“That’s stuff that I obviously don’t want to spoil for fans, but I think what I can tell you is that we’ve got a great story for Rick,” new The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang says of the future of star Andrew Lincoln on the AMC series. “He’s actively thinking about what needs to be done to build for the future,” she adds of Rick Grimes, the character Lincoln has played since the zombie apocalypse series debuted in 2010, going on to become one of the biggest shows in television.
With Lincoln seemingly set to exit TWD this coming season and Lauren Cohan’s Maggie role reduced, there is a lot of change in play in the series based on Robert Kirkman’s comics as Kang, the cast, Kirkman and other executive producers get ready to take the stage at Comic-Con today. As always, a look at the new season will be unveiled, but for longtime TWD writer and now showrunner Kang, change has been the mantra for the past few months.
Before The Walking Dead hits Hall H later this morning, Kang spoke with me about taking over and becoming the series’ first female showrunner, and how the zombie apocalypse tale is taking several turns. We also talk about her new role in the SDCC spotlight, discuss Lincoln and Cohan’s roles in Season 9, and how the look and feel of TWD will change going forward.
DEADLINE: So, how is it being the boss?
KANG: (Laughs) It’s wonderful. Obviously the show is a huge show. It means a lot to a lot of people who have been watching and have been following the journey of these characters and this show for many years, as I was a fan of the show before I came on and of the comics before I came on. I feel like I always just want to do the best job possible to entertain the fans and keep them emotionally invested in these characters, but I have to say that everyone has been incredibly supportive.
They could not be lovelier. It’s so much fun to work on this season. We’re getting to do some really fun new stuff. It’s a lot of hard work but it’s very rewarding.
DEADLINE: Now TWD chief content officer and former showrunner Scott Gimple had said of the finale of the All-Out War of last season that it was the “end of a very long chapter of The Walking Dead.” So when you say you say “new stuff” for Season 9, what does that mean in that context?
KANG: In Season 9, when we come in we’re picking up on a new chapter of the story, definitely. We are playing with time. We open up later in our story than we usually do. We see that our people are doing some interesting things with where they live and the civilization that they’re developing. We’ll see a new look and feel to a lot of things in the world. So, for instance, rather than having a lot of cars and things, it’ll be very much horses and wagons and people trying to figure out biofuels.
DEADLINE: Angela, why is that? Is there something that’s changed in the world or is it just simply that because so much time has passed the remnants of civilization have just decreased?
KANG: That’s exactly right, it’s that time has passed. The remnants of civilization have decreased. Things are starting to break down. We don’t have road crews out there fixing the roads so things break, things are shelf stable only so long. There are obviously things you can still scavenge, but you don’t want to rely on things that are not going to be there for you when you need them.
So, people are trying to be very clever about how they build for a future for themselves so that plays very much into the look and feel of the show. There’s also less gunplay because they’re trying to use weapons that they can reuse over and over again and not be reliant on having to manufacture bullets or scavenge them.
DEADLINE: Of course, a couple of the things to figure out is the future for Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes and Lauren Cohan’s Maggie Rhee, as the former is leaving the show and the latter is balancing other commitments now like ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier…
KANG: That’s stuff that I obviously don’t want to spoil for fans, but I think what I can tell you is that we’ve got a great story for Rick. He is in a place where he made this unexpected decision at the end of last season to let Negan live, and we’ll now see what is the next phase of things for him. He’s actively thinking about what needs to be done to build for the future.
Of course, these things are not an easy road. If you think of anybody who’s had to build something momentous for a society that there’s a lot of hard work, there’s conflict around it, so we really see his leadership put to the test.
DEADLINE: And Lauren’s Maggie?
KANG: With Maggie we’ll see that we start the season with her in a good place but obviously she made a promise at the end of last season and there’s something weighing on her mind having to do with Negan, and so we will play a story related to that.
Rick and Maggie are one of the core relationships that we’ve seen in the show over the years. We’ll really be featuring a lot of these longstanding relationships in the season Hopefully the fans will love it as much as we loved making it and the actors enjoyed playing it, that’s all I can hope for.
DEADLINE: I know that you can’t say more on the topic of the two actors, but I also know that for you being the showrunner for TWD is a something that you dreamed of for a while. Among other accomplishments, you are the first woman to have that position for The Walking Dead after Frank (Darabont) and Glen (Mazzara) and Scott. Obviously, a very, very strong, and legendary member of the industry, Gale Anne Hurd, is one of the executive producers, but what does that mean to you to be a woman of Asian heritage in control of one of the biggest shows on television?
KANG: It’s really interesting because in terms of when I’m doing the day to day of the show I don’t think about that because all I’m thinking about is how do I fix this? What do I do here? Who is this person I’ve got to talk to?
KANG: Yeah. So, in that way, I just think of myself as a showrunner, but obviously it’s not lost on me that I’m the first woman to take over the show and that I’m an Asian-American female because this is a show that’s watched around the world.
When I was growing up, I didn’t think that a job like this was open to people like me. So, I hope that for people who are growing up now that they just don’t feel that sense of this is something I can’t do because I think the more they see women, the more they see people from minority groups just doing the job like it’s any other job that they could do, will add more voices to the conversation while we’re creating these shows and running them.
DEADLINE: Your promotion to showrunner has also led to Scott becoming chief content officer for the entire Walking Dead world. Obviously, you guys are in different positions now but you’ve worked together so closely for so long so what is your relationship with him like now with his newly created job?
KANG: Scott and I, we came on to the show at the same time. We were colleagues that worked side by side in the room together. Then he became my boss for several years and he has been a great friend and mentor. He and I work in the same office building. Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead and his production company are all on one floor. He and I are in regular contact. We talk.
That said, he’s not really involved in the day to day of the show, so I’m very empowered to handle all of that. He’s there as a support. I bounce ideas off of him and he’s been great. He’s sat in the chair so he’s able to help me navigate a lot of situations that otherwise I’d be kind of trying to call some random person to ask for advice on.
DEADLINE: In that, what surprises have there been for you taking over a showrunner? Just things that nobody told you that was going to happen?
KANG: There’s always little surprises that happen all the time. It’s more things like I didn’t know the process of the timeline for doing things for Comic-Con, so I didn’t think about at the same time I’m working on this script and this cut I’m also having to work on the Comic Con trailer that we are going to show.
— The Walking Dead AMC (@WalkingDead_AMC) July 19, 2018
But honestly, it’s all good stuff. It’s stuff that comes with the show being in the position it is and being in the type of genre that it is. So, like I said, it’s more stuff like that like process things.
DEADLINE: You mentioned Comic-Con and it has become a tradition of sorts that in San Diego, TWD reveals it season premiere date and drops a trailer for the upcoming season. But what’s it going to be like for you now, not only up on the stage in Hall H with the cast and EPs but really in the spotlight?
KANG: I’m so excited. Obviously, I’ve been sitting in that audience in Hall H with the fans in the past, so excited to see hour people up there. Our fans are so great and we’re greeted with such warmth so I hope that’s the case. I hope I’m not booed off the stage (laughs).
I’m approaching it with just this sense of joy and excitement.
You know, for a nerd geek girl like me it’s an amazing opportunity that I have, really. To work on something that’s the type of stuff that I love so much my whole life growing up and to know that there are so many other people who embrace this type of storytelling. So, I’m really excited to get up there and interact with the fans and see how they like the trailer. I hope they love it.