The Walking Dead showrunner on that huge Whisperers reveal and what's next
SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Evolution” midseason finale of The Walking Dead.
Talking zombies? What’s that all about? We finally got our answer on Sunday’s “Evolution” midseason finale of The Walking Dead when Daryl investigated one of the corpses and discovered these whispering, strategically-thinking walkers that were following them were actually humans wearing zombie skin masks on their faces.
First of all, gross. Secondly, what does it mean moving forward, especially with our heroes still trapped in that cemetery? We went to showrunner Angela Kang for answers on that and more — like, why kill Jesus?!? Jesus was the Whisperers first victim when he was caught off guard by their decidedly human tactics. We asked Kang why Jesus had to go and what that means for the story heading into the second half of season 9. She shares intel on what went down and what is to come. Read through both pages for the entire interview, and also make sure to check out our interview with the departing Tom Payne.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Someone had to be the Whisperers first victim. That victim ended up being Jesus. Why him, because obviously that’s a much earlier demise for him here than in the comics?
ANGELA KANG: There ae a lot of factors that go into what characters are the one. I think in this case, Jesus is really somebody whose life has a great impact on the characters both leading up to this point, but also leading forward. These characters are split apart more than they ever have been. Jesus kind of stands for a particular philosophy of togetherness and unity. Hilltop, where he’s been filling in for Maggie, is dealing with challenges of leadership and who needs to step up there while the other communities have their own challenges.
So our characters, they’re survivors and they need to deal with a lot of things. It was really exciting to see Tom, as Jesus, get to do a huge fight sequence and go out with a hero’s death. That character is a heroic character who sacrificed himself for the others, and so it was definitely really gratifying to see how well that all came together in the end on screen.
How does it feel from your end being the executioner now and having to make these decisions?
Killing is actually not very fun on this show, but it is part of the narrative of what these people go through.. People die in the apocalypse, and yet the ripple effects of those characters carry on for a long time afterwards.
So I asked you this last week. I’m going ask you again now, since clearly Jesus and Aaron are not going to be a couple moving forward. That would be a little creepy. But where were they when this all goes down? Were they on their way, maybe, to being that since they became a couple in the comic, or was that just not really in play at all?
They were not a couple at this point. We were trying to portray that these two had developed a really deep friendship and have a kinship with each other. They certainly have a lot in common in terms of their belief systems are very similar. They were both recruiters for their respective communities, and in a lot of ways Jesus and Aaron at this point in the story were carrying the torch of shouldn’t-we-all-be-unified-again? Wouldn’t that be great? But also in a lot of ways, it was a way for Jesus to escape certain responsibilities that he had back at home. And for Aaron it was just a way to stay connected to this other community. They certainly cared about each other. Whether that was romantic, that wasn’t part of the story here.
And then Jesus’s story on the show has ended, although it’s not necessarily the last time we’ll ever see him because we had a six-year time jump. But Jesus, as we’ve portrayed him on the show, is somebody who really had issues with being close to people. Much like Daryl, who has his own version of those kinds of issues, it’s not easy for him to become close to people at all. Jesus has kept his circle relatively tight and part of his evolution over time is that that circle was widening. So that’s really where they were at with each other at the point of the end of the season.
Let’s talk about that big reveal at the end where Daryl takes off the skin mask of the walker and reveals it’s a regular old human under there. Did you come across that pretty early in terms of, hey, this is our midseason ending point?
Yeah, we established this little mystery of, are the walkers evolving? And I felt that we really needed the answer by the end of the midseason. I didn’t want to carry that mystery over as a cliffhanger into the next half of the season. We should at least get one answer, because there are a lot of twists and turns to the Whisperers storyline in general.
So we wanted to at least set the table and have our characters find that there is a human factor at play, but a very strange human factor that’s unlike any that we’ve encountered so far. The masks are really creepy and strange, and coming off of the shocking death of Jesus in the moment, it’s something that our characters are just trying to process so much at the end of the season. So much has happened in the space of just seconds, really, for them.
