‘The Walking Dead’ Showrunner Explains Why Negan Wasn’t In the Season 9 Premiere

After two-and-a-half seasons centered around the conflict with the Saviors and leader Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), The Walking Dead had the jailed Negan sit out its Season Nine premiere.

“The previous story, All Out War, was so Negan-driven, and I think when we enter this new chapter of the show, it’s a year and a half later, and the people are trying to move on,” showrunner Angela Kang said on Talking Dead Sunday.

“And so it’s like we’re trying to see the people in a world without Negan, except that Negan hangs over all the proceedings. There’s all these scenes where they don’t even say Negan, but it’s about Negan.”

Negan was almost Voldemort-like in his mentions, being described as “you-know-who” and being treated like the monster in the Alexandria basement.

The jailed villain will make his return in episode two, where he’ll have a sit-down with arch enemy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), who rubs 18 months of forward progress in Negan’s face by telling him the new world is thriving free of the dictator’s iron fist.

“We talked about it in the writers room, just this idea of, when a war ends — and then you have people who are soldiers in the war, generals — what happens when there’s no real transition? Because it’s an apocalypse,” Kang said previously on The Walking Dead Season Nine preview special.

“I think in a lot of ways, Rick goes down there and it’s part therapy and part gloating. They’re just trying to work their way through it. They both feel in some ways like dinosaurs after the war. As Rick is trying to figure out what’s the next step, what’s the next mission, Negan kind of needles him, but Rick needs to be able to justify, ‘This is why I kept you alive, it’s so that we can have a future.’”

Actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who joined the franchise in its Season Six finale, teased in Season Nine he acts opposite of actors he’s had little to no onscreen interaction with in past years. Those new dynamics will emerge as Negan gets a personality shift, heavily affected by his 18-month-plus prison sentence.

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“It’s gonna be Negan fighting some inner demons. I think being locked up doesn’t suit him very well, which I think is probably Rick and everyone’s plan to begin with,” Morgan told Variety during San Diego Comic-Con.

“And I think Negan is having to take a good long, hard look in the mirror and maybe not enjoying what he’s seeing, and certainly not enjoying jail very much. So we’re definitely going to see a different side to Negan this year.”