“That’s part of the thing for our characters who don’t have full closure on Rick,” The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang says about tonight’s Season 9 finale, and where the now Andrew Lincoln-less zombie apocalypse series could go next. “That is something that remains an open question and may play into the story going forward in certain ways,” she adds of the fate of ex-leading man Lincoln’s Rick Grimes and the still growing blast radius from his being plucked out of the show in the first half of the season.
Of course, this first season of long time TWD producer Kang’s regime running the series based on Robert Kirkman’s comics has proven a Hell of a reset.
Deviating widely from the comics and jolting the narrative with the loss of Lincoln and Lauren Cohan’s Maggie, there was a big time jump, a dramatic shift in technology, the introduction of the dreaded Samantha Morton-led Whisperers, the killing of Tom Payne’s Jesus and the adaption of one of the most iconic moments from the comics with the beheading of 10 characters in last week’s penultimate episode.
Tonight’s Greg Nicotero-directed and Kang- and Matthew Negrete-penned “The Storm” finale saw Danai Gurira’s Michonne, Norman Reedus’ Daryl, Melissa McBride’s Carol, Khary Payton’s Ezekiel and most of the Survivors reeling from the massacre of “The Calm Before,” as they battle a raging blizzard and splintering divisions – and a mysterious voice that suddenly breaks through the silence.
I spoke with Kang about the voice on the radio, where the end of Season 9 leaves TWD, and where the AMC show is heading going forward. Part of that discussion about Season 10 was also about the fate of Rick and those Lincoln-starring movies, hints of Maggie’s return, the new role of Michonne next year and how Reedus has stepped up as the leading man. And, oh yeah, we also talked about the new spinoff to join the ranks of TWD and Fear the Walking Dead.
DEADLINE: So, who did the voice on the radio belong to? Was it Rick? Maggie?
KANG: I think that is the question of the day. You know, I think that’s the question we want to put out there. Whose voice is it? It’s garbled, and there’s a bit of mystery there.
DEADLINE: You know that’s an understatement right?
KANG: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s one of those things that we’re excited to tell the story of in Season 10. So, as with anything, that’s sort of a mysterious occurrence in the world of our people. It’s something that in some way will turn the story in a way that I hope resonates.
DEADLINE: In terms of that, with all the shifts Season 9 and the finale had, Michonne is clearly still a leader for the Survivors. So, with it revealed earlier this year that Danai Gurira will be playing a diminished role in Season 10, how do you plan to weave her in next year?
KANG: Well, we are going to be doing some creative things with the order in which we write and shoot things so that she’s sort of woven in a little bit. With Black Panther, Avengers and plays of her own and everything, I think Danai obviously is having an amazing career moment. She’s like an international treasure.
So we’ve kind of known that she would have a reduced role this coming season. We’re excited to tell a nice, meaty story with her for Season 10 regardless, I can tell you.
I’m also so thrilled with all the great attention she’s gotten for the work she’s done on the show this year. Danai is not only an amazing athlete and warrior on the show, but she’s such an incredible dramatic actress too in my opinion.
DEADLINE: So, she will be a significant part of Season 10, even with less of an episode-by-episode presence?
KANG: Absolutely. I was going through an outline right before you and I started talking. It’s basically another one of these giant Michonne episodes, which I’m really excited about. Yeah, she will be a significant part of Season 10.
— The Walking Dead AMC (@WalkingDead_AMC) April 1, 2019
DEADLINE: Coming after the Whisperers’ massacre of 10 of the Survivors — including Tara, Enid and Carol and Ezekiel’s son Henry — last week, there was a lot to unpack in this finale. Hints of Maggie returning, the search for Andrew Lincoln’s Rick, a change of philosophy by Michonne, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan saving Judith in the blizzard, Carol leaving Ezekiel, Daryl taking on even more of a leadership role, and Samantha Morton’s Alpha taking a whipping but clearly focused on more bloodshed. With all that, what do you think fans should having been paying attention to as a set-up for next year?
KANG: What’s funny is I think you’ve kind of hit all the major things. Obviously, from a giant plot standpoint the thing that I want people to key into is the twist we’re trying to play with when an antagonist on our show has made a big move like committing a mass murder.
Now things ramp up and it’s time to go to war, but, to add another twist, the Whisperers are not your normal group. They’re not behind walls somewhere. You can’t just go knock on their door and have guns pointed at their gates. That’s not them. We’re playing with the expectations of are they even where they say they are at any given time. They’re migratory.
We picture that they move south for the winter, but then who knows what that means, and the fact is we didn’t see them go. Our Survivors don’t know if they’re going to see them come. We want to set up that the conflict with Whisperers is not going to be like the conflicts we’ve had with other groups that are safe behind walls.
