The Walking Dead showrunner on that time jump shocker and Rick's goodbye
SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “What Comes After” episode of The Walking Dead.
Rick Grimes is gone. To where, we’re not exactly sure… but we will find out. Andrew Lincoln’s final episode on The Walking Dead showed our hero drifting in and out of consciousness as he hallucinated into meetings with Shane, Hershel, Sasha, and even Michonne. They helped him fight on to draw the herd of zombies away from his friends and to his beloved bridge, where they would collapse it and fall into the river below.
But when the bridge would not collapse, Rick had to blow it up, sacrificing himself in the process. Or so we thought. The episode — and Rick’s time on the series — ended with him being saved by Jadis/Anne of all people, who took him on that mysterious helicopter to parts unknown.
But not unknown for long. EW can report that Lincoln will be returning for a trilogy of Walking Dead movies to air on AMC. We spoke to showrunner Angela Kang all about Rick’s final installment on the show, including those epic reunions, as well as one reunion they couldn’t make happen and the one scene they filmed that you didn’t see. Plus, we find out exactly how long that time-jump shocker is, get some scoop on those incredible Maggie–Michonne and Maggie–Negan scenes, and ask Kang about the continuation of Rick’s story. Whether you are an A or a B, you’ll want to scroll through and read both pages of our in-depth chat. (Also make sure to check out all the scoop on the upcoming movies from Scott M. Gimple and hear from Andrew Lincoln how it all came together.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, what was it like being down there for filming on Andy’s last day?
ANGELA KANG: It was an incredibly emotional day and a beautiful day. Andy was really happy that he got a chance to work with some of these actors that he just absolutely loved from past seasons, so that was something that was really moving for him and for us to see as well. He’s such a trooper and he’s such a wonderful, positive presence on set. Everybody really showed up for him, just trying to make the best episode we could possible make.
And in his usual positive fashion, he did incredible work and then gave the most beautiful speech I’ve heard, maybe, from an actor. He asked everybody put your phones away; let this just be us. And he reflected on his time on the show and the fact that we’re all family, and it was a real privilege to be there. And we also just got silly and all put on hospital gowns and surrounded him, so that was really fun for us.
You mentioned that he loved being able to work with some of these actors coming back to the show, and obviously it’s fun for fans to see that as well, with Jon Bernthal, Sonequa Martin-Green, and the late Scott Wilson coming back. Why Shane, Sasha, and Hershel? Why these three?
We discussed with Scott Gimple and Matt Negrete, the writers, who might be some interesting people. The idea of these people from the past came from this discussion we had about the Third Man phenomenon, which is something that commonly happens when people’s bodies are at the brink of death or they’re in real trouble. And sometimes your mind conjures somebody that you know, or sometimes a stranger that you think is basically leading you through the trauma. It’s like some sort of survival instinct that kicks in.
And we were like, who are some figures that could help him reflect on the things that he’s been through on his journey through the series that will help him have the courage and the strength to keep going when his body just wants to shut down? Shane, who was such a monumental figure, that one was very obvious for us. Shane has fundamentally changed the person that Rick was from the first season Rick that we saw. Shane has had such a lasting effect. There have been times when Rick drifted into Shane-like territory. And then at times where he kind of looks like, “Wait, wait, wait. I’ve gone too far in that brutal direction. I’ve got to course correct and be more humane again.” The thing about Shane is he has this brute, gut courage, and so that was something that we thought was kind of a good, interesting thing to drive Rick forward; telling him you’re in deep shit right now, you’ve got to get out of it, man. That kind of made sense.
What about Hershel and Sasha?
Hershel was a figure that had so much heart, that was like a father figure to Rick in so many ways; was beloved by everybody. There’s so much grief surrounding that family, so much that they’ve been through. And there’s a kind of quiet strength in that family, and I think that felt really right for Rick. Rick goes someplace that he imagines is like heaven, if he could just stop and rest there. But of course, the message from Hershel is no, you still have to keep going.
And then he has this vision of something that’s like hell, which was very much based on this comic book cover. It’s one of the old comic book covers for Issue 100 when Glenn dies in the comics, and it’s just mounds of all the dead that have come to the show; what he imagines is the worst possible thing, which is that you lose everybody that you love. And Sonequa playing Sasha, she really was like a soldier who very much could see a larger picture; who didn’t just think of herself in selfish terms, but more like I am one player in a larger story and I have a role to play, and you do, too. She’s able to put that together like a larger picture for him. So that felt very right for that final piece where he’s able to move on to do this selfless act.
