SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of last night’s Season 7 The Walking Dead winter finale
After a season that started with the death of two core characters, last night’s winter finale of The Walking Dead saw the death of the double-dealing Spencer and innocent bystander Olivia. The final TWD of 2016 also unsheathed a resurrected will among the reunited Rick Grimes, Michonne, Daryl Dixon, Maggie and the other Survivors to free themselves of the shackles of Negan.
Which is another way of saying, the highest rated drama on television has left the measured pace of the last few weeks behind and is heading towards to battle mode that has characterized it through the seven season run so far of the AMC blockbuster.
With that in play and the rest of Season 7 in post-production, executive producer Gale Anne Hurd chatted with me about what this year’s midseason finale’s implications are and where things may go next. Reflecting on the Critics’ Choice award that Jeffrey Dean Morgan won last night for playing the baseball welding Negan, The Falling Water and Lore EP also discussed the state of the USA Network show and a possible Season 2 and where things are at on the New York Comic-Con unveiled Amazon adaptation of the hugely popular true-life scary stories and paranormal podcast.
DEADLINE: So, with the double deaths of the winter finale, are The Walking Dead’s Survivors really going to war with Negan in the remainder of Season 7?
HURD: There’s no question. I think with Michonne’s pep talk and with Daryl back, Rick is finding his mojo again. I don’t think they’re going to be willing servants of Negan’s anymore.
DEADLINE: The killing off of a core or central character has become a pattern on TWD midseason finales but do you worry it’ll just become rote season in and season out?
HURD: The thing is, since we’re not on the air until February, it’s important to setup the stakes for the second half of the season. The only way that you can deepen the stakes and wake Rick up from his stupor was through loss. It really is more about setting up the back half of the season rather than what’s the death count going to be. The whole point is about the overall storytelling and not doing something just for the shock value. It’s a complex show.
DEADLINE: So, a ripple effect?
HURD: It really is more about how it affects the remaining group. With Spencer that’s a horrific death but everyone knew that he was pretty untrustworthy. That he was plotting against Rick. He was vocal in that with Father Gabriel. So he’s not someone that was probably going to motivate anyone to do anything because his death seemed almost deserved, whereas Olivia was completely blameless, completely innocent. In Negan’s world he just says kill somebody and you never know whose number is going to come up. That’s not a world that the rest of our Survivors are going to want to continue to live in.
DEADLINE: After the highly anticipated and near record breaking season premiere in October with the death of the Abraham and Glenn characters and the emotional pummeling of Rick, the now widowed Maggie Daryl and the rest of the Survivors, most of the rest of the season up until the winter finale was much slower, much more measured and threw a lot of fans off – did you have a sense of that?
HURD: You know, we’ve done this before in previous seasons, which is for you to care about this large a cast of characters, you need to spend time and with them separated – as they have been in the comics as well. You need to be in a separate community, so you need to be in Hilltop. You need to be in the Sanctuary. You need to be in Alexandria. And that opportunity to get to know the mindset of each different main character, or significant character in the show, is really important, not only building up to this episode, but for the rest of the season.
DEADLINE: Looking at the winter finale, the death of Spencer was very much like in the comics, which isn’t always the case on The Walking Dead. Did you consider deviating from that or not killing off the character?
HURD: We always consider but this is one that everyone agreed upon. I was there actually when we shot the sequences. It was tough because between that and killing Olivia everyone was pretty down. Obviously, as an audience member you kind of cheer when Spencer meets his doom because if he didn’t he was bound to get someone else killed.
He’s very good at criticizing everyone else but cannot see his own flaws. That’s kind of catnip to Negan. Negan is someone who does not abide people like that because he knows that Spencer will go whichever direction the wind’s blowing. I mean to have a spineless coward is really dangerous so he takes real pleasure in killing that kind of individual.
DEADLINE: Sounds like you guys have stumbled into the perfect villain for the Donald Trump era…
HURD: (laughs) It is an interesting analogy.
DEADLINE: I can see I’m not going to get more out of you on that so how to do you feel about Jeffrey Dean Morgan getting a Critics’ Choice award this weekend for his portrayal of Negan?
HURD: Oh, it’s so well deserved. He’s someone who is so unlike the character except he’s one of the most charming people you’ll ever meet,
Jeffrey is unassuming, hilarious, and he fit right in and helped us to get through the fact that Michael Cudlitz and especially Steven Yeun, who’s been there since the beginning, are no longer with us. That’s a huge burden in addition to bringing Negan to life and having multi-page monologues. It’s one of the hardest things you can do to be a villain who’s also charming and sexy and someone that you want to hang out with at the end of the day after he’s done something absolutely disgusting. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is not a method actor, so the minute you call cut he’s back to being Jeffrey Dean Morgan, which is also fantastic.
DEADLINE: Does it bother you that year after year, the biggest show on TV is essentially overlooked when it comes to awards?
HURD: Our very first season of The Walking Dead we were nominated for a Golden Globe. The truth is there’s so many great TV shows out there now that none of us take it personally. The most important feedback is the feedback we get from the fans.
Honestly, I mean when we’re on set there is no grumbling about that stuff . Everyone in the cast, led by Andy Lincoln, is beyond thrilled for Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s recognition. There’s no sort of phony congratulations. It’s pure and it’s genuine and that’s why when people get cast on the show no one wants to leave because it’s that atmosphere on set every day, day in and day out.
DEADLINE: Speaking of feedback, where are things at with the adaptation of the Lore podcast for Amazon?
HURD: Right now, Glen Morgan is working with our two documentary showrunners. Since it’s a hybrid they’re sharing responsibility for putting Lore together. We’re working on outlines and choosing which episodes from the podcast we will be adapting. I think working on some new ones as well. There aren’t podcasts that have been released yet.
DEADLINE: When are we anticipating seeing the debut of Lore on Amazon?
HURD: Honestly, I don’t know. They have not told us, which is fine because I’d rather have it right than fast. That’s one nice thing about streaming. We know it’ll be 2017, we just don’t know an actual date.
DEADLINE: How about a renewal for Falling Water on USA Network, especially now you have that Amazon deal in place…
HURD: We’re very hopeful. All the cast members on that show want to come back. Blake (Masters) is certainly coming up with a Season 2 because that’s what you do when you love a show. Even if you don’t know if it’s coming back, you put that creative effort and energy into it.
If it were up to me I’d pull out the stops and say yes but it’s not up to me. The Amazon agreement is certainly a good sign and it’s certainly a very bingeable show. I think we’ll see.