SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Who Are You Now.”
We said goodbye to Rick last week on The Walking Dead, as the character is moving off the program and over for a series of TWD movies. But with every goodbye on this show, there is a hello, and this week we were introduced to the next best thing: Rick Jr.
Yes, it appears Rick and Michonne’s talk about planning for the future was not just talk, and the end result was a baby boy named after his father who goes by R.J. That wasn’t the only shocker: Take what long-haired Carol did in burning some Saviors alive. Or the X scar on Michonne’s back. Or, I don’t know, TALKING ZOMBIES!!!
We spoke to showrunner Angela Kang about all that and more, and she dropped some juicy behind-the-scenes tidbits along the way. Read through both pages of the interview for all the scoop, and also make sure to check out our episode Q&A with Josh McDermitt about facing the Whisperers.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This episode marks the show’s most abrupt change yet in a lot of respects. What was it like embarking on this new chapter with new stories, new characters, and new looks?
ANGELA KANG: It was a lot of fun, but also it’s just very daunting. Rick’s departure was so huge. Then episode 6 was almost like piloting a whole new show while still trying to keep the DNA of the show that we’ve been watching for so many years. I know all the actors had such a great time just collaborating on the looks, and the hair. We had a conversations about like, “Well, let’s talk about what this character looks like six years in the future?”
Danai [Gurira] and Melissa [McBride] had these great ideas on what to do with their hair that we were able to design. We worked on costumes, using the comic book as references for stuff like Jesus’ look, which we’ll see in these episodes going forward, then also just stuff like was just fresh for the show. That part of the process was definitely a lot of fun. The production design team did such an amazing job bringing to life some of the looks from the comic, while still using some of the stuff that’s specific to the show. We’ve got this windmill that’s a big deal from the comic book that our production designer had the great idea to build it on top of one of the bombed-out houses. That was kind of specific to the show’s mythology.
Angela, did you just tease the Jesus man bun? Is that what I heard out of you?
There may be some man bun action coming.
I was wondering how you decided which characters had drastic new looks and which were pretty similar, and it’s also interesting to hear you say that Danai and Melissa helped with the ideas for their hair.
It’s funny. With deciding who was going to have really dramatic new looks versus stay the same, it really depended a lot on the character, because there are some characters that are just people who stay stable and steady. For example, Daryl — there’s definitely things that have happened with his look because things have happened to him, but Daryl’s not a guy who goes and gets crazy hairstyles, or whatever. Whereas, Michonne, she’s someone who always has had an edge. I think that was one of things we were like, “Well, you know, maybe after everything that happened with Rick, maybe her hair, she gets a gray streak or something.”
Dania was like, “Well, you know, we don’t want the character to look like she’s just old and uninteresting. She’s gotta have her edge. Michonne has an edge.” We were like, “That’s true.” I think she found some different pictures of things. We were like, “Wow, that would be so cool to have that shaved head on the side.” We had to test that to make sure the wig was going to work where she could still do her swordplay and stuff because it’s kind of a challenging thing to have it so short on one side. Fortunately, the hair department and the wig maker were able to fashion something that worked really well.
And what about with Melissa, and Carol’s new hair?
Melissa, at first we were going to keep her hair short, but she was like, “You know, it’d be really interesting to have her grow her hair long.” There’s a whole story behind why Carol has short hair, and we actually have a scene that speaks to that at some point in the season. It’s part of the backstory of Carol and why she has short hair, why she had short hair in her marriage and everything. It really shows where that character is at with her state of happiness. She’s at a place where she feels safe and at peace, and that’s reflected in the hair. That really was very driven by Melissa’s feelings about where the character was at. That was the process. It came out of these conversations about these characters, and where they felt they were at, and what is important to maintain about that character’s personality, et cetera.
Speaking of new characters, we’ve talked a few times about Magna’s group. Now that we’ve gotten a pretty good introduction to them, how are they different as a group from the characters we already know?
