Did 'The Walking Dead' Just Kill Off Its New Villain?

The Walking Dead show AMC

This article contains spoilers -- and spoiler-ish theories -- about the most recent episode of The Walking Dead, "Same Boat."

Negan, the widely feared Savior kingpin, demander of supplies and basher of skulls, is dead. Already. Or maybe not.

Here's what we saw: Rick's crew, armed and ready to exterminate, victoriously emerges from the assault on a so-called Savior compound, and captures a man attempting to escape on Daryl's motorcycle. But then a splinter group of Savior survivors informs them via Walkie Talkie that they're holding Maggie and Carol hostage.

By episode's end, Maggie and Carol get the better of their captors and some men who arrive as backup. When Rick questions his hostage, the man announces that he is Negan. One .44 magnum round to the head later, and Rick thinks the mess has been cleaned up.

But has it?

Maggie The Walking Dead AMC

Let's take a step back. This is The Walking Dead, where looks are deceiving, and planted evidence can clue us into future reveals. Earlier in the episode, Carol, bound and under guard, exchanged words with one of her captors, a grisled chain-smoker with a tendency to talk too much, who let a significant clue slip: "We're all Negan." A sudden fit of smoker's cough prevented any further clarification.

This fits with the story told by the escapee who cops to being Negan. Rick asks him whether Negan was inside the compound or was one of the survivors offed by Carol and Maggie. "Both," says the hostage. Negan may be nothing more than a spooky sobriquet, adopted by the Saviors to frighten the innocents they terrorize. Or maybe Negan's a leader so diligent about protecting his own mystique that he orders his followers to fake the title and keep others guessing.

In any case, there's a good chance the man (or men) responsible for tormenting the Hilltop remains at large -- very much alive and, when he hears of how many casualties the Saviors have suffered of late, very inclined toward vengeance.

Rick and Michonne The Walking Dead AMC

Rick's decision to shoot a possible Negan impostor doesn't bode well. If he thinks that Negan and the Saviors are finished, not keeping his guard up may lead to problems if the facts aren't what they seem. While Rick himself has never glimpsed Negan, and therefore has no way to be sure he killed the right guy, there's one person among his party who has and could help confirm it: Jesus. If only someone would only ask him what this Negan fellow actually looks like...

If the Savior compound raided by our heroes proves to be a satellite office -- very likely, if there's to be any drama -- it's easy enough to believe that Jesus didn't know it. But he should know the general description of the figurehead he's spent the last several episodes warning everyone about.

We're bound to find out whether the true Negan survives in the weeks ahead. If the writers want to keep Rick and company in the dark for any longer they're going to need a good excuse why Jesus isn't giving out more useful information.

AMC The Walking Dead Carol and Maggie

It's a shame, too, that Carol and Maggie didn't have the time or inclination to press their overthrown captors for more information before eliminating them. There's no doubt that these Saviors were among the more highly regarded under Negan's command, and they probably knew something worth asking about.

Then again, it's clear this whole digression -- no matter how much I enjoy Alicia Witt and Jeananne Goossen cameos (and I enjoy them a lot) -- was cooked up simply to delay Negan's much-teased introduction another week. (I admit I was a little hasty in my prediction that Negan's bat-wielding revenge was imminent, but I maintain it's coming very, very soon.)

This would hardly be the first time The Walking Dead had manufactured a bit of drama for the sake of padding. And as digressions go, seeing the show's two strongest women kicking ass for 45 minutes was a good one. The inevitable has been prolonged once again -- but there will be no avoiding fate come the end of the sixth season.

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Calum Marsh is a freelance writer with a love of the undead and an eye toward the future. Follow him for more prognostication: @calummarsh.