This Walking Dead article contains spoilers.
Now that Maggie’s in charge, Negan’s time is almost up. That much is clear to the man who’s been in villain rehabilitation for the past two seasons when he’s drafted to join a group of Alexandrians on a mission to recover the food and supplies the settlement desperately needs after the war with the Whisperers. The journey back to Maggie’s old settlement involves navigating the dark, walker-infested subway tunnels of a city that Negan knows well, but that’s not the only reason he’s been chosen for the mission.
While Maggie will do anything to protect the rest of her people, Negan knows this is a one-way trip for him. He knows that once he’s served his purpose, Maggie plans to kill him…or better yet, leave him for the walkers to feast on. And when he confronts her about it, Maggie doesn’t deny it. But as we learned in “Here’s Negan,” the former Savior leader isn’t going to go down without a fight. And when he’s finally presented with the opportunity to save his own hide in “Acheron: Part I,” the season 11 premiere, he takes it.
A cliffhanger ending was expected, but not one that left Maggie’s fate up in the air so soon after her return to the show. Trapped on all sides and pursued by a hungry walker horde, the group has nowhere left to go but up. A train is blocking the way forward and the only chance of escape before they all become dinner is to climb over and into one of the train cars.
This is the perfect setup for the final moment of the episode, as Negan looks down at Maggie, who’s hanging on for her life after a walker gets a hold of her leg on her way up the ladder of the train car. Negan could save her, but it’s unlikely Maggie would do the same for him. (Mind you, if we’re talking Walking Dead justice, Maggie is well within her right to leave him for dead.) Sure, he could perform this good deed in the hope of earning himself more time, but that hasn’t worked in the past. No matter what he does for Alexandria or who he saves, Negan can’t escape his past crimes. His fate is sealed, at least as far as Maggie is concerned. And since she’s the leader now, well…
So Negan does what any survivor would do: he refuses to help Maggie up to the top of the car, leaving her to die. In his mind, he’s killing the executioner before she can put the noose around his neck. While his decision isn’t unexpected, it’s still shocking to watch Maggie’s hand slip before the screen cuts to black. We assume she’s fallen onto the crowd of walkers and to her death, but is that what’s really happened?
Personally, I think showrunner Angela Kang has pulled a classic Walking Dead fake-out, one that’s very reminiscent to the show’s most infamous misdirection of all: the “death” of Glenn Rhee in season 6. If you were watching the show on a weekly basis back in 2016, you likely remember how Glenn’s fall onto a horde of walkers who proceed to tear open his insides and eat his guts broke the fandom. For weeks, then-showrunner Scott Gimple and actor Steven Yeun pretended that Glenn was really dead until it was revealed that all wasn’t as it seemed. The walkers had actually torn open another character who’d landed on top of Glenn, which gave the fan-favorite just enough time crawl past the horde and hide under a dumpster, escaping a gruesome death that would eventually catch up with him in season 7.
While Maggie’s situation isn’t exactly the same — Nicholas’ corpse isn’t there to protect her from becoming lunch in this instance — she could cheat death in much the same way as her late husband by quickly rolling under the train car before the walkers overpower her. The episode even foreshadows this miraculous escape just minutes before Maggie’s fall: we see both Dog and Daryl crawl under the train, which means there’s definitely a way through. All Maggie needs to do is move fast enough to make it to the opening.
We spoke to Kang ahead of the premiere. She didn’t reveal Maggie’s ultimate fate but did take us through how the cliffhanger came about in the first place: “I think Negan’s interactions are really important. The funny thing is, that cliffhanger came about because, when Jim Barnes and I set about to write the episodes, we had so much material that we were like, ‘Oh, it’s actually, like maybe we can convince AMC to air this as a special, almost like a movie-ranked extended episode.’ But they’d already locked in all the airing dates and everything. So they’re like, ‘You’ve got to cut it in half.’ So we were like, ‘Oh, well, kind of the halfway point as we have it planned and written is that Maggie and Negan have this moment,’ because we felt that that was a mid point of that story, where things turned.
“Oddly, it wasn’t originally planned to be an end of episode cliffhanger. It was meant to be a middle of, long story, cliffhanger that goes right away into whatever happens next. But we just felt that it was really emblematic of how tense that relationship is. I think they’re true to how Negan feels about his position in this group, that he just decides to slowly back away in that moment.”
If Maggie does survive, what happens to Negan? Something tells me we’ll find out soon enough.
The Walking Dead season 11 airs on Sundays at 9 pm ET on AMC.