They’re very similar to our characters in that they were able to survive a long time on the road. They’re very tight-knit. They are a group that considers themselves a family. In that way, there’s more a parallel to our characters than totally different. But at the same time, because they are their own unique individuals, and they’ve done things their own, and they’ve been out there a lot longer, there are some differences. They’re incredibly capable, like our people are, but there’s a scrappiness to them that they’ve maintained over years because they haven’t found that kind of place to call home for a long time.
Plus, Connie is deaf. We’ve made part of the mythology of this group that they’ve been together and they’ve all learned sign language in order to communicate better with her, but it’s something that is a survival skill for them as well. We’ll seen in an episode that they can use that to be silent, basically, when they’re in the presence of zombies. It gives them a special shorthand and special kind of skill of communication that other groups we haven’t seen have that.
And with Dan Fogler, who plays Luke, he’s just hysterical and really charming. A lot of times, this show can be very serious, but this year we wanted to play a little bit more with people who are using humor as a survival tactic or to deal with serious situations. It’s something that he uses to disarm people, and to make friends quickly, and to make allies, because that’s one of the things we’re dealing with. When a group comes in from the outside, how do they become trusted? How do they become a friend? We’re just openly using humor as a tactic with that character, which has been a lot of fun.
Let’s talk about Carl’s story from the comics because I see other characters here assuming parts of that. We have Henry going to apprentice for Earl the blacksmith at the Hilltop, and we have Judith talking through the bars of the cell to Negan. What was the process like of deciding where to put those aspects of Carl’s story?
The show has often diverged from storylines in the comic. It’s always a process remixing things for us. There’s nobody that’s going to exactly replace Carl. Carl is his own character, but there are definitely plotlines from the comic that we didn’t want to completely lose. Henry just organically would be with this time jump about the age of Carl in the comics. There were certain aspects that we felt play well with Henry, especially because Carol is now that parent.
Obviously, all of that plays differently because Henry is a different kind of kid in the show than Carl was in the comic at this point. He’s had a different upbringing. He’s had a bit of a sheltered life. He’s also faced different kinds of things. We just wanted to make sure that anything that we take from the comic that maybe once was part of Carl’s storyline, it’s a little different when you have Henry playing it. We don’t intend for it to be exactly the same.
And Matt Lintz, who plays Henry, is the third Lintz child to come on our show. Sophia was played by Madison. His younger brother Macsen played the young Henry. That’s been really fun to have that family with us for another chapter of the show.
What about with Judith?
With Judith, she bears certain similarities to Carl. She’s also very much her own character as well. She’s really spunky. She’s funny. She is an apocalypse native. That makes things a little different than a kid who remembers life before the apocalypse. What’s exciting about it is we get to have that feel of the Grimes kid who’s 10 years old, like we have in the comics, but we’ve really been enjoying finding Judith’s unique version of what that story is because she, again, has a very different background than Carl.
For us on the creative side, we really enjoyed getting to look back at some of those plotlines that we loved so much from the comics, while also creating something that is unique to the show, because it’s our characters and their experiences are different. We’re just really thrilled to have Cailey Fleming playing Judith because she’s such a ray of sunshine for the cast and the crew. They just absolutely love her. People teared up when they saw her step on the set. She looked so much like Sarah Wayne Callies. There’s a resemblance to Chandler, who played Carl. That’s really been a bright spot for us in making this season.
While you’re just talking about Henry, let’s talk about Carol. What are we to make of Carol telling Henry in one breath to stand down and then going and burning a bunch of Saviors alive in the next?
I think Carol in that role of mother, she is still very protective of her kid, and wants to raise him right, and wants him to have good values. Also, it’s like a survival thing too. It’s like, why pick a fight at a time when you’re outnumbered? She’s very pragmatic, and the smart thing to do is just defuse the situation. She rigged the situation with her experience and her knowledge. She knew that there was no fighting really in that moment, but the guy touches her kid and there’s also still mama grizzly Carol. You don’t get away with that.
She’s run into this guy a bunch of times. She’s forgiven, but she’s never forgotten. She’s just at point where she realizes like, “You’re causing problems. You’ve caused a problem for me, but also you’re causing problems for other people. Also, you don’t get to touch my kid.” That’s the unforgivable sin. We just felt it was important to show that Carol has this softer side of her, but she still’s not soft. She’s going to take care of business, but she also doesn’t want her kid to have to see something he doesn’t have to see. She’s still got a slyness about her in the way she handles things.
