SPOILER ALERT: This post contains details of tonight’s midseason finale episode of The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead killed off Jesus this Sunday but, like that carpenter’s son in the Good Book, the Tom Payne-portrayed character and others could be resurrected when the AMC series returns on February 10, 2019, showrunner Angela Kang says.
“Because of the expansion of the universe, and because of time jumps we passed seven and a half years off-screen on the show,” the executive producer says of potentially seeing more of Payne’s Jesus, Lauren Cohan’s Maggie and maybe even Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes on TWD, though the latter is unlikely on-screen. “That allows for stories to go back in time, so there’s an opportunity for seeing characters come back because of these things that are built into the story.”
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The stabbing of Jesus by a talking walker in a foggy cemetery in the closing minutes of tonight’s “Evolution” episode was full-on small-screen horror in motion. Not only was a character that originated in the Robert Kirkman comics and has been on the TV series since the sixth season slayed, but Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon cutting off the mask of the killer walker to reveal a human underneath took the show into the most horrifying territory of the printed page.
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Coming off last week’s latest series low (1.8 rating, 4.8 million viewers), this year’s midseason finale aimed to take the “broken world” reset that Kang instituted to a new level. From Jesus’ death to the teenage Henry (Matt Lintz) being a teen despite the zombie apocalypse and the return of Daryl to his old friends, the Michael E. Satrazmis-helmed episode was as much about reveal as it was cliffhanger and regret.
Add to that the easy breakout of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s still-cocky Negan from his long stint in an Alexandria cell and the deep subtext of the unveiling of the backdrop of the tensions between the communities in the measured confrontation between Danai Gurira’s Michonne and Melissa McBride’s Carol over a planned fair, and the narrative hit the back-to-the-future pedal. It’s a frightful future, as the growing herd of speaking walkers that pursue unlike any of the undead ever have before moves on the supposedly protected Hilltop, Kingdom and Alexandria enclosures.
Or, as the eventual appearance of Samantha Morton as the leader of the Whisperers looms, to put it as the stabbing walker said to Jesus just before taking him down: “You are where you do not belong.”
With that, and now back in Los Angeles after production has ended on Season 9, Kang spoke with me about Jesus’ death, the midseason finale and what it divulges about the rest of the season. The now-seasoned showrunner also discussed the big character losses of this year so far, the reaction to Lincoln leaving the show proper to do a trio of Grimes movies, the potential return of Cohan, and another crossover with spinoff Fear the Walking Dead.
DEADLINE: He is still alive in Kirkman’s comics, so, in a season where TWD is losing key characters left, right and Hilltop, why kill off Jesus?
KANG: You know, every season we lose beloved characters, and it’s just part of the story.
In this case, it has a lot to do with kind of, the character that Jesus is, and what he stood for in the show. There needs to be a big loss in the introduction of this new threat to our communities. It’s a marker of how serious this problem is, and there’s a lot of story that comes from this loss. With that, I have to say that I think Tom Payne as Jesus really did a great job playing what was an incredibly heroic end for this character that has been very fun to write for over the years.
DEADLINE: OK, but in your first season now as showrunner, there’s a big reset so far: Rick is gone, though not dead, Maggie is gone somewhere in the time jump in the last few episodes, and now Jesus is dead and Negan is free again. So, where are things at for you?
KANG: I’m feeling good about where the show is at. It’s been a really fun season to work on, and the cast and crew, and all the writers, and everybody involved just poured their hearts and souls into the season. Obviously [there are] characters that we love that we said goodbye to. We are still very hopeful that Maggie will be back with us.
DEADLINE: How could that happen? Lauren has literally moved on to a new show over on ABC with Whiskey Cavalier, which debuts next year.
KANG: Because of the expansion of the universe, and because of time jumps, we passed seven and a half years off-screen on the show. That allows for stories to go back in time, so there’s an opportunity for seeing characters to come back because of these things that are built into the story. So, I think that there’s just a lot of exciting opportunities, that we’ve been able to do some things that we’ve never done on the show before.
DEADLINE: Like what?
KANG: For fans to see that stuff…well that would be getting into spoiler territory, but there is some stuff that we have never ever done before on the show that’s coming up this season.
DEADLINE: You mean Daryl’s going to get a girlfriend or a boyfriend?
KANG: (laughs) I’m not going to get into that one.
DEADLINE: Is Lauren’s Maggie coming back or even Andrew’s Rick Grimes part of those exciting opportunities you mention?
KANG: We haven’t talked about Andy returning in a role on the show. He really is focused on his family and then having a schedule of the Rick Grimes movies on his schedule too. But we were talking about something he’s very interested and serious about, which is directing. We haven’t talked yet about slots or anything like that, but if he wants to direct Walking Dead, I think he’ll do an amazing job.
DEADLINE: So, no doors are closed?
KANG: Well, Lauren and I were just texting the other day, and Andy has come back to set to shadow a director.
So, they’re very much still in The Walking Dead family and I think they always will be. I know we will continue to always be in contact and talk about creative and also just life things. So that’s a really great thing. I’m very hopeful that both of them will be back with us in the future in some capacity or another.
DEADLINE: You guys are just finished filming in Georgia, deep in post on Season 9 and getting ready to dig into Season 10. Taking over from Scott Gimple with now most of a full season under your belt, what’s the deep debrief for you? Ways you might do things the same or differently next year?
