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‘Walking Dead’ fans’ wait is almost over, but can they take what’s to come?

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan in The Walking Dead . The season premiere Sunday will reveal his victim from the Season 6 cliffhanger.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan in The Walking Dead . The season premiere Sunday will reveal his victim from the Season 6 cliffhanger. AMC

It’s the episode that Walking Dead Heads have been eagerly dreading for months.

The Walking Dead’s Season 6 cliffhanger left viewers dying to know which of their beloved characters is about to die.

Will it be Rick, who leads a group of scrappy survivors across a zombie-infested landscape? Will it be Daryl, the fan favorite? Will it be Glenn, who miraculously avoided being devoured by Walkers earlier in Season 6? Or will it be Maggie, whose pregnancy represents hope and a future?

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

It could be any one of these or some other cherished member of the group. That’s why fans have been so edgy since May.

The Season 6 finale introduced Negan, a villain played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The charismatic sadist captured our heroes, then demonstrated his power and ruthlessness with his barbed-wire baseball bat. The closing shot of the show was from the victim’s bloody point of view.

In the return episode, airing at 8 p.m. Sunday on AMC, we will at last find out who has been hit.

The producers have promised that there will be no wriggling out of this predicament. A character that viewers know and love will die — and with that, The Walking Dead will head into new territory.

“We are seven years in and we are only unleashing now probably the greatest villain of the series,” says Andrew Lincoln, aka Rick Grimes. “It’s a very thrilling and exciting time.

“It does feel like we are smashing everything and starting over. The playing field has irrevocably changed.”

Morgan, formerly of Supernatural, Grey’s Anatomy and The Good Wife, says he’s having a blast being this bad.

“To play this role is a dream come true,” he says. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my life — and that’s horrible for everyone’s sake. You won’t be able to see Negan [at any time throughout Season 7] without thinking of the premiere episode. What he does is so strong and so shocking.”

The Walking Dead, the highest-rated drama on cable, was recently guaranteed an eighth season.

The Season 7 premiere will be followed at 9 p.m. by an expanded 90-minute edition of Talking Dead, live from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Host Chris Hardwick will be joined by 12 cast members and executive producers Scott M. Gimple and Robert Kirkman for the after-show discussion.

You’ve got to hand it to The Walking Dead. This show knows how to bring in a new character.

“Negan talks a lot. He loves the sound of his own voice,” Morgan says. “Don’t get lulled by that. The second you think it’s another Negan monologue, maybe it’s not.”

The actor remembers the tense situation — tense onscreen and maybe a little bit offscreen — when Negan officially hit the scene. Rick’s group had been rounded up by the Saviors and were lined up and kneeling before the big man. He launched into a monologue, laid down the law, then lowered the boom.

“This was a big deal for them as a cast and as a family,” Morgan says. “They’ve gone through a war together. I had just flown in. ‘Hi, meet Jeff. He is going to be Negan. This guy is going to kill somebody. Now kindly get on your knees for the next two days and act your pants off.’

“They were awesome. I had heard that this cast was extraordinary, with this family atmosphere, cast and crew, producers and network, top to bottom. But I’ve never been around so many extraordinary people who love what they are doing as much as this group of people.

“You would think on year seven, people would not care as much as they did in year one. That is absolutely not the case here. They go at it like it is day one, every day.”

Lincoln is quick to throw the compliment right back.

“Jeffrey Dean Morgan is amazing,” he says. “He feels like a presence who has always been here. That’s how easy it has been for his assimilation. He’s also having a lot of fun, which is key to this kind of role. You need to be having a great relish. I love acting with him. He’s so in it and he makes great choices.”

So get ready, viewers. Negan is going to be a character you’ll love to hate and hate to love.

The Walking Dead

  • 8 p.m. Sunday
  • AMC
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