The Walking Dead returned this week with only its second episode in nearly a year, while Lauren Cohan’s Maggie also returned to the series as a full-time cast member (she also appeared briefly in Episode 16 of the tenth season last October). It’s Lauren Cohan’s first extended appearance since November 2018, but for Maggie, it’s her first time to interact with Daryl, Carol, and other Alexandrians and Hilltoppers in seven or eight years. It’s been so long that her and Glenn’s son, Hershel, is now seven or eight years old, and completely adorable.
The reason Lauren Cohan left the show was to pursue work on another series, but the reason that Maggie left Alexandria was to get away from Negan, the man who brutally murdered her husband and the father of her child. The last time we saw Maggie, back in 2018, her effort to kill Negan was interrupted by the events that led to Rick Grimes’ departure, but the desire to end his life had not faded. In fact, when Maggie returned, one of the first things she told Daryl was how she had explained to her son that the person who killed his father was a “bad man” who deserved to die.
Meanwhile, since Maggie left, Negan himself has been on an extended (and successful) redemption arc. He’s become close with Judith Grimes. He’s tolerated by Carol and Daryl. Carol even put her trust in Negan to kill Alpha, and Negan followed through. Alexandria has begrudgingly accepted him. Maggie, however, has not, which makes their first encounter a very awkward one. “Hey Maggie,” Negan says, before noting, “I didn’t escape if that’s what you’re thinking.” (Jeffrey Dean Morgan does a remarkable job here of being sympathetic while also maintaining the essence of Negan).
Maggie, for her part, seems almost too shocked to say anything. In quick succession, she looks surprised, hurt, and betrayed that Negan — the man who brutally killed her husband with a baseball bat — would have been let free. Negan looks at Maggie as though he completely understands why she would feel that way, although he’s at a loss to try and explain the last eight years to her. Maggie walks away, and all Negan can utter is an exasperated, “Well, sh*t.”
There’s one more moment in the episode in which Maggie and Negan’s paths cross. After discovering that The Hilltop had been destroyed, Maggie, Elijah, and Cole return to Alexandria, where Negan is among those rebuilding the community. When Maggie walks in, however, the way she struts among them, and the way that Negan shrinks away says only one thing: Maggie is back, and despite all the gains he might have made, Negan is the odd man out again.
Maggie is clearly uninterested in Negan, and Negan is probably eager to keep his distance. How can they possibly co-exist?
This issue wasn’t really dealt with in the comics, because while Negan was allowed to live, he was exiled from Alexandria, so Negan and Maggie did not have to co-exist in the source material. That is not likely a possibility here, because Negan and Maggie are expected to be the two anchors — along with Daryl and Carol — of the final season of The Walking Dead. They don’t have to like each other, but it’s clear that they will probably need to work together.
How? The easy (and perhaps lazy) answer is to simply give Negan an opportunity to earn Maggie’s trust by, for instance, rescuing Hershel from danger (as he has done with Judith), or by saving Maggie’s life. The more interesting approach, and the one that I hope the series takes, is a two-pronged strategy: First of all, Negan needs to explain to Maggie what motivated him to be the unmerciful, cruel Negan, Leader of the Saviors, and I expect that we will see that in the season’s final episode, “Here’s Negan,” which will explore Negan’s origins.
That’s only one side of the equation, however. Secondly and for Maggie to fully understand Negan and begrudgingly relate to him, we may need to learn that Maggie resorted to tactics that are similar to those of Negan in order to survive while she was out on her own. Where is Georgie? Why are the Reapers really coming for Maggie? Is it possible that Maggie (a hero in Alexandria) might have been a villain in someone else’s life? If the show can pull off that trick — make Maggie understand Negan’s motivations, which she may be able to understand, though not necessarily agree with — why Negan killed her husband. After that, maybe the two can co-exist together in the future.
Otherwise, it may just be another 29 episodes of Maggie and Negan tiptoeing around each other until someone finally deals with the tension by killing the other.