Alexandria chief Michonne (Danai Gurira) visits a casual Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who smugly awaits her visit in jail after taking advantage of an unsecured cell door that allowed his escape.
After finding the crumbling Sanctuary and learning he no longer has a place in the outside world, Negan has voluntarily returned to his cage — and Michonne demands answers.
"You know I was in your home? I could have waited there and bashed your head in when you walked through the door. Hell, I could have bashed in a lot of heads, but I didn't," Negan says with a grin.
"Because you knew you'd be a dead man if you tried," Michonne growls back. "You're an a—hole, not an idiot. No, I think you decided to take your shot out there, and out there spit you out, so you dragged your pathetic ass right back here."
She laughs. "That's it, isn't it?"
Negan says the world has changed, and he's changed, too. Michonne asks what he wants.
"If you're not gonna kill me, then maybe you can learn to trust me a little bit," he answers.
She laughs again.
"Wow. You choose self-preservation over revenge, and you think that earns you my trust? Wow. If spouting fresh bullsh-t counts as change, congratulations, Negan," Michonne says. "You are a new man."
"You're keeping me in here to remind everybody how merciful the great Rick Grimes was," Negan says, no longer smiling. "But I am telling you I can be so much more than that. I can help you."
She shuts him down. He probes again.
"You have a really good thing going for you here, but it is slipping through your fingers. And it is only a matter of time before you lose control of it completely."
Negan says he hears the Alexandria council's meetings through his window.
"All I'm saying is I know a thing or two about keeping people in line. I could be a sounding board for you. Leader to... former leader."
Michonne denies she's the leader, but Negan tells her she makes the decisions despite a charter she drafted intended to give power to the people.
She's had enough. "If this is why you came back," she claps back, "you should have stayed out there."
A similar scene played out in The Walking Dead #141, where Rick is surprised to find Negan lounging in his cell with an opened door.
"This is about building trust, Rick. This is the closest I could ever get to letting you fall back into my arms at some kind of office retreat," Negan says, earning a scoff from Rick.
"Someone didn't lock my cage. I could have walked the f— out. I didn't. Trust."
"You expect me to trust you?" asks a bewildered Rick.
Negan tells Rick he instead expects the hobbled Alexandria leader to be "suspicious as f—," checking the town for booby traps.
"How long have I been free? Did I knock a f—ing hole in the wall around this place? Did I mess with the wires in your basement so your home will burn down tonight with you in it?" Negan muses, mentioning other crude atrocities he could have committed but didn't.
He could easily attack and overpower Rick, who has an artificial arm and relies on a cane to walk. But he won't.
"I won't do that, though... and I didn't do all that other f—ing sh-t I just mentioned. Do I expect you to trust me?! Hell f—ing no. But when you f—ing find the f— out that I didn't f—ing do a f—ing thing while I was free... I f—ing expect you to recognize that... so we can begin to build trust between us."
Rick says plainly "that will never happen." Negan is genuinely surprised.
"Are you joking?" Rick says. "Your time here has improved your sense of humor."
"What? What did I do that was so bad? Keeping damn near seventy people alive despite the end of the f—ing world? Am I punished for the things I did to make that happen?" asks Negan.
"Are you saying you haven't done anything you regretted to keep your people alive? Nothing that would, from an outside perspective, make you look like an evil piece of sh-t?"
With that, Rick has had enough. He locks Negan's cage and leaves.
As he goes, Negan calls after him.
"But Rick... don't kid yourself into thinking you keep me locked up here as some kind of symbol of your mercy. We both know that's not true," he taunts.
"You know the real reason I'm here. I'm here because after everything you did... everything you lived through... I'm the only thing you can use to convince yourself you're a good person. After everything I did... you f—ing let me live! Me! Only the greatest person on Earth would do that! Rick Grimes is the greatest man who ever lived! He's the guy who's going to fix everything! He's the guy who's going to save the world! Because he's the most civilized of all of us!"
These scenes prove pivotal when Rick explains to lover Andrea the ousted Savior leader is being kept alive to show the communities there's "a better way" than killing, arguing Negan is a symbol representing a return to civilized order.
When the conflict with barbaric new enemies the Whisperers worsens, Rick is later forced to turn to a still-jailed Negan for advice while navigating turmoil from his community. Michonne and Negan are now poised for such an encounter as Negan seeks his redemption amid tensions with the Whisperers and the splintered communities.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
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