That was kind of how we thought about these three pieces of the story, but they all add up to this whole which keeps him driving forward in this incredibly difficult moment, where all he wants to do is lay down and give up.
Were there any other former cast members you tried to get but people couldn’t make it due to scheduling conflicts and stuff like that?
We had a few options, and we had also talked to possibly Steven [Yeun], but there was scheduling conflicts and things. But we always felt like this three was a very strong three to go forward with. I think it worked out exactly the way that it should have, and we were so blessed to have Scott Wilson with us for his final screen appearance. He was so lovely, and we didn’t know he was sick at the time yet. Everybody was so happy to have him there, so that was really, really great for us.
Let’s talk about something that didn’t make the episode. In that same scene where Sasha talks to Rick you also filmed Negan standing up and having some words with him. Why did that ultimately not make the episode?
We had talked about having Negan rise up and be part of that episode, but in the end it didn’t feel like the right reflection. Because Negan’s a figure that needles Rick, and it felt more like he needed characters that, even though Shane sort of does the same thing, Shane and Rick also had a friendship and Rick has some regrets there. And it felt like having characters that just really were pushing him to embrace the strength of moving forward was more what he needed as these hallucinations went on, rather than just somebody who was really kind of an enemy in the moment. Because I think Rick got this emotional wound from seeing all these dead bodies. It didn’t need Negan on top of it to drive that point home.
We’ll circle back to more Rick stuff in a minute, but I think one of my favorite scenes of the whole episode actually may have been the semi-confrontation between Michonne and Maggie outside Negan’s cell where Maggie is there to kill him and Michonne is there to stop her. Why does Michonne finally let Maggie into that cell?
I’m so glad you liked that. I loved that scene, too, and I think Lauren and Danai did amazing work in that scene. I got shivers when I watched the first cut of it. Scott and I had talked very early on about this idea of the Maggie versus Michonne story. That went through a lot of iterations in the writers room, including iterations where things got even physically violent between them.
But I kept coming back to these two women. They love each other. This entire group has such love and respect for each other, and it was hard for me to see a version of things where they actually came to blows over Negan, when the truth is Michonne understands the desire to kill him. She had that same sense of need for vendetta, or vengeance against the Governor. There’s a kind of hypocrisy to trying to say you can’t ever have this feeling about this. She expresses in the premiere episode, “I wonder sometimes, should we just kill him; should we have killed him?” It’s this trauma that’s at the heart of their lives that they all try to grapple with.
I think where we ended up was that it’s a battle of words and emotions and philosophy, because that’s what felt real between these two people who’ve really risen to be leaders of their respective communities. They just have a very, very deep disagreement about how they should have gone forward. But in the end, I think Michonne really is swayed by Maggie’s pain because she knows that Negan is a bad guy. She is not sure if they made the right decision sparing him. And what she sees and responds to is the absolute pain and trauma that Maggie has, and she knows that when Rick made the decision not to kill Negan that it broke a trust with Maggie and Michonne held her back.
She’s very moved by the work that Maggie has, and I think there’s also a part of her that trusts that Maggie is going to make the right decision, whatever that is in the moment. It’s just a very complicated thing where she starts off going “You cannot pass,” but realizing by the end that this person that she loves and respects, she has a right to have some closure with what happened to her husband because she’s the one that has borne the most grief out of this war. (Interview continues on next page.)
And then we have the Maggie-Negan scene in the cell which originally happens much, much later in the comics. Tell me about adapting that to the screen with Negan begging Maggie to kill him and her ultimately refusing to do so.
Sometimes with the comics, we end up moving things around. And in this case, it just felt so right because it’s where Maggie was at the end of the last season. We sort of promised a story where she was going to have a reckoning with Negan, and I’m like, this is really not a story that we should drag out for years. It’s something that we need to get to some sort of a reckoning with between the two of them. I always loved this moment in the comic where Negan is trying to goad her basically into killing him, and for both of them there is this very emotional thing that happens. I think both actors did amazing work in this scene, and I love being able to see the real effects of being in solitary confinement on Negan, and how difficult and painful that is for him, and just getting to see a really different kind of human side of him than we’ve seen in past seasons.
