As expected, comics villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) made his debut in the closing scene of the 90-minute season finale when — in a direct nod to Robert Kirkman's comic series — he lines up the survivors and, with his baseball bat covered in barbed wire (named Lucille), takes a swing at one of them.
However, the series cuts to black and the audio reveals only the brutal and savage sounds of Negan swinging and connecting Lucille with someone's skull as he beats an unseen member of the group to death. After the cut to black, the camera shifts its point of view to that of the mystery victim, but the group's screams are muffled and any name they're calling out is impossible to decipher.
In the comics, Negan's group surprises Rick, Michonne, Carl, Glenn, Maggie, Sophia and Heath on their way to the Hilltop as the Saviors are planning their attack on Alexandria. Negan, looking to punish the group for killing Saviors, whips out Lucille and lines up the survivors. "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe," he says as he points Lucille one by one at everyone on their knees. He ultimately lands on Glenn, killing him nearly instantly as Maggie and company cry out his name in horror.
Sunday's cryptic ending comes as little surprise after Kirkman previously told THR that it would be a "painful summer for Walking Dead fans." By failing to identify just whom Negan whacks, the zombie drama is able to keep fans guessing when it comes to which of the beloved characters — Rick, Michonne, Glenn, Daryl, Rosita, Carl, Maggie, Aaron, Eugene, Abraham and Sasha — has met their maker. And, if it is Steven Yeun's Glenn Rhee, it allows the series to get months of extra mileage out of the decision to mirror the events of the comic. It also allows AMC to please die-hard fans of the graphic novel who feared that the most shocking moment in the comics would be remixed, as showrunner Scott M. Gimple tends to do. (For his part, Gimple previously told THR that he "would not be too proud" if he "chumped" the brutal scene.)
On that note, The Walking Dead finale brought many of the panels from the comics to the screen nearly word-for-word when it came to Negan's debut. The series, however, opted to bypass using Negan's frequent f-bombs as it will likely leave those for the DVD.
Thematically, the episode wrapped a season that explored two central subjects: the responsibility of survival (from the first half) and what to do with that power (the last eight episodes). Negan winds up taking the life of one of the survivors after Rick's group kills multiple members of the Saviors. The debate about whether to kill or not encompassed much of the second half of the season as Morgan (Lennie James) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) strongly disagreed. While Daryl (Norman Reedus) attempted to let Dwight (Austin Amelio) live, that decision ultimately proved costly as the guy who left the Saviors — only to be recaptured and see half his face burned off by Negan — returned and killed Denise (Merritt Wever). For her part, Carol (Melissa McBride) left the Alexandria Safe-Zone after her ordeal with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and the female Saviors rendered her mentally shaken and unable to kill.
If Negan's victim on the series winds up being Glenn (Yeun's one-year contract with the series is said to include only season six, sources say), it would mark a fitting end for the character. The original series regular (one of few remaining from the pilot) had miraculously never killed another human being until the second half of season six when he took out multiple members of the Saviors. In the process, Glenn also saw photos of other people who met Lucille — with multiple images proudly displayed on the wall next to the sleeping Saviors he took out. It also serves as closure for the character whose back was literally up against the wall multiple times during the series as Glenn escaped many near-death experiences including one in the first half of season six that may have damaged the series' credibility. The show also may ultimately have hinted as far back as the season five premiere that Glenn would die at the hands of a villain with a baseball bat.
As for what's to come, the finale set the stage for the previously announced seventh season when Morgan encounters members of yet another new community — The Kingdom. (Clues that the series would introduce The Kingdom were first offered in the penultimate episode.) In the comics, the Kingdom is overseen by a George Clinton-like leader named Ezekiel. The former zookeeper oversees the community with Shiva, his pet tiger. Members of The Kingdom, like those of the Hilltop and Alexandria, do not wish to be a part of Negan's reign of terror. That includes orders Negan revealed Sunday: that he will take half of the neighboring communities' food, supplies and weapons in exchange for safety (from the Saviors).
The introduction of The Kingdom and Negan effectively set the stage for season seven to explore the stunning five-issue Walking Dead comics arc called "All Out War," which sees multiple communities unite in a bid to defeat the sociopath.