The other thing is obviously there’s this voice on the radio. What does that mean? Who is it? The answer to that will provide some interesting twists for the story going forward. Obviously, the idea is that Rick and Maggie and all these people are alive in our universe. That’s part of the thing for our characters who don’t have full closure on Rick. That is something that remains an open question and may play into the story going forward in certain ways.
DEADLINE: And Maggie? Tonight’s episode teased that Whiskey Cavalier star Lauren Cohan may be coming back after slipping away after the time jump during the latter part of the “What Comes After” episode?
KANG: Maggie is somebody we still hope will come back. We don’t know if, when that all happens and how, but the fact is the world is opening up a little bit in our show and people are far flung. There’s a sense now that there are places other than the one place they know exists.
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
KANG: You know, I hope what fans took something out of the fact that we did a snow episode nine seasons in. It’s a way of showing, among other things, that we still have some new things that we can try on the show and new things to show. You know, I don’t always want to do the expected thing or the thing that we’ve seen. We still have creative avenues that we will continue to explore in the 10th season which we’re really excited about.
DEADLINE: To that, let’s talk about Norman Reedus’ Daryl and the creative avenues that that character is going to travel next season in a Walking Dead with no Rick, no Maggie for now, less of Michonne and facing a new type of foe?
KANG: Well, it’s been really interesting working on Daryl this year, particularly because Norman and I talk about his character all the time and I think he’s so keyed into his mind-set.
I think Daryl, at his core, hasn’t really changed. There’s still the Daryl who doesn’t trust easily, but once he does trust you he is like loyal to the death. I often talk internally about him. He’s not somebody who cares about being a king but he’s like a loyal knight. He can be a lone wolf and can feel comfortable wandering and fighting but his heart is so true.
I think that that part of Daryl hasn’t changed at all, but I think that what passing time has kind of forced us to do is show he’s not exactly the same because time has changed him, circumstance changed him. He’s less twitchy than before. He’s less going to go off at a hair’s trigger. People look at him now and go he’s somebody I can lean on. Daryl’s now somebody Norman and I truly understand. So Norman comes less at the way he plays scenes from that standpoint of I’m always ready to jump into a fight, especially this year.
DEADLINE: Your relationship with Noman has evolved from you being a writer to a producer and this season as a showrunner. Flipping that, how has Norman evolved as an actor on the show as Daryl becomes more prominent?
KANG: Norman and I have always had a really strong and honest relationship with each other so that’s been great for me coming into the season running the show to know that he knew that I have his back, and for me to feel like from as one of the leads of the show that he has mine. We can really talk to each other about creative things.
In the absence of Andy, who is such a strong and clear number one on the show and who really set the tone of the show for years, and even inspired other people who’ve gone on to other shows themselves, to try to keep that same real positivity, great work ethic, no drama, Norman’s had to step up in different ways, and he really has.
You know, Norman and I had conversations this year about what happens when people come into the cast now? Andy used to be the one that made that first call and said welcome to the show and here’s some tips about being in Georgia. I said to Norman, guess what, buddy — that’s you now. You’re one of those people now. You’ve got to do that and he did. I spoke to Ryan Hurst, who joined us this year, and he told me he thought Norman was so great. Ryan said that Norman called him right away and, like Andy used to, said I’m going to show you where to go to eat and this is where you should live and you can ride my motorcycles.
DEADLINE: Speaking of taking a ride, there is a lot of movement in The Walking Dead universe right now. Obviously, Scott (Gimple, TWD chief content officer) and Robert are doing a lot of things. What’s going on with the Rick Grimes movies or the next spinoff that’s coming?
KANG: To be honest, I can’t tell you that much.
DEADLINE: You always say that …
KANG: (Laughs) No, really. What I know is stuff is in the works and people are churning away at things. A lot of pieces are moving around and places are being picked and scripts are being written and things are happening. But, I’m in my own corner. So, I run into the guys and they say we’re working on all these things. However, beyond that, the details, I think it’s really up to them to kind of talk about. Truthfully, right now, I don’t have that much I can share with you anyway. Sorry I can’t give you much more there.
DEADLINE: Fair enough for now, but at the end of your first season as showrunner, what can you tell us about what this season of resets, loss and revenge has been like for you?
KANG: It was amazing for me. The thing is showrunning, everybody will tell you universally it’s an impossible job. You’re wearing so many hats, too many hats at one time, and that’s kind of true. But, for me, I think the thing that makes a giant difference is if you really love the material and love the people you work with, that makes the hard parts worth it.
I feel so fortunate that The Walking Dead family is such a warm, loving and kind of scrappy and great family that I really love. The network has been incredibly supportive and wonderful too. It’s nine seasons in and they let us make a lot of changes. So, I still am excited to work on these episodes, to try to think of new stories, and try to think of new action for our characters and their world.