It was the cut to black no one expected.
When “The Walking Dead” season six finale abruptly ended with a cliffhanger April 3 on AMC, it caused an uproar heard around social media. "Cheap gimmick." "Cop out." Fans even called for a boycott in protest.
The problem? The episode, titled “The Last Day on Earth,” would depict issue No. 100 of the graphic novels about survivors of zombie apocalypse. The issue was well-known for having the most shocking death in the entire series - one that forever changed the course of the story. Fans had braced themselves for weeks for the finale which, they were told, would include that death and the introduction of the charismatic villain Negan. So when more than 15 million viewers tuned in April 3, they wanted the emotionally devastating moment over to start the grieving process.
So there was Negan (chillingly portrayed by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) with his trusty barbed-wire covered bat, Lucille, and our beloved group of survivors helplessly kneeling in front of him. Ready to show them it’s his world now, Negan raises Lucille and - cut to black and fan outrage.
At 9 p.m. Sunday, after more than six months of waiting, viewers will learn who died. Will it be the same person killed in the graphic novel? (The odds seem to be about 50-50.) Or did Negan swing Lucille another way? (“Please,” many pleaded. “Someone else.” ) Fans and critics haven’t stopped debating that question for months.
To protect the secret, AMC filmed the deaths of all 11 characters. But what about the slips by Morgan and producer/director Greg Nicotero who, in separate interviews, talked of “deaths,” signaling two characters would die in the season seven opener? And then a recent teaser of the premiere gave a few hints - or were they just red herrings? There's a lot to consider - none of it good. Here’s our breakdown of what could happen.
RICK GRIMES (played by Andrew Lincoln)
This sheriff deputy woke from a coma after being shot to discover a world devastated by a zombie apocalypse. A natural leader, he has helped his new “family” survive through astronomical odds and extreme personal loss. That’s all about to change.
Why he’s safe: Can the show exist without Rick? Absolutely not. Despite the darkness that recently turned his leadership into a Ricktatorship, Rick never stopped protecting his group by whatever means necessary. Plus he’s too valuable as a fighter and Negan can’t have him become a martyr.
Why he’s not safe: Relax. He's safe. Any doubt was extinguished with the release of a new clip.
DARYL DIXON (played by Norman Reedus)
He was the quiet redneck searching for his brother, the evil Merle. He didn’t fit in, yet somehow this crossbow-wielding, motorcycle rider quickly became the fan favorite.
Why he’s safe: The slogan “If Daryl Dies We Riot” has been a rallying cry emblazoned on shirts and other surfaces for at least four seasons now. Fans aren’t kidding - they will riot.
Why he’s not safe: He’s so popular it’s easy to forget that Daryl was not in the graphic novel. That means his death wouldn’t impact future storylines but it would send shock waves through TWD fan base.
Darryl seemed to be an untouchable until the recent season premiere tease with Negan taunting Rick about his "right-hand" man and asked if perhaps he had killed him. Rick's right hand is Daryl. Suddenly, the prospect of his death is all too real, if still hopefully remote.
CARL GRIMES (played by Chandler Riggs)
Rick’s son was about 10 when the show started. He was a quiet little boy who quickly annoyed fans to the point there was a movement for him to be killed. (Really.) Now a teen, he has shown he can defend the gang and has even sacrificed an eye in doing so.
Why he's safe: He’s a kid and Negan doesn’t kill kids. Plus his interactions with Negan in the graphic novel play a big role moving forward.
Why he's not safe: Carl's death would incapacitate Rick faster than any other.
ROSITA, SASHA and AARON
Rosita (played by Christian Serratos) arrived in season 4 as part of a small group protecting Eugene, who feigned knowledge of a cure for the apocalypse. Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) is a former firefighter, found only in the TV series, who knows how to handle a gun. Nice-guy Aaron (Ross Marquand) spends his time recruiting other survivors for the picturesque community of Alexandria that is oblivious to the horrors outside its gate.
We’re putting this trio into the same group: three secondary characters whose deaths wouldn’t challenge the writers, nor the surviving characters. Sure, people would shed a tear – and then move on.
Why they're safe: Negan’s looking to make a statement and it’s not happening if he kills one of these three.
Why they're not safe: Can’t give a reason.
EUGENE (played by Josh McDermott)
The man who would save the world turned out to be a scared phony who made up a story to ensure his survival.
Why he's safe: This still isn’t the "status kill" Negan wants. Eugene appears weak and his role in the group is unclear.
Why he's not safe: Almost for the same reasons. Even Negan may have picked up on how pitifully Eugene is seen by others. Eugene's death would bother viewers who have grown a soft spot for this man-child.
MAGGIE (played by Lauren Cohan)
This farm girl is growing stronger by the season. She's witnessed the horrific deaths of her father and sister and has learned how to defend herself and others. She’s been both a voice of reason and a soldier, fiercely protective of her husband Glenn.
Why she's safe: Negan says he doesn't kill women and children - and Maggie's pregnant. Even Negan isn't that twisted. Plus, she has a major storyline on the horizon.
Why she's not: She looks like she’s ready to die, so Negan kill her to make a major statement. Also, think about that new clip, where Maggie was standing and the possibility of two deaths. Yeh, I know.
MICHONNE (played by Danai Gurira)
Ever since she walked on screen as a hooded figure with two zombie pets she had incapacitated and a sword, she has been a force on the show. She is a fearless, female warrior the likes of which we rarely see on television.
Why she's safe: See above. We can’t afford to lose this character. When things go bad with Rick or elsewhere, Michonne takes over. Plus, fans waited years for the recent coupling of "Richonne" and need time to savor the romance.
Why she's not safe: Rick’s wife and almost girlfriend Jessie both met grisly fates so it doesn't bode well for women who hang around with Rick. Michonne's death would also be a devastating blow to Rick, which is what Negan seeks.
GLENN (played by Steven Yeun)
This pizza delivery boy quietly became a bigger fan favorite than anyone realized, as proven by the outcry over his “death” in Season 6.
Why he's safe: They couldn't possibly have pretended Glenn died last season, only to bring him back and really kill him - could they? And he's about to become a father.
Why he's not safe: By now, Glenn has used up more than nine lives (a walker in the well, the revolving door of death, the trough at Terminus). Plus, there's that scene in the graphic novel. His death would also give his beloved Maggie the impetus to complete her transition to leader.
ABRAHAM (played by Michael Cudlitz)
He arrived with one purpose: to deliver the hope of the world to Washington, D.C. Along the way, this brash, violent soldier has given the show some understated humor.
Why he's safe: He's the one actual soldier on the show - exactly what Negan needs (if he can tame him).
Why he's not safe: He was the only one who rose to meet Negan eye-to-eye - proof that Abraham would be tough to handle. Plus he talked about starting a new family in the zombie apocalypse – a sure sign you’re gonna die.
“The Walking Dead” season seven premiere airs at 9 p.m. Oct. 23 on AMC. (The season six finale airs at 7:30 p.m.)
The 11 actors will take part in a special 90-minute version of the live after-show “The Talking Dead” at 10:06 p.m.