“You got a whole lot of family,” The Walking Dead‘s Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) tells the now parentless Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming) in tonight’s penultimate episode of Season 10, that marks the end of the current run, for now.
With AMC having to hit the pause button on the latest season of the zombie apocalypse series due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, “The Tower” may be the last we know of the TWD universe for a while. Still, coming off the departure of sorts of Danai Gurira and her beloved Michonne character just a few weeks ago and now the premature end of the season, TWD tonight wasn’t going out without a few surprises.
As a trio of Survivors venture into an empty Pittsburgh that looks like most of the world’s big cities right now, the Princess character from the Robert Kirkman-created comics made her unique debut, for better and worse. Also, as Judith comes to terms with losing both her father Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne over the past two seasons, script flipping once villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) tries to find a new role for himself with the daughter of Whisperers leader Alpha, who he killed in March 15’s “Walk with Us” episode. And then there’s the little matter of Alpha’s murderous right-hand man Beta (Ryan Hurst) hearing his dead leader’s voice and stewarding a herd of ravenous walkers to our heroes hiding out in an abandoned hospital — with the added “strange” injection, to quote showrunner Angela Kang, that suddenly the world of TWD seems eerily familiar to our own and its health crisis.
Working on Season 11 remotely, Kang chatted with me about the quicker than expected end to TWD‘s Season 10, why there will be no episode 16 for a while, what’s coming next year and some urban tales.
DEADLINE: AMC announced on March 24 that next week’s proper season finale will not be airing for the time being, where are things at now?
KANG: Obviously, we think everybody did an amazing job on episode 15. Hopefully, it serves a satisfying interim pause to it all, but you know, we were working really, really hard on 16 and cranking away.
DEADLINE: So why aren’t we seeing the real finale next week?
For big episodes like that, to deliver them, it’s basically about two weeks before air. It takes that long to get all of the post-production effects done and all the final finishing. So, we were about a week and a half out by the time the California governor called a shutdown to stuff because of the coronavirus. AMC had no real choice, it’s like the sound stage move and all of the machinery from our vendors.
DEADLINE: Having planned and mainly executed a landing for the season, how does it feel for you guys to hit the reality of this pandemic, so to speak?
KANG: You know, our post department really was like, man, like, we wish we could’ve done it, but how do you crunch all of that work in in a matter of 24 hours? It just can’t be done. That was disappointing for everybody, but you know, we’re almost at that finish line. They’re trying to finish what they can, and then once things are up and running, we’ll finish it out and air it, and I’m excited for people to watch the episode when it’s finally done.
DEADLINE: Looking at this episode, we finally see the Princess character from the comics come to the screen as Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) get pulled into her isolation in Pittsburgh and things, get explosive, literally. TWD is mainly a rural show, but are you looking to more urban environments for next season?
KANG: We’ll continue to look at different aspects of this world, but yeah, I’d say that. What we’re working on in season 11, there will be some more urban feel and some different kinds of feels that we’ve been concentrating on. So, it’ll be a mix.
DEADLINE: In terms of a mix, we talked about this just a couple of weeks ago, when Dania Gurira had her exit episode, but that reference that Daryl makes to Judith about trying to get a hold of Michonne on the radio makes it seem like the character could return in some capacity – is that a seed you are planting?
KANG: I mean, I think we’ve got to live in the world where the characters live. I think they do have hope that maybe she can come back again, and obviously, for the sake of the universe, but that’s not really my realm. The hope is that, you know, there’s some story for her there in a cinematic format, but you know, that door remains open if need be.
DEADLINE: As one primary character leaves, another arrives with Paola Lazaro as the nutty, purple haired and minefield strolling Princess in tonight’s episode. What was the strategy in bringing this character to the show and what looks like a tilt towards the Commonwealth storyline from Kirkman’s comics?
KANG: Yeah, I think for Princess, in the comic books, you know, she is in a city, and I think that’s part of the fun of the group that went out and came across this character in the books. We loved that, you know, they were kind of going back out and seeing that the city of Pittsburgh.
This is a different city than they’ve been in before, but early in the show’s history, the cities were all flooded with walkers because that’s where people had evacuated to, and now we come across a city that’s been relatively emptied out…
— The Walking Dead on AMC (@WalkingDead_AMC) April 6, 2020
DEADLINE: I got to tell you, watching this episode this week when most of America, most of the world is shutdown to try to halt the spread of the coronavirus, there are a lot of comparisons and metaphors between Walking Dead and the crisis we’re going through. Looking at the trio of survivors going into a deserted Pittsburgh, it really did kind of look like Downtown LA right now.
