November 04, 2018 at 10:08 PM EST

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.

Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

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.

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