WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 10 premiere, "Lines We Cross."
Following the loss of Rick Grimes last season, fans have wondered when AMC's The Walking Dead would promote the incarcerated Negan and transform him from villain into antihero, helping Alexandria as he did in the comics. Jeffrey Dean Morgan's character has warmed up to his captors, even forming a fatherly bond with Judith, which signaled that turn might come soon.
Following a heartfelt conversation with Michonne at the end of Season 9, in which it appeared Negan would indeed be given more agency in the looming war with the Whisperers, the Season 10 premiere "Lines We Cross" finally sees him being moved to the front lines. However, his role is more that of an adviser, for now.
Negan tends the gardens in Alexandria, where his duties are gathering vegetables and throwing out trash. He doesn't want to offend anyone, which is why he doesn't object to Father Gabriel having guards watch his every move. However, when he witnesses the camp becoming anxious and holding a meeting, he senses his services are needed, although he knows he won't be called up just yet. Still, he plants the seed when Lydia mentions that a Whisperer mask was found at Oceanside, and that Alpha's army could soon strike at the heart of the alliance.
He laughs off the alert system, knowing full well there are no preventative measures; they need to go on the offensive. Negan keeps that to himself, however, and instead offers Lydia advice on how to protect herself. He then waits for Gabriel to hold council in his cell, and there he shows he's prepared to become a general by offering wisdom to what he sees are a bunch of baby birds. Negan believes everyone is "pants-shitting," because they all know war is coming. He's fine with no longer being public enemy, but that doesn't mean he can keep biting his tongue if he sees bad choices being made. Negan knows there's strength in numbers, and he wants Alexandria to be safe. But to accomplish that, Gabriel will have to get his hands dirty.
It's obvious their boogeyman, Alpha, is coming back; Gabriel, after receiving news of the mask, is clearly panicked. He doesn't even have a lot of strategists with him, bar Siddiq, Rosita and Eugene, and still, they don't possess the military acumen that Negan does. Gabriel is reluctant, but he needs tactics and advice from Negan, who tells him now's not the time for indecision -- he has to secure the compound, even if it means lying to Michonne, who didn't want him to lock down in the first place, and cause a stir.
Gabriel heeds Negan's advice. But make no mistake, when Negan tells him he'll have to mislead his friends at times for the greater good, you can tell Gabriel is indeed absorbing the expertise of the veteran soldier. He might not like Negan, but war is his forte, and so, Gabriel is relying on the prisoner to guide him, even if he won't admit it.
As Gabriel battens down the hatches, it's obvious Negan is whispering in his ear, and is one step closer to officially joining the front lines. After all, Gabriel needs soldiers, and Negan is by far the best he has. Based on how Gabriel follows his advice, it's only a matter of time before he allows Negan free rein to take out any Whisperers who encroach on Alexandria. Then that redemption arc will finally come full-circle.
The Walking Dead stars Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Jeffrey Dean Morgan,Seth Gilliam, Ross Marquand, Khary Payton, Cooper Andrews, Avi Nash, Samantha Morton. It airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.