I think that for Maggie, it’s important that she has a way to shut the door on the pain of what happened with Negan and Glenn so that she can move forward into the next part of her story. And I also think we started plotting pretty early; we have five episodes with Andrew Lincoln, how do we structure this season in a way that makes sense? And pretty quickly, I felt very strongly that after he’s gone there has to be something that’s sort of a monumental twist, something that mixes up the way that we deal with time on the show. Because everybody kind of knows how our characters grieve after a big loss. We’ve seen that story a lot of times, and so I wanted to play with the idea of a bigger jump in time. So I was like, this thing between Maggie and Negan, we really do have to have some sort of climax to that story within this episode. That’s just part of what has to happen so that we can do the jump and they can be in different places after that.
You mentioned the jump. How long is this time jump?
We’re calling this a six-year time jump. So Judith is about 4, 4-and-a-half years old when we start the season, and then we jump to a 10-year-old Judith, just like we started with a 10-year old Carl.
You guys did the “dream” time jump last year and then you started off this season with a time jump. So even though I knew these new characters were coming in and even though I knew these new characters came in a time jump in the comics, I didn’t anticipate a third time jump, so you totally caught me off guard.
Oh, good. That was the hope with it, that people wouldn’t see this particular one coming, or at least that they wouldn’t think that as much time passed as it does.
What can you say about these new strangers that we met being saved by Judith? Obviously, we’ve already talked a little bit about them, but what can you say in terms of what might be happening moving forward with them?
These are characters that appear in the comic books with the comic book time jump, which would have been more in line actually with the first time jump that we started the season with. But the way that we chose to do it, it’s a little bit different. Magna and Yumiko, they’re a couple. They are very strong survivors. We’re seeing that this group has been on the road for a very long time. They’re all very good at surviving. We wanted to play with how these characters are and their personalities.
Nadia Hilker, who plays Magna, hails from Germany. She’s of Middle Eastern and German descent, so she speaks with her accent. We’re not trying to play her like a southern from America. We like that international flavor. And Eleanor Matsuura, who plays Yumiko, hails from the UK. She’s of British and Japanese descent, so she’s got her British accent. We thought it was really interesting to have more of an international flavor that we haven’t had on the show.
And then we have Connie and Kelly, who are loosely based on characters from the comic book, but we cast two deaf actresses. Lauren [Ridloff] is deaf and communicates with ASL, and Angel [Theory], who plays Kelly, she’s been dealing with hearing loss. She’s a dancer and she’s very much active in the deaf community, and it’s been really wonderful having those two.
And then Dan Fogler — who’s just a ray of sunshine and so funny — we’d heard that he was a fan of the show. I think originally he was mentioned for the role of [Saviors antagonist] Jed, but I was like, “He’s not quite right for that, but we’ve got a character coming up that I think maybe we can write the character towards him.” And he’s been just absolutely wonderful to have. The audience gets these characters who are really a breath of fresh air. They’re really great actors, great people, and I’m excited for people to see the story that we have going forward them, which is a story of people who’ve been out there a long time, who are basically refugees, and what happens when they bump up against our characters where these communities have really changed in the many years that have passed after Rick and the bridge explosion.
Speaking of the bridge explosion, Rick blows it up, takes down the herd. We think he’s dead. He washes up on the beach. Next thing we know, he’s in the helicopter with Jadis. We are going to see a continuation of that story starting in a Walking Dead series of movies. What can you say about that punctuation mark on Rick in terms of the series, then moving over and telling that story in a different medium?
It’s really interesting because Scott, obviously as the chief content officer, he’s been working on this universe for a while. He and Andy had had conversations pre-dating when I took over the show as showrunner. Scott has this vision of what this next chapter is with Rick. And so part of the process of doing this story was that he said to me, “Okay, here is how I need Rick’s journey on the show to end.” And then it was up to us to figure out how to get it there. We knew that he needed to fly off in a helicopter that was connected to Jadis and these helicopter people.
I do know a bit about what that mythology is. I can’t really talk about it, but there is a very interesting story about these people who clearly have certain resources. They’re flying around helicopters in a time when there’s a lot of scarcity of other things. They deal in human trafficking. They have a code for people that they take in, A’s or B’s. It seems that the people who are marked A’s, such as Gabriel and Rick, are supposed to get some sort of a zombie bite applied to them perhaps.
We just thought, okay, here’s how we might get to it. Let’s just dive fully into a story where the rest of the people have to believe that he’s dead, and it’s really just through the kindness of somebody who had been shown kindness by Rick that he survives. And then we brought back the “Space Junk” [by Wang Chung] song that was played in the pilot because it felt like a nice bookend to the hand of fate that has intervened in Rick’s life at these key moments.
Also make sure to check out all the scoop on the upcoming movies from Scott M. Gimple and hear from Andrew Lincoln how it all came together. And for more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.