This article contains spoilers -- and spoiler-ish theories -- for Season 6 of The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead wrapped its sixth season with a last-second point-of-view cliffhanger that will be the subject of debate and discussion until the show returns later this year. But there's more to wonder about than Negan’s unlucky first victim. Fates hang in the balance. Allies loom on the horizon. War is definitely coming.
Here’s where we stand -- and clues about where The Walking Dead can go -- as we head toward Season 7:
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“As long as it’s all of us,” Rick consoled Maggie as they drove toward the Hilltop in the Season 6 finale, “we can do anything.” We believed that: the core group has been together now for so long, and endured so much over the years, that nothing, dead or alive, is too much for them to handle. The Saviors prove that the group may not be as strong as its leaders think. Overconfidence in their abilities got Rick and the others into this mess in the first place -- had they been a little more cautious, a little more concerned with their preparedness, they might not have started this war so hastily. Going forward, you can bet our heroes will be humbled. Michonne was already cautioned; now at Rick's side, the sword-wielding survivor should exert a calming influence and keep him from acting rashly (again).
Gabriel will become an even bigger badass
Negan wisely pounced on Rick and Co. when they left home and hit the road. But back in Alexandria, things are under control. Thank Father Gabriel. The suicidal milquetoast recently learned to accept the ways of the new world, embracing his violent side in a bid to rally his parish during the mid-season premiere. Now he’s a full-blown warrior, vowing to protect baby Judith and lead the town in Rick’s absence. We left him last night standing atop an Alexandrian watchtower, rifle in hand, looking totally badass. There’s a good chance that the newly weaponized Gabriel will play a big part in the defense of the city going forward. Gabriel's newfound strength could even curdle into surprise villainy -- though so far, his loyalty to Rick and the others seems steadfast.
Maggie will become a key leader
Assuming poor Maggie isn’t the one who got her head caved in by Negan’s wrathful bat, and assuming she’s whisked to the Hilltop for medical care, everyone’s favorite farm girl will have a major role in season seven. Her pregnancy will change the dynamic of the group, even more so under the reign of the Saviors. And as Rick predicted several weeks ago, Maggie has leadership skills that can be put to better use -- expect her to become the face of Alexandrian diplomacy going forward.
Carol will return (with a vengeance?)
What about Carol? She had a rough go of things last night: not only has she given up on living among friends and family (a way of life she says makes her too violently protective), the tortured widow ran afoul of a stray Savior who put a bullet in her arm and leg before dying. The wounds, Carol is quick to point out, aren’t fatal -- so her survival is assured for now. But where does Carol go after recovering? Will she be persuaded by the arrival of Negan to rejoin the group? Will she be able to carry on living, and carry on killing, to do so? Or will gentle Morgan show her another way? I suspect that Negan's violent introduction will be enough to convince her to return to heroism and join the good fight ahead. She'll be needed.
We left Carol and Morgan in the hands of a new group last night: a pair of slickly armored dudes on horseback. Is this the mounted unit of new armed forces? A radical equestrian troupe? We don’t know much about these mysterious people for the time being, though they do seem to be friends rather than foes. If the group lives under Savior in season seven, expect the duo to sympathize. They could also be crucial allies in the war ahead...
Speaking of war...
Make no mistake: war is coming. Rick and the others will leave their first encounter with Negan shocked into submission -- they don’t have much choice. But can you really see Rick Grimes working for the Saviors without plotting a plan to overthrow them? His arrogance is his fatal flaw, yes, but it’s also his best defense against emerging tyranny. The seventh season of The Walking Dead will focus on power plays and strategies. Passions, post-Lucille, will run high. But remember that the post-apocalypse is far enough along now that those remaining are a cut above. Surviving now, and competing with one another, has become a game of chess. Negan and Rick are the last grandmasters standing.
Rick will defeat Negan... but how?
The Saviors didn’t simply defeat the Alexandrians last night. They tricked them, teased them, and corralled them exactly where they wanted them. They did it through numbers and planning and might. What’s clear now is that Rick has never faced an enemy quite like this before. The Governor was cruel, twisted by circumstance into a villain; we saw power and loss make him evil. Gareth, at the short-lived Sanctuary, was a cannibalistic lunatic, a cartoon baddie made that way by desperation. But Negan isn’t your ordinary supervillain. Negan is smart. The Saviors are organized. They’re less group than a full-blown operation. The mid-season premiere showed us that the Alexandrians are ready to learn to fight. The Saviors are already masters. The most pressing question as we head toward season seven is how Rick can lead his people to victory.
OK, but really, whom did Negan kill?
Last night's episode did a very good job of making Negan's victim a mystery -- so much so that any prediction we can offer could be proved wrong the second the next season begins. Smart money, though, is on Glenn taking that bat to the head. Glenn, who notoriously died in the original comics, and whose fate has been predicted and refuted so often that fans would actually be surprised if The Walking Dead writers followed the source material at this point. There are context clues, too: Glenn made the mistake of shouting at Negan when he got near Maggie. Never a smart move in a crazy-person-wielding-a-barbed-baseball-bat situation.
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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.