SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s season 9 premiere of The Walking Dead.

In case you were unclear, Maggie means business. Not only did she tell Rick that she will lead the Hilltop as she sees fit in Walking Dead’s season 9 premiere, but she then exercised her authority by executing Gregory after he convinced a grieving Earl to take her out, and then tried to finish the job himself. What does this move mean for Maggie? And can the Hilltop and Saviors still coexist after everything that has happened, with the former once again being asked to help take care the latter? We spoke to showrunner Angela Kang to get her take on these pivotal questions from the season premiere. (Also make sure to read our premiere Q&As with Xander Berkeley, who plays Gregory, and director Greg Nicotero.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Obviously, we see a lot of turmoil at the Hilltop in this premiere about sharing their food and supplies with the Saviors. How much of a theme is that going to be moving forward?
ANGELA KANG: For this first half of the season, that becomes just an important issue in general. Hilltop, at this point in the story, is really doing very, very well under Maggie’s leadership. And we thought it was interesting to show that these civilizations, they’re not in the same place. They have different strengths, they have different problems. And Hilltop being the community that was really the farming community, and being led by somebody who was a farmer’s daughter — that’s such a useful skill in the apocalypse. They’re the breadbasket of the apocalypse.

But we wanted to explore what happens when certain societies have to help others that were at one point really enemies to them. And we thought that was very true to what’s happened historically when there’s a war, that sometimes another country has to step in and provide aid. That can be a legitimate point of contention, and we thought that was an interesting thing to explore, and to explore the way that Maggie particularly is starting to diverge in philosophy from Rick and Michonne, and Alexandria. That’s a split that really started with the disagreement over Negan’s fate at the end of last season. And even though everybody is working together and still loves each other, there are some pretty deep differences in what they believe, and that’s a big part of the story going forward.

When Maggie says to Rick, “That stops now,” that is a big moment in terms of exerting her authority. She’s been training to be a leader ever since Deanna, and now it seems as if she feels like, enough waiting. It’s time. I’m ready.
Yeah, and I think what’s been really fun for us to play with this season is that Rick is somebody she considers a mentor and a friend, but during the All Out War storyline, he wanted her to step up more to leadership. He supported that. He said, “I’ll follow you someday.” And she’s been doing a great job leading the Hilltop. And now, the next stage is she has to be able to say to a friend and a mentor, like, “Part of being a leader means sometimes I have to do something that you don’t like.” And that’s not an easy conversation for anybody to have with somebody that they love. And so part of her growth as leader is just finding the strength to not just go along with Rick, who was the leader of their group for so long, but she’s got to strike out on her own.

Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Obviously, this plays out much like the comics, but tell me about you guys deciding to kill of Gregory and what Maggie hanging him means for her and this new society as a whole as they are making up these rules.
With the Gregory execution, we’ve been sort of building to that for a long time. I think from seasons ago, there was always the intention that we would play that iconic moment from the comics. But of course, we remixed it, in that the murder attempt doesn’t happen quite the same way. Some of the series of events are a little bit different. But we wanted to show that Maggie gave Gregory a lot of chances, and he did weaselly things each time. He seems a little incapable of making any change stick.

So, the thing that was really interesting to do, is that we just decided in this season, a lot of times that’s the type of story we build to over many episodes through the season. But we thought like, we’ve been building to this story for a while, so let’s just put the foot on the gas and play that story at the very beginning of the season, in the first episode. And then let the fallout from this series of incidents that starts in the premiere play out over the course of the season, so that’s the structure we went to that was really interesting.

So there will be fallout from this?
Like I said, this is a season where Maggie is really finding her own voice as a leader, and starting to define the ways in which Hilltop is different from Alexandria and the other communities. And they’re coming up with their own set of rules, and their own set of values that they’re gonna stick by. But it means that it brings her into some conflict with her very dear friends and other communities. Maybe not necessarily in terms of like, was the decision to put Gregory to death, right or wrong? They may not necessary disagree with that, but they may have disagreements about the way that she went about it.

And Michonne tries to stop her at the last minute during the hanging, because she’s concerned these children in the dead of night come and they’re gonna see it. And she wonders like, what are the rules about when somebody’s put to death? They’re really grappling with how you sort of rebuild society back into some sort of version of what it was, where there’s law and order, rather than something that feels in some ways like vigilante justice in the middle of the night, at the end of that episode.

And Lauren Cohan just killed it that scene, no pun intended.
Lauren is absolutely killer this season. She always is, but we asked her to do some really heavy emotional stuff, and she just knocked it all out of the park. It’s pretty great to see.

Also make sure to read our premiere Q&As with Xander Berkeley, who plays Gregory, and director Greg Nicotero. And for more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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