KANG: Working on that, honestly. I’m scheduling a bunch of postmortem meetings with people from the various departments. It’s to have those very conversations about what can we do better, and I’m a pretty process-oriented, let’s-continually-improve type of person. So that’s something that we’re working on right now. I’m really still just processing those thoughts myself, so hopefully they’ll be some things we work out.
DEADLINE: In that vein, this year, maybe more than ever. deviated from the comics, where Rick and Jesus are still very much alive, not to mention Carl Grimes too. Yet, at the same time, you had the on-screen introduction of The Whisperers, perhaps the deadliest antagonists from the comics, and the escape of Negan, who on the printed page links up with the humans who wear zombie skin and their leader Alpha, who Samantha Morton is set to play on the show. How close are you going to keep things to comics from this midseason finale onwards?
KANG: As with every season of the show, there’s a certain amount of stuff from the comic that we follow relatively faithfully, but really more in terms of orange cones in the stories, is kind of how we think about it. Like, oh here are these moments that we want to try to adapt, but a lot of times the routes that we take go into different directions.
DEADLINE: To put it mildly …
KANG: Yes, and the array of characters and the timeline that we’re in are completely different, and so there are obviously going to be some deviations. So, there are some familiar markers to people who know the comics very well, but I’ll say that there are some other surprises coming up along the way as well.
DEADLINE: I remember you telling me once before, that as a fan of the comic you were blown away by Robert’s introduction of The Whisperers, and how they become a part of this world. So I have to ask you, are we going to see the iconic heads-on-pikes scene?
KANG: This is just one where I don’t want to kind of get too much into plot for our viewers, because we’ve heard the message very clearly from fans that they just don’t want plot spoilers. But I’ll say that you know this is obviously an iconic story line from the comic and there’s certainly memorable parts of the story that we want to tell, but it will be specific to the show.
DEADLINE: Speaking of spoilers and of surprises, there was a very mixed reaction to the exit of Andrew Lincoln from the show in Episode 5 of this season. Some were very excited by the prospect of new Rick Grimes adventures and the expansion of the franchise, or universe as you say, with the trio of branded movies he’ll be doing over the next few years. Others felt ripped off after all the hype and anticipation most of this year to see him shuttled away clearly alive in a helicopter. And then there were others with even more mixed emotions, as Lauren Cohan’s Maggie sort of slipped away in that episode too without anyone realizing it until after the fact.
So, my question is, were you surprised in the reaction to Rick’s departure and the time jump that followed with a much more grown-ish Judith on the scene now?
KANG: I knew this was coming. Let me say, I think we were kind of prepared for a very wide range of reactions. You know, we have a large fan base and not everybody likes the same things in the show. There are moments that people go this was my absolute favorite moment, or my favorite episode, or my favorite season, and other people are like, are you kidding, that sucks. But I think that’s kind of the fun of it for us too, is that it is a big-tent show and people find a lot of things to be passionate about.
DEADLINE: Sounds almost like you are on the fence yourself?
KANG: (laughs) No, but even within the (writers) room we have different opinions about things, and that’s a healthy thing. I was very gratified to see that people were very relieved that Rick didn’t die. I knew coming into this season that there was a specific end that I had to write for him, going off in the helicopter. A lot of the kind of press that happened around the personal reasons for his departure and the timing of all of that like, some of that stuff was just out of our control. We just deal with it and roll with it. So, you know, that aspect of stuff we can’t control. We just try to tell an entertaining story that was emotional, and for the most part I think the reaction has been pretty positive from what we’ve seen.
With the time jump, look, people know our storytelling rhythms pretty well, and we were just looking to try something that was a little surprising. Something that also allowed us to tell a story more about the longer-term impact of such a loss, like Rick, as well as the legacies left behind. So that’s been something really interesting for us to delve into.
DEADLINE: On such delving, now that The Whisperers have joined TWD the series, we obviously are going to see Samantha Morton appearing very soon in the back end of the season. How will that Alpha reveal occur?
KANG: I think on screen it is a pretty striking introduction, and then we will get into some meaty stuff with her pretty early in the back half of the season. I’ll say that off-screen Samantha could not be a lovelier person to work with. We have really truly enjoyed having Samantha, and I can’t wait for people to see the work she’s doing. I’ve been working on some of the episodes in post she’s in, and I think she’s just a tremendous actress. There’s some really cool stuff with her coming up.
DEADLINE: What about the consequences of the time jump that came between Episode 5 and Episode 6. It feels like there is whole two seasons or more to mine there…
KANG: You have to remember that the way that time passes on the show, a lot of times, an entire season only covers a very short period of time and a lot happens.
In that, we thought about the fact that if you do jump a lot of time there’s clearly story that’s happened off of screen that’s affected these characters. It’s not just a bridge blowing up that happened six years ago that leaves a mark on our people. So, we do have a notion of some of the things that have happened during that time, that have sort of changed things between the communities. Then there were other things that exacerbated them and we definitely will be shedding some light on some of the mysteries of what happened during that time. Certainly, there are a lot of questions about the X scars that some of our characters have, and there’s a specific story related to that, that we will be telling over the course of the season.
DEADLINE: In terms of the rest of the season, from what’s been going on over on Fear the Walking Dead, seems like another crossover could be in the cards …
KANG: No. Not this season. But you know, I had to take a sec, for it’s like reset in my brain to answer that because [there are] so many things going on in The Walking Dead universe now. Only some of which I hear a bit about, some of which is kind of picking along elsewhere, although we’re all in the same building. I’m just excited to see what else happens in the universe. If that comes up however, well, I’ll roll with it.
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