The Walking Dead showrunner on that huge Rick cliffhanger
SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “The Obliged” episode of The Walking Dead.
Is this the end of Rick Grimes? It sure appeared that way at the conclusion of Sunday’s “The Obliged” episode of The Walking Dead. Rick was thrown from his horse and ended up with a giant metal spike through him while two herds of zombies approached from opposite sides. So is this the end for our steely hero? We asked showrunner Angela Kang exactly that, and you may be surprised by her answer.
Read on to see what she had to say about that whole situation as well as everything else that went down this week, including Negan’s attempts to get Lucille back, where Anne/Jadis just took off to, and the battle at the bridge. Kang also drops a fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbit from last season that led directly to the big Rick and Daryl pit scene we saw here. Continue on for intel!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with what for me was the most powerful scene in the episode: this battle of words and fists between Rick and Daryl. Maggie is on her way to Alexandria to kill Negan and Daryl keeps Rick from going to stop her. They jostle and end up in a big pit and then have this big debate about Rick keeping Negan alive. Tell me the genesis of this scene and how you wanted to approach it.
ANGELA KANG: The end of the season last year, there was a scene where Rick spared Negan under the tree and that was based on a really iconic moment in the comic book. What was really interesting was on the day when that scene was performed, Norman, who plays Daryl, he was watching, and he was watching Lauren Cohan playing Maggie screaming and wanting to go after Negan and being stopped and held back by Michonne. You could just really see in his performance how disturbed the character was by watching this. We were like, that’s great. It really plays into this other scene.
We kind of added him at the last minute to the scene where Maggie is saying she’s not down with what Rick does. That came a lot out of Norman’s performance in that moment. It felt right, that he was disturbed, because Maggie is his friend too. Rick is his brother, but Maggie is somebody he cares about deeply too, that he feels he owes a debt to.
That’s fascinating that you added him into that scene because of Norman’s performance in another one.
That was just one of the things that we always knew this season we had to pay off, this loyalty, this promise that he made to Maggie to help her. But also. he loves Rick. This is his true brother in the apocalypse. We wanted to explore the complicated relationships that people can have when they care about each other this much and the way that they can tell truth to each other in a way that people who care less can’t.
Usually, you see Daryl as such a true blue, loyal, right hand man to Rick, and we just thought it was really interesting to show him being a little subversive and deceptive. When that comes to blows, they eventually come to a point of words. I think, yeah, sometimes Daryl is a man of few words, but again, with people he trusts, he’s not afraid to state an opinion. It was really a gratifying scene for us to work on.
Then, Andy and Norman, they went to town — just rehearsing and rehearsing and rehearsing this scene. We also had conversations. My great writer, Geraldine Inoa, this is her first episode of television and I think she did an amazing job for us. She had conversations with them and we made some little adjustments to the scene just to deepen it even further. I think one of the big things was this idea that Daryl can be the only one who tells Rick, “Hey man, you gotta let this thing that you have driving you having to do with Carl, go.”
That came out of conversation with Norman and Andy. It just felt really true that Rick is chasing something and he needs somebody to tell him, “But look at the consequences it’s having on everyone you love that’s around you. Is this really the thing to do? Are you chasing a ghost? Are you chasing something that can’t be achieved? Look at the reality.” We love the idea of that in the scene. I just love what the actors did with it. They did an amazing job.
The most powerful moment of that scene for me is when Daryl brings up Glenn and says, “Man, your ass wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for Glenn. You wouldn’t have found Lori. You wouldn’t have found Carl. He did that. Or did you forget?” That has a lot of power not just for the characters, but for the viewers when you bring up a name like Glenn, doesn’t it?
Yeah, I think so. I really feel like these characters that have died live on inside these characters’ heads. They live in their hearts and it drives so much of their decision making. Sometimes we haven’t really explicitly talked about it that way, but we talk about it in the [writers room]. My mother died when I was a teenager and I think about her every day still and I talk about her a lot still. I feel like that’s a very true to life thing when people have had losses of people who are so important to them. It becomes a part of the conversation. It becomes a part of how you reckon with the decisions you make, and the person you want to be, and how you grapple with things like the wishes that they had versus how you’re trying to get through your day to day life.
For Daryl, he is thinking about the effect of Glenn because I think after Glenn died, he really felt guilty. He felt like it was his fault. He said as much to Maggie. She shows him grace because really how can you look at the actions of somebody like Negan and put any blame on anybody. Everybody was a victim. I think he’s really processing emotionally what it means in real terms that these people are gone. That is why he’s invoking these names of the past and the effect that they’ve had and the reasons why it’s so painful for Maggie, because I think Rick, he made a decision that might have been good in a theoretical sort of way and yet there are real people like Maggie who are in pain as a result of it. That’s the thing that Daryl’s trying to tell him.
Let’s move over to the big Michonne and Negan reunion. Why from a story perspective have her be the next person to go down there and talk to him in his cell?
We just thought that it was really interesting, the idea of Michonne and Negan having to be face to face because, I think, there is an aspect to Michonne where she’s gone to dark places before. She’s also risen to more of a position of more leadership.
One of the stories in the comic is that Negan develops a really interesting relationship with Rick over time and sort of ends up giving him advice in very strange ways, but it’s always this strange, contentious at times, relationship. We thought it would be so interesting to put Michonne in a position like that where here’s this guy who she just hates and wanted to kill, but ultimately was very much on board with keeping alive because of Carl’s wishes. And yet, she struggles with that decision too. That just seemed like an interesting, complicated thing.