KANG: I know. It’s so strange.
I mean, for us that’ve been working on this show a long time, it’s been pretty eerie seeing some of these images where we’re like, oh, wow, that actually does kind of look like scenes that we’ve shot in the show. Of course, we have to artificially move people out of streets to kind of get those looks on our show, and the streets are really empty today. It’s been really strange.
DEADLINE: How could it not be? On another level, it must be strange to have your season cut short right near the end. Yet, also there was a different feel here this year. Penultimate episodes of Walking Dead seasons have often seen huge deaths or at least the inference of them, exits or new threats emerge. “The Tower” was more almost of a …I don’t want to say a slow burn, because by the very end, with Beta and the herd coming closer, clearly, shit’s about to go down, but there was a very different tone here.
KANG: In the structure of this particular season that we’ve been working on and this half season, there was so much battle midway through the back run and this string of epic events. So. our intention was you do these battles, and then you need a minute for everybody to figure out their place again.
Yet, there’s still all these things happening. We’re meeting this new character of Princess.
Our people, the Survivors very smartly, anticipated that the Whisperers might find where they’re at, and so they’ve tried to kind of get ahead of that. It’s just a different structure. We’ve done seasons where there’s a lot of back-to-back battle, and for the storytelling, sometimes that works, and sometimes we just want to pursue a different path. So that was what we were intending here.
DEADLINE: This episode ends with the bloodthirsty Beta, the Whisperers and the walker herd closing in on the Survivors who are holed up in that hospital, so what would have been the season finale was clearly going large. On another meta level, when you took over with Season 9, one of the things you did was bring the first of several time jumps to the show – this seems to a pivotal evolution of that tonight, no?
KANG: Well, it’s been, like, 12 years of apocalypse I think in the show, hasn’t it? So, the world is bound to look a little different at every turn.
I think there is this sense of them being on the road doing this thing that is not directly related to the war, and yet, the hope is that they find new allies along the way. I think that the more our people trek out there, the more they’ll see that the world has continued to change around them, you know?
They’ve been in this little particular geographical area for a while. So, if you really think about it, our people know very, very little about what is out in the world beyond just their little circle, and so that obviously just becomes part of the story going forward.
DEADLINE: With Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes gone and now Danai’s Michonne out of the immediate picture, we got a sense of the parental relationship building between the lone wolf-ish Daryl and the scared Judith, leaning towards Season 11, where is that tricky and touching relationship going?
— The Walking Dead on AMC (@WalkingDead_AMC) April 6, 2020
KANG: Norman himself is so wonderful with Cailey, and so we felt that for a while. When those two are on the screen together, there’s just something that’s really special about the way that they interact. As a testament to Norman as an actor, it feels kind of true to Darryl that, you know, he can be a parental figure in his own way without really replacing exactly what Michonne or Rick was.
DEADLINE: But so often on Walking Dead those relationships backfire, as looks to be the case so far with Negan and the now dead Alpha’s daughter Lydia (Cassady McClincy) With the now delayed World Beyond spinoff focusing on a generation that knows little but the zombie apocalypse, TWD also is going very Generation Z, it seems?
KANG: Well, I’d say that’s been true for Daryl since Judith was born in Season 3. He understood the importance of the next generation and the hope that a baby can bring. Since then, he’s always had been this surrogate uncle sort of figure, and now that both of her parents are not around, I think that he fully feels that charge of responsibility.
So, in “The Tower,” he has his very own vibe with her, but we were going for a scene that was like the scene very early on in the run of the show where Rick and Carl (Chandler Riggs) are together. Carl’s having a hard time with all the deaths, and Rick has to tell him, at almost the same age as Judith now, that this is the way the world is. In some way, Darryl’s message is more hopeful, I think.
KANG: It’s that at this point, you have family, and we’re going to keep you safe. You know, he’s trying to make her feel better and loved.
DEADLINE: There’s clearly a lot of baggage still, to put it mildly, but we are also seeing a relationship develop between Daryl and Negan. Being that Norman and Jeffrey are so tight in real life, but there isn’t even a Daryl character in the comics to draw from, how is that going to play out next season?
KANG: I will say that we see a little more of Negan and Darryl in episode 16, and it becomes part of the story even beyond that.
But, as you said, it’s a little complicated between them. You know, I think Darryl has his moments where he’s still not sure, but he can’t deny Negan has undeniably done some good things for the group, like infiltrating the Whisperers and killing Alpha. So, it’s something that we’ve really been enjoying doing, putting together some of these characters who were on the opposite sides of the line from each other for so many years, you’ll see.