, revealing that her true intention was not to save her son with Negan but rather to give them Negan and leave with her son. This leads to a highly entertaining fight between the two, but also a moment of deeply felt understanding from Negan as he notes that regardless of what he does Maggie will never get over what he did before sadly admitting, “And you shouldn’t.”
To make matters worse, Negan doesn’t always seem ready to let go of his past, either. Ostensibly working on the side of angels, he still committed the majority of the most viscerally upsetting on-screen murders that occurred throughout this season. When The Croat describes a memory in which Negan saw his capacity of violence and harnessed it to crush a man into a bloody pulp, he asks, “Wasn’t it beautiful?” to which Negan somewhat mournfully replies, “It was.”
There’s More Than One Negan
Negan is at his best when his many seemingly disparate selves work in tandem so that you can see how none of them are totally detached from one another. The Croat’s reverence of him is directly rooted in Negan’s past as a charismatic gym teacher, harnessing teen angst and aggression into sports. Though the venue changed and got significantly bloodier, the Saviors were a fairly logical continuation of that element of his persona. The man who struggled to save his wife Lucille was also the one who cheated on her before the apocalypse, as well as the one that named a baseball bat after her that he used to commit severe violence with once she was gone. It’s this complexity that draws us in, but it always comes with a cost.
Since Alexandria, Negan has been working to better himself, but a part of that has been to avoid using his natural, cult leader charm for evil. When Ginny seems to idolize him so much that she puts herself in danger for him, he disillusions her despite the sorrow it causes him to do so. If nothing else, the finale told us that Maggie isn’t the only person who has issues with letting Negan off the hook for his prior crimes. His acts of violence seem to wear on him more than ever before, even if he still seems unable to fully let that part of himself go.
With Negan already at a(nother) moral event horizon, perhaps the worst thing that could have happened is an offer to let go of the struggle and give in to the dark side. Unfortunately for us, that’s exactly what happens in the finale as the shady behind-the-scenes figure of the season, The Dama (Lisa Emery), uses her temporary power over him to offer a position of authority running “the island” for her. Using Hershel’s safety as a leverage point against Negan while implying that the threat to Maggie has much still to fear from those that she traded Negan to in NYC, this feels like it’s only the beginning of a new story for Negan, and Maggie, too. Whether he’ll be working on the side of the angels or the devils isn’t totally sure, but in classic Negan form, it’s likely to be a bit of both.
All six episodes of The Walking Dead: Dead City are available to stream on AMC+ now.