SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of last night’s The Walking Dead Season 7 finale.
“There are things that are and will be very much the same and things that will impact the storytelling and the characters because we’re pursuing a different arc,” executive producer Gale Anne Hurd says of the upcoming Season 8 of The Walking Dead and its connection to the All-Out War arc of Robert Kirkman’s comic series.
With the death of Sonequa Martin-Green’s self-walkerfied Sasha in last night’s Season 7 finale and villain Negan’s declaration that “we are going to war,” the blockbuster AMC zombie apocalypse series is poised for a battle-heavy Season 8 this fall.
In a post-mortem chat, the self-acknowledged coy Hurd teased a few nuggets about what to and what not to expect in the upcoming season as it draws from the “All-Out War” arc of the comic source material. The busy EP of TWD, Amazon’s upcoming Lore, USA’s Falling Water and spinoff Fear The Walking Dead also talked about Martin-Green moving on to play the lead in the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access, could Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes lose his arm on TWD like he has in the comics, and what to expect from Season 3 of Fear The Walking Dead which debuts June 4.
DEADLINE: Last night’s sacrifice and walker end for the Sasha character was a very different season conclusion for you guys and the retirement or sorts for one of the Survivors. It seemed clear that Sonequa was going to exit the show, but why in this manner?
HURD: We just wanted to make sure that she went out in a heroic way. I think the story is very much about three strong women in the finale episode – Sasha, Maggie and the Scavengers leader Jadis.
DEADLINE: How did you tell Sonequa that her time on TWD was up?
HURD: Well, our series airs in two different pods with a season premiere, midseason finale, midseason premiere and season finale. So generally we talk to the actors about the particular sequences in which their death or exits occurs, as we are about to film it, as opposed to the overall season. I’ve rarely had to break the news — in Sonequa’s case, it was Scott Gimple who told her. We never like saying goodbye and it’s partially why when we do say goodbye it’s after the character has really had what we consider to be a very fulfilling arc – and, as I said, you certainly couldn’t go out more heroically than she did.
DEADLINE: And now Sonequa is moving on to play the lead in CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery…
HURD: Which is fantastic. Every one of our actors has moved on to have magnificent careers post-The Walking Dead, and I think its fantastic that she is going to be the first African-American woman to lead a Star Trek cast. She’s also a fine actress regardless, and even if hadn’t been Star Trek, I know she would have been the lead in another series.
DEADLINE: Speaking of series, the Sasha character, like Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon, is not found in the Robert Kirkman comics the TV series is based on. Even with that, a lot of her story was clearly drawn from the comic book’s Holly. So how do you still not reveal too much to fans who are tracking the comics to see where the TV show will go?
HURD: The key thing is the comic is already on a separate trajectory given that there are characters on The Walking Dead like Sasha and Daryl, who don’t exist in the comic book. Also, there are characters in the comic book, like Andrea, who are still alive who aren’t alive on the show. There’s a natural change, but of course we do want to make sure there’s a nod to the comics.
DEADLINE: With Negan’s declaration of “war” near the end of the finale, it seems the show is veering close to the “All-Out War” arc of the comics that ran for 12 issues for Season 8.
HURD: We are entering the “All-Out War” component of the comic books, but Rick still has his hand and Carl doesn’t have his eye. There are things that are and will be very much the same and things that will impact the storytelling and the characters because we’re pursuing a different arc.
DEADLINE: Near the end of the Season 7 finale, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan did threaten to cut of Rick Grimes’ arm. Are we going to see a limbless Andrew Lincoln in Season 8?
HURD: (laughs) And you think I’m going to tell you!
DEADLINE: Well, would the sheer mechanics of it be possible for your lead?
HURD: When we cut off Hershel’s leg, everyone said that would be impossible to do and we managed to do that. We’ve dealt with these things in the past, so don’t rule anything out.
DEADLINE: So, with this arc of “All-Out War” in play partially, how does Season 8 of The Walking Dead begin?
HURD: I don’t know, I haven’t read the script yet…
DEADLINE: That’s being very coy.
HURD: That’s my job.
