Season 8 of The Walking Dead is off to a bloody good start, which is of course in stark contrast to last season...and to be honest, a few other seasons before that. Detours, navel-gazing storylines and yes, devastating deaths of fan favorites made several viewers of AMC's hit run for the exits as if walkers were nipping at their heels. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the best example of TWD's long, quasi-fulfilling tease: This season marks the third that the villain's presence is a dominant theme. And as exciting as the All-Out War promises to be, there's only so much of seeing Negan prance about in that hot ass leather jacket viewers can take before he becomes a joke. Whatever top secret turns The Walking Dead has planned for Negan, there's one nuclear option the show could employ to keep things fresh: kill him.
Yes, yes, this sounds insane. Negan gives Rick (Andrew Lincoln) — and the series — an archetypical, Goliath-sized villain. He's repugnant and charming, and Morgan portrays him with a mesmerizing, car-crash kind of allure that would leave a big hole in the show if he left. Most saliently, Negan does not die in this war according to the source material, but instead remains a tack in Rick's shoe for a very, very long time.
In the comics, Negan remains imprisoned after being captured, and his confinement involves a meandering, mind-trip of a relationship with Rick's son Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Rick himself. Negan doesn't even try to escape jail, which would certainly make for more riveting television than simply seeing the bastard get three square meals and philosophical lectures like in the books. Sliding ratings aside, The Walking Dead's producers know that even loyal viewers have found it exhausting at times; keeping its once-terrifying bad guy in a cage for 16-plus episodes does not seem like a reward for their continued patience.
And the show has proven time and time again that when it reroutes the course set by comic book creator Robert Kirkman, it pays off. That romance between Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira)? Not a thing in the comics; Rick goes for Andrea and Michonne only dates black guys. Daryl (Norman Reedus)? He never appeared in the comics either, but he's become as closely linked to the identity of the series as his brother-in-arms Rick. And as awkward as the rollout was, Rick and Michonne's ship puts some familial warmth at the center of the series (which didn't exist when Rick's wife was alive). None of these breaks from the original story have hindered the series in the slightest. Instead, these and other diversions optimized the comics' sprawling, unpredictable style for TV, where viewers need a sense of momentum that actually advances character growth.
Killing Negan — after an appropriately lengthy battle that costs some longtime characters (my money's on Gabriel, for starters) and almost destroys Rick — would once again make Rick the hero of a story that, for the past few seasons, has ran off without him. Reawakened to his own power in Season 8, Rick has united colonies and literally brought war to Negan's doorstep, and war has only one sensible outcome (on TV anyway): Somebody's got to win and somebody's got to lose. Does anyone really want to see Rick lose for yet another season?
The big question looming over this now-aging show is how Rick, Michonne, Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Daryl, Carol (Melissa McBride), Carl, Morgan (Lennie James) and whoever else producers don't kill can create some kind of functional, peaceful civilization and how many cool ways they can squish zombies in the process. There is speculation that this season's flash forwards, which point to a calmer, safer world, may show Rick and his tribe at this point, but that's a world that'll be much more enjoyable to see without the leather-clad gimp being held captive. Aren't hordes of persistent undead creatures threatening to eat people alive enough of an obstacle?
Without its over-the-top boogeyman going forward, The Walking Dead might be ideally positioned to explore what it means to be civil at a time of imminent, persistent crisis (the 2017 zeitgeist a vastly different landscape than 2010, when The Walking Dead premiered) , while expanding its universe and viewers' understanding of the people in it. As the season progresses, there may be — rather, should be — more time spent among the women of the fascinating, rightfully ticked-off Oceanside community but and that's just one of the yarns TWD can unspool in a Negan-free future. There are hints, via the flash-forward/dreamscape Rick has been seen in, that the equally irksome Whisperers could arrive this season too, and they're certainly enough of a problem on their own.
TWD has set up the ultimate showdown between good and evil, and there is only one satisfying way to end that type of story. Negan should die in this war; the only question is how, and who should do it. Rick is the obvious choice, but how about Maggie (Lauren Cohan)? She's endured all type of trauma and nonsense from men including Negan and Gregory (Xander Berkeley) but she nevertheless persisted. She certainly deserves to get sweet revenge.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 9/87c on AMC.