SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Stradivarius” episode of The Walking Dead.
So many questions!!! That was what most Walking Dead fans were likely thinking at the conclusion of Sunday’s “Stradivarius” episode. We learned that Rick’s disappearance had led to Daryl living on his own, but were left to ponder about that mysterious X scar on Daryl’s back that matched Michonne’s. We found out that Maggie had left the Hilltop to join Georgie in helping out another new group, but now had to wonder about why she and Michonne had seemingly been in some sort of cross-community feud. We saw Jesus and Aaron having clandestine meetings, but wait…was there a romantic element to those meetings?
So many questions! Therefore we took those questions to showrunner Angela Kang to get her professional insight into all that and more, including a look ahead to next week’s midseason premiere. (Read through both pages for the entire interview.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, let’s get to the most important thing right off the bat: Daryl has a dog! Norman has been telling me for like six years that he wanted a dog on the show, so tell me how he finally got his wish.
ANGELA KANG: When I started the show in season 2, I was also Team Daryl Should Have a Dog. It’s this thing that’s kind of been batted around for a long time, and it never happened. And to be honest, a dog would’ve died pretty quick during some of the seasons that they were in.
So we were talking about, how can we show the state that Daryl’s in? And I thought that it would be great that he’s been off for a while after Rick’s presumed death. Daryl just went off. And Daryl is somebody who hunts and goes about and does things, and it seemed like a dog is a good companion. It shows that there’s still a desire for him to have a connection somehow. And so the dog is his faithful companion. In my mind, there’s also a story behind where that dog came from. And so that’s how we ended up with a dog.
And Norman wanted to help pick the type of dog, so he kept texting me pictures of adorable dogs for weeks. And the two dogs that play the dog are great. The main dog, his name is Seven, and he is just so adorable and such a great dog. So it’s a lot of fun seeing Norman work with the pup finally.
Oh my God. You just totally bummed me out when you said “Yeah, but you know, if we gave him a dog a while ago, I’m sure it would’ve died at some point.” And I’m like, “Oh my God. This dog is going to die!” You’re totally setting us up, and you’re setting Daryl up to love this dog, and then something absolutely terrible is going to happen to it.
Oh my gosh. I don’t know if I have the heart to kill the dog, man.
Look, you can kill whatever person you want. Don’t touch the dog! But sticking with Daryl, it seems he has had some difficulty with closure after losing Rick. What’s going on here with him searching for his buddy and then just kind of staying off by himself? I don’t know if there’s a grid in the apocalypse, but if there is, he’s been living off it.
He’s definitely been living off the grid. I think after Rick’s gone, he just immediately is like, “Okay, what do I jump into next?” after that grief. And I think he would’ve kept looking for some sort of something for there to be closure, for himself but also for Michonne, who is a great friend and was the love of his brother in the apocalypse.
When that didn’t result in anything, he just kind of became the lone wolf that he always was kind of half-threatening that he would be. He’s always going around saying, “I’m better by myself.” There are moments when he kind of wants to run away from the group, and he finally did it. I think that in our minds in the story, he probably spent some time trading between the communities. He kept somewhat in contact. Obviously, Carol knows where he’s at. But the contact became less and less and less over time. And that just felt very true to kind of who Daryl is, but also just where his head space is at. Because what’s he going to go back to? He doesn’t really want to be the bureaucratic leader of a community. He lost his brother, and in some ways he lost his way when that happened. So that’s kind of the starting point for him. And then we’ll see what I hope is an interesting arc for him over the course of the season as Carol comes and draws him back into the fold somewhat.
Speaking of people who don’t want to be leaders, we get our first look at the Hilltop and Jesus is now running it since Maggie is off with Georgie helping with a new community. This is interesting because Jesus is a guy in both the comics and TV show that never wanted to lead, and you really explore that here, don’t you?
There are certain characters that, even though they display leadership in certain situations, the idea of being behind a desk or making sure that the food counts are right and that stuff is distributed and this and that, it’s just not who they are. And I think Jesus, as the person who was sort of right-hand man to Maggie and somebody who was there at Hilltop from the early days, is somebody that the people would naturally look to.
And yet it’s something that he has a hard time with because he is the guy who likes to be out there on his horse or running around the landscape. He was the recruiter. Much like the way Daryl and Aaron used to go out, Jesus likes being out there in the world. He likes to scavenge. He likes to find new things and new places and new people. And so he’s in a place where he’s struggling with that.