Speaking of kids: Is that Rick and Michonne’s son we see scampering into that hallway looking for food?
Yes, that is. That is Rick junior, R.J., who’s scampering around.
Is that his name, R.J.?
Yeah, his name is R.J.
What a great way to reveal that almost as an unexpected button to that scene.
We thought that was a fun thing, because we had this big reveal of Judith, so we felt like: Let’s give Judith her moment in the sun. But we started setting up really at the beginning of the season that this was something that Michonne and Rick [were interested in]. In episode 3, they go, “Well, let’s maybe start planning for the future in other ways.” That was part of their hopefulness, that they believed that they could build a world where children could thrive. The kind of tragedy of it is that Rick was not around to see this happen. But for Michonne, it’s just another person that she is fighting for, and that she wants to keep safe, but it’s part of what plays into some of the philosophy and decisions behind how Alexandria is run, which is a big part of the story going forward for the season.
What’s with the big X scar on Michonne’s back?
We will learn that story at some point.
Whenever the camera lingers for a second, I know there’s a story to tell.
Yes, there is. What we know is that she has a big X on her back. It wasn’t there before, so it’s something that has happened during that time jump. She alludes to it in the council room when she takes the chances of the group that’s come there. She says that she remembers and that she knows that many of them do too. They have obviously, in the six years that have passed, faced some probably human foes that have affected the way that they deal with new people and their level of trust. It’s definitely something that we’ll learn more about as the year goes on.
Michonne tells Magna’s group that she will escort them to Hilltop, where there is a woman there she thinks will take them in. Who is that woman, Angela?
Well, we will find out a lot more in the following episode what it is that people know and what they don’t, and what’s going on at the Hilltop. That’s part of the story.
Speaking of what people know, and what they don’t, and what’s moving forward, we got our first brief glimpse of the Whisperers via those talking zombies. It’s a little twist on the famous comic scene. Now we have Eugene and Rosita hiding down there in the creek. How much should we expect this Whisperers arc to line up with the way it is presented in the comic?
Some of it will be very similar and familiar to comic fans. Some of it will be quite different, but I think it’s one of my very favorite storylines from the comics. I think the feel of it will be very similar in that there’s mystery. There are some twists and turns. There are some huge reveals coming.
Before I ask specifically about what we’re going to see next week: How many girlfriends is Father Gabriel going to have this season? The guy’s a ladykiller all of a sudden! What’s going on?
He’s a player!
He is a player!
He’s a very handsome man. He found his love.
It’s the eye isn’t it? The ladies find it irresistible.
[Laughs] Yeah. There will be some hopefully some fun and unexpected things that will unfold with that story in general. I have to say, I’m really enjoying a lot of the work that Christian [Serratos], as Rosita, is doing this season. There’s some really fun stuff with her, with Eugene, and others. I look forward to people watching it because I think there’s some really, really great stuff there.
Okay, what can you tell us about next week on The Walking Dead?
There’s a really great Carol and Daryl story, which we sort of teased at the end of that episode when it turned out that Carol has taken this detour to find her old friend Daryl. We will get a better look at how he’s been living and find out more about what’s been going on in his world ever since that bridge blew up. That’s a big part of the story. We’ll also start to learn more about this new group as Michonne and Siddiq start to escort them to the Hilltop. We’ll also get some more story about Rosita and the Whisperers. Well see what’s really going on behind the scenes at the Hilltop in the time that’s passed, and the things that have changed, and the people that have had to step up, and the people who are struggling with some of those things.
I should mention our wonderful alum of the show, Michael Cudlitz, who we all know is a wonderful actor, episode 7 is his directing debut on this show. I think he just absolutely killed it. Everybody was so happy to have him back, cast and crew. He made really a wonderful episode. I’m really excited for people to see this work that he did in a new role on the show, which it’s one of the things that I’m truly loving is how much interest there is from people who have left the show as actors to maybe come back in a different role. That’s really great for all of us.
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