We also just really liked the idea that for Michonne, going down there and talking to him scratches an intellectual itch that she has. Part of the story we’re telling in this episode is that Michonne has two lives going on. One is dealing with the bureaucracy of Alexandria and, at times, that can be dull. It’s important work, and yet she’s still going out there and killing zombies. We’re just really interested in the stories of what happens to soldiers after a war. There’s this trauma that they carry. Also, sometimes there’s this need that they can’t quite fulfill and they don’t know why. It seemed like Negan was the perfect way to explore all these new things, but also give Negan somebody new to bounce off of. He really hasn’t had this kind of interaction with Michonne too much in the past, so it makes for a different side of Negan as well, which we really liked. (Story continues on next page)
Michonne says, “You’re desperately trying to connect with me.” Why is he trying to connect with her? Is it loneliness, having an audience, or is it merely a master plan to getting them to finally allow him out? What’s going on here from his side?
I think there are a lot of mixed things going on. Some of that story will be told in the next episode, so I don’t want to give it all away. In a very simple sense, he thinks that maybe she’ll give him back Lucille. It’s something that he’s fixated on. Whatever it is that Lucille means to him in this moment, but he probably asks Rick for Lucille every time he’s down there. Rick’s like, “No. Screw you. Why would I do that?” He thinks, okay, maybe I can get Michonne to sympathize with me a little bit. There’s a little bit of a game being played, but there’s also just some sort of hunger in him that is not being fulfilled as well.
Well, we know what happens in the comics, so I’ll ask you here: Is that baseball bat going to find its way back to Negan’s hand at some point?
We will have to see.
What? You’re not going to give me the answer right now?
[Laughs] Not yet.
Let’s talk about Anne and Gabriel. They’re at the Heaps. At first, it looks like Anne’s going to drop this zombie down on him. Does this have something to do with the As and the Bs?
Yeah, this is part of the strange mystery of the garbage people. Jadis, Anne, has admitted that she is involved in some form of human trafficking and there is a category of people that are As and Bs. I’ll say that eagle-eyed viewers will remember that when Rick was in the Heaps, she marked his container with an “A”. She believes that Rick is an “A”. She thought that Gabriel was a “B”, but her opinion changed. Those are the clues. I won’t say explicitly beyond that, but that’s part of a story we’ll continue to play out in the next episode. There’s just a strange set of mysteries having to do with her and the helicopter people.
She eventually changes her mind, lets him live and leaves a note reading: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. I need to go fast.” Where has she gone fast? I assume she’s not on the helicopter if she didn’t have her ticket in Gabriel.
She has just run off. We’ll find out a little bit more about that in the next episode. The story that we were trying to tell with Anne this season is somebody who lives a seedy life. We called it the life of crime — like a small-time person who’s running stuff for the mob or whatever. They try to go straight and it doesn’t work out. Nobody trusts her. She doesn’t quite fit in and she gets pulled back in. We just thought that that was sort of an interesting type of story that we don’t typically do on the show. That character is so specifically kind of neither good nor bad. In Dungeons & Dragons terms, we thought of her as a chaotic neutral. In a lot of ways, first and foremost, she has been for herself, but the interesting thing with Gabriel is she finds somebody that might be a kindred spirit because he’s also somebody who did stuff that he’s very ashamed of.
When he locked out his parishioners and let them die, that’s something that he carries with him. He’s somebody who was not trusted and who has sometimes made strange decisions or has been a coward. She sees somebody else who really has been on a path of redemption. She does feel a human connection with him that makes her hesitate.
You are such a nerd, Angela. Dropping D&D lingo here on me? I didn’t listen to anything you said after that because I was just so focused on the D&D.
That is actually a thing that we used to talk about on the show! Is like, okay so-and-so is this person on the chart. That started under Scott Gimple. It’s a useful shorthand for certain characters.
Okay, we see a battle breaking out between the Saviors and everyone else but don’t really see the result of that. What do you want to say about what we can expect in the aftermath of that?
What’s interesting is these guys that are in the sinkhole, it’s sort of what Rick feared might happen, and didn’t want to happen, and desperately was trying to avoid, which is that everybody has come to blows again. He really wanted everybody to work together in the spirit of cooperation. Carol and Daryl particularly really were trying to tell him, I don’t know if they’re ready. I don’t know if this is going to work.
But, I think that the thing that is heroic and optimistic about Rick is that he knew what would be the right thing and what would be the thing to strive for. He kept pushing for it, but ultimately, it turns out that maybe his friends did have some insight into this. That maybe some people weren’t ready. We’ll see the results of what happened in the next episode, but it’s the start of certain events that get triggered here end up having a ripple effect into the rest of the season in ways both expected and very unexpected, so I hope people will stick around for that part of the story too. I think it goes some interesting places.
Okay, our final shot is Rick thrown from the horse onto a concrete slab with an iron spike through his side as two herds close in. Ummm, not a good look for him nor it is looking good for him. What can you say about that? Is this the end of Rick Grimes we’re seeing here?
It is the end of Rick Grimes’ story on the series. How that plays out, I hope people will watch. We wanted to pay tribute to the fact that Rick Grimes is a character who he is a survivor. He will fight as hard as he can for the people that he loves. That’s been one of his defining characteristics and that is a part of the story. We’ll see his grit and his heroism. We’ll see what happens. I’ll say that Andrew Lincoln… just amazing, amazing stuff this season. I love the work he’s done and I’m excited for people to see his last episode on the show.