Spoilers below for the latest episode of The Walking Dead, so be warned!

Ever since it was first announced that Lauren Cohan would return to The Walking Dead to close out the series as Maggie Rhee, fans were fully aware an eventual confrontation would happen between Maggie and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s villain-in-reform Negan. I can’t imagine anyone thought it would take nearly the entire first third of Season 11 for it to happen, however, nor that it would be a fairly calm exchange without blood being shed or voices being raised or any other major signs of emotional anguish. (I guess last week’s episode had enough of those.)

As it often goes with big moments on The Walking Dead, I came out of Maggie and Negan’s big talk with a two-handed perspective. On one hand, I can understand the practicality behind how and why everything played out as it did, and that was helped along by Angela Kang’s post-episode commentary. Hard to tease fans with the idea of a Negan spinoff if Maggie is wearing the fan-favorite badass‘ head as a necklace. But then on the other hand, I’m left feeling a little underwhelmed by the whole thing, at least with how things were left off at the end of “Promises Broken” going into next week’s fall finale. So let’s break things down a little, similar to how Maggie should have broken down Negan’s face a little.

maggie talking to negan on the walking dead season 11

(Image credit: AMC)

Why Maggie And Negan’s Big Talk Was Disappointing

I can’t sit here and act as if I have this massive, multi-layered treatise to deliver here, not that anyone reading this would have expected (or wanted) that. Rather, this area of my one-sided argument is sourced completely from a gut impulse to balance the scales of post-apocalyptic justice with an Old Testament fury. Because we’re dealing with fictional characters here, and because the death at the center of Negan and Maggie’s friction was so over-the-top brutal, I feel perfectly comfortable rooting for Maggie to get her gruesome revenge in some way, shape, or form. And while it could still happen, her sit-down with Negan over a spit-roasted dinner seemingly threw a wet blanket on any Glenn-fueled fires still burning inside.

Surely, I understand that the years since Glenn’s murder have further changed Maggie as a survivor, and mothering Hershel also brought about huge fluctuations in her body chemistry. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s “protective” of Negan or anything, but she’s clearly lost the immediate urge to beat him with a bag of rocks. And yet I still held out hope for Maggie to lash out once Negan delivered the episode’s biggest whopper of a line after she asked if he would have done things differently on that fateful night when he first appeared:

Yeah, if I could do it all over again, I’da killed every single one of you.

Granted, Negan wasn’t all cranked up and rubbing it in Maggie’s face in saying it, so her reaction was more “tearful shock” than “neck-slicing rage.” But she should have been able to get there. Especially after the episode already had her making a promise to sate Negan’s paranoia and let bygones be bygones, and ALSO after she had to rely on his help so much when going into Whisperer mode. This entire season has been Maggie taking shit talk from Negan in front of others, followed by her visibly seeking Negan’s expertise for one thing or another, and that’s when he’s not leaving her to die. It’s one thing for her to avoid the act of killing him, but it’s bordering on insulting for her to constantly need him in any way.

I think if nothing else, everyone should come to the agreement that Maggie gets to knock one of Negan’s eyes out using a baseball bat, but that’s it. No further squelch-laden downswings. 

negan talking to maggie on the walking dead season 11

(Image credit: AMC)

Why Maggie And Negan’s Big Talk Was Effective Anyway

On the other hand, of course, Maggie and Negan’s various scenes throughout “Promises Broken” did take their shared presence to a new level, which no doubt needed to happen so that the characters could co-exist without Maggie’s non-rewardable animosity growing stale. Rather than basing Maggie’s subdued vengeance solely on Negan’s usefulness, showrunner Angela Kang and her writing team wisely allowed Negan to once again offer up insight into what his life was like as the Saviors’ leader, casting further shadow on the concept of “good guys” and “bad guys” in a dying world.

For as important or powerful as it might have been for Negan to share his thoughts with, say, Lydia or Gabriel, those thoughts were colored completely differently as shared with Maggie. He put himself in a position of sympathy-deserving leader whose community of survivors was struck with tragedy after Rick and Team Family attacked the Saviors’ satellite outpost, which is a weird if authentic road to take with someone whose husband he slaughtered as payback for that attack. But he obviously had a point, since many fans of The Walking Dead likely thought of those Saviors as “future victims” as soon as they were brought up, without a thought going to what those characters’ lives were like. And judging from Lauren Cohan’s performance, I can easily believe that Maggie never actually looked at it from that angle before.

And for as much as it sucked to watch Negan take pleasure in his Whisperer-aping superiority, as well as to watch him share his regrets over not murdering Maggie and all of her friends, there wasn’t any malice behind his actions. With the first, he was able to return to his gym teacher roots in offering advice and praise as during Maggie’s tutorial session, and with the second, Negan convinced her that while he’s not completely shunning the monster he used to be, he’s not that same guy anymore. Granted, he might be just as strategic and practical and situationally ruthless, but he’s different in other ways.

While offering some behind-the-scenes tidbits about some of the episode’s bigger moments, showrunner Angela Kang touched upon the Maggie and Negan of it all, fully believing that Negan knows he messed up in not killing everyone else beyond Glenn and Abraham. (She does note that it’s a “very, very dark position,” just in case anyone thought she was cackling with laughter while talking about it.) Over a montage of the show’s former villains — from Shane to The Governor to Gareth and beyond — here’s how she explained the show’s consistent attempts to color the many antagonists with a bit of humanity. 

One of the things that we always try and remember on the show is that with any villain, there is still a humanity there. There’s still a person at the bottom of it all. It can be a very, very evil person, but there’s still a person, and they’re connected to other people who, for whatever reason, have decided that this is the best path to go down.

So while I’m not going to be pleased as punch if Maggie is letting Negan braid her hair and shit in the Walking Dead‘s fall finale next Sunday, I’ll be slightly less bothered when the episode doesn’t end with Maggie using Negan’s groin as a golf tee. Be sure to tune in for the final ep of Season 11’s three-part run when it airs on AMC on Sunday, October 10, at 9:00 p.m. ET. And then check out all the other big shows coming to primetime with our 2021 Fall TV schedule.

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