And in some ways, Tara is really taking over some of the responsibilities that maybe Jesus should be kind of in charge of. So he’s sort of in this odd place. Even early on, Maggie was kind of like, “Why don’t you lead this place instead of Gregory?” He’s just like, “That’s not me.” And that’s really the character that we’ve seen all along. And so we wanted to kind of play that out.
How excited was Tom Payne for the man bun?
I think he was pretty excited. And I have to say he rocked it pretty well. It looks good on him.
Speaking of Jesus, you put him and Aaron together on these secret meetings they’re having. Comic book fans know they become a couple there. Are you starting to set that up here?
I can’t speak to the future of that. What we did think was true is that here are two people that have a lot in common and who certainly had very similar philosophies. They were the respective recruiters for their communities. And so it seemed like there’s a natural friendship to be had there.
We were starting off, Alexandria and Hilltop having kind of a freeze between them. They haven’t had much contact. There’s clearly just some beef that’s happened there. And just the idea that there’s at least some people who’re…they’re almost like conducting secret diplomatic missions with each other. But there is a friendship there. They like each other. But it’s really based in who they are as characters, people who want to maintain connections, because they are the people who forge those connections in the first place. (Interview.)
You mentioned the beef. And I want to ask you a little more about that, because…what is this beef? Meaning, is this a Michonne and Maggie beef? Or is it something bigger than these two characters? Is it something between the communities? What light can you shed on that?
We saw that Maggie and Michonne in the first several episodes of the season were starting to have some philosophical divides. And so the two of them, as sort of respective leaders in their communities, certainly there’s a certain amount of beef that runs through them. But it’s bigger than that. It’s bigger than just two people having some sort of a thing. It’s the story of communities that have started to diverge in the way that they’re dealing with the world and the particular challenges they face in the apocalypse.
There is a story that will unfold over the course of the season that sheds light on what are the things that happened. How is it that Alexandria became so isolationist compared to the other communities. It’s just part of the story of the season, and also starting from that point. But just the fact that Michonne is taking this group of people to Hilltop — even that’s a start in some ways compared to the hard line that she’s taken for probably many years in the past. It’s definitely part of the season. I don’t want to give away anything more than that. We’ll talk about it as it goes along.
Well, we see also in this episode, not only does Michonne have one of those mysterious X scars on her back, but so does Daryl. Can you at least tell me when we’re going to get answers on what those X scars are all about?
There will be answers. Not in this half of the season, but it will come in the episodes to follow. So starting in 9B, in the second half of the season.
You had Michael Cudlitz (Abraham) back on the set directing this episode. This is the first time you’ve had an actor from the show come and direct the show. What was it like getting him involved and having him back there doing this?
It was great. We all love him so much — the cast, the crew, everybody on the creative team. He’s such a wonderful human being and so responsible and so professional. Everybody will use the word “professional” to describe him. He takes everything so seriously. And yet he has such a great sense of fun and energy about it all.
So he really has been very serious about the idea of directing. He shadowed on our show. He shadowed on Fear the Walking Dead. He shadowed on some other shows, with people that he knows. He really dove into it. And when he came in, he was prepared, man. He worked hard, and he just had such a great rapport with everybody on set. I think he just absolutely killed it. So it was really fun. It’s something he’d been wanting to do for a while, and we were just trying to work it out to make it happen. And this was the season. So it was a delight for all of us. Truly, it was really, really great.
We see Daryl, Jesus, and Aaron heading out to look for Eugene at the end. What can you say about next week’s midseason finale of The Walking Dead?
So next week’s midseason finale, I think everybody involved did such a great job with this episode. When I watched the first cut, it kind of had me on the edge of my seat. Of course, I’ve known what this episode is since the early stages, but the execution of it was so excellent. The performances are on point. Mike Satrazemis, who is our frequent director, did an amazing job with it. The script is by David Leslie Johnson, who is a very experienced horror writer, both for our show as well as writing big horror movies and tentpole movies like Aquaman.
I really think the action and adventure and the suspense is really fun. We do some great environmental things to give it atmosphere to make everything really scary. And there are some answers to questions that the audience may have about certain things. And it launches a whole other chapter yet in the story that we’ve been telling about what is happening with these walkers and I’m excited for people to see it.
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