The Walking Dead Redeems Negan

Warning: this story contains spoilers for Sunday's "Faith" episode of The Walking Dead. "My mercy prevails over my wrath." Those were the words of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) when sparing Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to end all-out war against the Saviors, his mercy inspired by the death of son Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs). Because Rick's mercy prevailed over his wrath, Negan was there to save Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming), risking his life to rescue Rick and Michonne's (Danai Gurira) daughter in a deadly blizzard. While Carol (Melissa McBride) commuted his life sentence to help end the Whisperer War, Negan's near-decade behind bars helped realize the future Rick and Michonne wanted for Carl: "All of us working together for something bigger than all of us."

In the years since, Negan rescued Daryl (Norman Reedus) from the Whisperers, assassinated Alpha (Samantha Morton) to end the Whisperer War, and even formed a tense truce with Maggie (Lauren Cohan). Surprising them both, Negan earned Maggie's trust when he risked his life to save Hershel (Kien Michael Spiller), the son that Glenn (Steven Yeun) never lived to meet because Negan beat him to death with a barbwire-wrapped baseball bat.

The Walking Dead Recap: "Faith"

But Negan's greatest act of redemption came in Sunday's "Faith," which saw Negan forced to his knees under an iron-fisted Warden (Michael Weaver) at Alexandria. Now the Commonwealth's Outpost 22, Alexandria is again Negan's prison: Governor Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) ordered the community taken over and turned into a slave labor camp for the Commonwealth's "exiles."

As King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and prisoners Princess (Paola Lazaro), Kelly (Angel Theory), Magna (Nadia Hilker), and Tyler Davis (Cameron Roberts) plot a revolt, the Warden leans on Negan to give up the prisoner spearheading a rebellion. 

"The things that real leaders do? Most people just don't have the stomach for it. But the ones that do? They're the real threats," the Warden tells Negan. "There's a threat in my midst. And I believe it's one of your people."

Negan laughs it off. "My people?" Other than his pregnant wife Annie (Medina Senghore), Negan scoffs, "All those people, they hate my guts." Reunited with Annie, Negan assures her they're both going to live to meet their unborn child. "I have known men like him my whole life. Hell, I used to be him," Negan says of the Warden. His wife smirks back, "In that case, no wonder everyone hated you."

READ MORE The Walking Dead Names Variant Walkers What Happened to Luke on The Walking Dead? The Walking Dead Series Finale Episode Guide  

In a tense exchange with Ezekiel, Negan's reminded of his reign of terror and how it cost Ezekiel his ward Benjamin (Logan Miller), who was like a son to him.

"That was my family. You apologizing doesn't change anything. Not for me," Ezekiel tells him through gritted teeth. "Truth is, if this works out and we get out of here, you don't deserve a brand-new life. Damn sure don't deserve to be a father."

While it appears that Negan named Ezekiel to take the fall as the traitor, the Warden reveals that Negan admitted to spearheading a rebellion. As he did all those years ago with Abraham and Glenn, Negan is forced to his knees. To remind the prisoners of what happens when they forget their place, the Warden makes them watch Negan's execution by firing squad.

Kneeling, Negan is about to sacrifice himself to save his wife, his child, and his people. Even if they hate him. But when Negan smirks to die with a smile on his face, the Warden pulls Annie from the crowd of prisoners and forces her to her knees next to Negan. "There are no martyrs here."

"That wasn't our deal! Take me! Take me," Negan begs, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. The Warden orders the Commonwealth soldiers to fire on Negan and his pregnant wife, but Ezekiel steps out in front of the crowd to put himself between the couple and the executioners.

Ezekiel inspires the prisoners — Princess, Kelly, Magna, and Tyler among them — to put themselves in between the soldiers and Negan and Annie. "Shoot them all," the Warden orders.

"You don't have to do this," Ezekiel tells the soldiers who have yet to fire. "This world is broken, but we don't have to be." Together, Negan and Ezekiel inspire the uprising that reclaims Alexandria from the Commonwealth. The Warden is killed, and Negan and Annie live to fight another day. 

The Walking Dead Showrunner on Negan's Redemption

"Our characters are in these really difficult situations, and they have to have some trust and faith in each other and in whether things are going to work out. A lot of them have their faith tested in some kind of way in this episode," showrunner Angela Kang said on AMC+'s The Walking Dead: Episode Insider. "Negan is a character that we don't always have a lot of trust in and I think a lot of people don't have much faith in him. So, it's interesting to kind of make him a character at the center of this idea of, 'Can we have faith in each other?'"

Kang noted the parallels between the Warden and Negan, once the bat-swinging ruler of the Saviors.

"He understands it is to be that person who is ruling through fear and an iron fist. I think that Negan is living with a lot of guilt about the things he's done and — even when he acts like he doesn't care what people are saying to him or about him — he actually does care," Kang explained. "And this has to do a lot with Annie and the child that's on its way. He's thinking about what is his legacy, and does he want to be remembered as the guy that was a villain? Or is there another version of his story that can be told to whoever his child is?"

Follow @CameronBonomolo and @NewsOfTheDead on Twitter for TWD Universe coverage all season long. New episodes of The Walking Dead's final season premiere Sundays on AMC and AMC+.