An incarcerated Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and young Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming) will share more "very interesting" scenes together as The Walking Dead Season Nine continues to unfold, says showrunner Angela Kang.
"We're really interested in telling a very different story for Negan, since we're dealing with a different kind of passage of time than we saw in the comics. We thought hard about how prison might affect this character, and the confinement that he's had, and the limited access he's had to the community and the world beyond," Kang told THR.
"It's a big part of his story, going forward: exploring Negan and where he's at in his journey in things, and the kinds of complex relationships he has with the various people in Alexandria — including this sort of secret relationship he has with Judith."
Judith inherits that relationship from late half-brother Carl (Chandler Riggs), whose comic book counterpart would sneak away to Negan's cell for infrequent talks with the mellowed villain.
"We all internally [in the writers' room] love the relationship between Negan and Carl in the comic book," Kang added.
"This gave us an opportunity to tell a very different sort of story, because Judith is a different kind of child than Carl. It's really fun to put those two together. They get to have some very interesting scenes together this season."
Aspects of Carl's comic book storylines will also play out with Henry (Matt Lintz), now a teenager after the six-year time skip, while Judith emerges as her own fully-realized character — even as she dons her late brother's oversized sheriff's hat and his accompanying place in the story.
"With Judith, she bears certain similarities to Carl. She's also very much her own character as well," Kang shared with EW.
"She's really spunky. She's funny. She is an apocalypse native. That makes things a little different than a kid who remembers life before the apocalypse. What's exciting about it is we get to have that feel of the Grimes kid who's 10 years old, like we have in the comics, but we've really been enjoying finding Judith's unique version of what that story is because she, again, has a very different background than Carl."
In picking and choosing parts of Carl's story and having those significant comic book beats play out on screen, a new element exclusive to the television show has been introduced: Jude's younger brother, R.J. Grimes.
Judith is also having to navigate a world with a "dead" — but actually missing — Rick Grimes, acting as a reversal of the comic books: there Judith had died alongside her mother, Lori, who both perished when the villainous Governor attacked the group's newfound prison home.
Judith could also take on one of her father's comic book storylines and go on to play an important role in Negan's potential redemption, which Morgan believes is possible for the villain after almost eight years of solitary confinement.
"50 percent of the people are ready for Negan to meet a grisly end, and the other 50 percent are liking Negan and want to see, certainly, what else can happen there," Morgan said on The Rich Eisen Show.
"I think they're hoping for some redemption. And in the comic book, there is a slight amount of redemption. I don't know how we'll follow that story and if we will, because we do switch it up from the comic book to keep people that are fans of the comic interested in the show. But it's certainly been an interesting year playing the different sides and finding new shades of Negan, and I very much have enjoyed that."
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.