DEADLINE: Showrunner Scott Gimple said on after-show Talking Dead that the first four episodes of Season 8 will “melt people’s minds and break their televisions.” So what does that mean?
HURD: Well, I obviously heard a pitch-out and all of us who read the comic books know that the stakes have really been upped with the most formidable villain of the comic book series. So, it’s definitely ratcheting everything up.
But I will say this: the thing that I found most profound in watching the episode again last night and really made me cry was the montage at the end with Maggie talking about how all this started with Glenn. That callback and that context that everything started with that sacrifice. It’s a reminder that there are more sacrifices to come and put Sasha’s sacrifice in greater context.
DEADLINE: On the subject of sacrifices, you guys saw some ratings declines this season to a multi-year low. Do you think that was in some way due to the blessing and perhaps curse of the much-hyped and multi-death season opener that hit near record ratings heights?
HURD: Oh, who knows, it’s impossible to say. The fact that this show is still dominating ratings going into its eighth season, there are very few shows that can claim that. Look, we’re thrilled with the fact too that we have such a legion of loyal fans. In regards to the season opener, it was very important to set up the threat that Negan is, one that is levels above any other villain in the series.
DEADLINE: How would you rate this season among The Walking Dead’s history?
HURD: (laughs) I can’t do that, that’s like asking who is your favorite kid…
DEADLINE: It is exactly that…
HURD: Yes, you can’t rank them, I can’t rank them, though I’m sure people do it all the time.
DEADLINE: Then how far can you see Walking Dead going. Ten seasons, 12 seasons?
HURD: When you consider that we do a 16-episode season, there are network shows that do 23 episodes and we’re about to embark upon our 100th episode – but the comic book is still going strong. So that might be an indicator of how long the show can run. Kirkman has said he has at least 250 issues of the comic book in his head, and we’re far from hitting 250.
DEADLINE: You brought it up — the Season 8 opener is also the 100th episode of The Walking Dead. What does that mean to you as a producer?
HURD: The first thing is putting out of your mind and making sure it is the best possible episode – as opposed to the spotlight that is already on it for being the 100th episode. But given that we’ve started the arc of All-Out War with Rick and the Survivors and the various communities and Negan, I think it’s going to come out swinging, so to speak.
DEADLINE: Moving to another spotlight, we broke the story that Robert Patrick is joining the Amazon adaptation of Lore that you are executive producing. How does that Terminator 2 reunion feel?
HURD: Robert’s great and it’s great to be working with part of the company. You know, everyone who works on franchises, be it Terminator or Walking Dead, you feel like they’re a part of the family. And you feel it even more with the loss of Bill Paxton a few weeks ago. So, you want to keep working with family.
DEADLINE: To your franchises, Season 3 of Fear The Walking Dead is debuting on June 4 with a two-hour premiere. What is the thrust of the new season with the West Coast Survivors more scattered than ever. We left them on the run again after Cliff Curtis’ Travis took the life of those who killed his son, Coleman Domingo’s Strand staying behind, and Frank Dillane’s Nick was captured trying to cross the border back into the U.S.
HURD: We are going to realize that they all have blood on their hands now, there is no more innocence in the zombie apocalypse. There are still secrets, and we will find out more about who is keeping secrets and what they are in this new season. We’ll also realize that the way people intended to survive the apocalypse, like Strand with his yacht, have not quite worked out. They’ll encounter new communities and we’ll learn if they are friend or foe.
DEADLINE: It was recently announced that Fear showrunner Dave Erickson will be leaving the day-to-day running of the series at the end of Season 3. You’ve been through a few showrunners on Walking Dead, so how does this impact on the spinoff from your perspective?
HURD: The show is big, it is ambitious and yet you have to continue to tell these character-driven stories. To oversee as a showrunner 16 episodes of such a challenging show takes it out of you, it just does. What people don’t realize is that it is a year-round gig, because you’re either writing mode or you’re in post-mode 12 months a year. So, at a certain point, you just go, I need a break from this.
It’s important now that Dave is stepping back to make sure it doesn’t feel like an entirely different show with someone new joining. We’ve found we’re able to keep in the groove on The Walking Dead when it changed showrunners, and we’re planning on doing the same as Fear continues.