Let’s start to look ahead a little bit: Will we pick back up in 2019 pretty much right after this moment with them trapped in this foggy cemetery?
We pick things up pretty quickly on top of where we left off, and our people are there and they obviously are gonna have to fight their way out. But they will make yet another strange and shocking discovery along the way within the episode, and the story kind of unfolds from there. We’ll also get to see what exactly is going on with Negan, now that he’s stepped out of his cell. He gets his jail-break, and he goes out there in the world. So I think there’s some really cool stuff coming up with Jeffrey as Negan in the next episode as well as just in that main story having to do with the Whisperers and that unfolding narrative that happens.
I find the Negan stuff post “All Out War” really fascinating in how it played out in the comic. I can’t wait to see what you’re going do with it there, and I’m sure Jeffrey digs it because he’s getting to show a lot of different shades of that character now as well.
Yeah, he’s been doing amazing work. It’s really cool to get to see him do stuff that’s really different from the past year. Because Negan is definitely going through a lot of things emotionally and finding what his place is in this world after many years in a jail cell. So that’s a story that I’m excited for people to see going forward. (Interview continues on next page with more scoop on what comes next.)
In that super awkward reunion with Carol, Michonne said how it was a broken world out there and “we’ve got to take care of our own now” rather than come together again as a group. Does this incident with the Whisperers change that philosophy or just cause her to double down on this isolationist stance?
This will definitely be a part of the story going forward, the way that Michonne approaches this problem but also the gradual evolution at Alexandria in general. There may be some surprising ways that the people there take it. Michonne, as a result of things that have happened in the past, has definitely adopted a really strict isolationist stance. In a lot of ways it has worked for Alexandria. Alexandria’s thriving. It’s safe. Most of their people have survived over the many years. But it has come at a really deep personal cost, particularly with these other characters and these other communities that are people that they love and care about.
But in conversations that I had with Danai that were really interesting as we were putting out these scripts and the story was unfolding — we just talked about the fact that Michonne, she loves people, but it doesn’t necessarily change the way she handles her business. One of the ways that Michonne’s been able to compartmentalize things is like, “Okay, I have this love and care for these people, but yet there’s just certain things that need to be taken care of and I have to separate my personal emotions from what I think is best for the survival of my community as a whole and my two children.”
So that’s kind of the place that she’s at, but obviously the Whisperers story as it keeps rolling and things happen, she may have to shift, because things come up in ways that you don’t think that they’re going to, and have effects that you don’t think that they’re going to.
You have this period of six years. You have these questions out there in terms of what happened between these communities. What are the X’s on Michonne and Daryl’s backs? How are you going to reveal the answers to these questions? Will these just be done in terms of information will be dispensed, are you gonna play with some flashbacks in that six-year gap?
We’ll definitely be telling the story of what happened there, and what’s kind of exciting about a six-year jump is that there is the opportunity to go back and tell some of those stories. So we’ll see some of what has happened. But it’s a deep, emotional story for Michonne, and for Daryl too. So I’m excited for people to experience that. It’s something that certainly has had an effect on Michonne in a deep and particular way. So that’s something that we wanna tell people what that’s about at some point.
So then moving ahead with what happened to Jesus, does that mean Tara’s going to be leading the Hilltop when we pick things back up?
Yeah, we’ll see that Tara really has to step into a role of more leadership. She sort of has been handling a lot of things, because Jesus in a lot of ways didn’t really take to being the leader of Hilltop. He doesn’t like the bureaucracy of it. He’s a guy who kind of likes being out there in the world and his heart’s in the right place. He certainly cares about Hilltop, but he’s a little bit of an absent leader in some ways. Tara, we see, has been handling a lot of the day-to-day anyway. So that’s one of the aspects of the story that we’ll be exploring going forward.
When are we going to get to Oceanside?
I don’t know! Oceanside is out there. There are all these communities that have disbanded that are there. We haven’t told much Oceanside stuff this year, but there may be stuff in Oceanside someday.
So if the first eight episodes of season 9 were about establishing this new world and what became of these communities after the war with the Saviors, what are these next eight episodes about?
We’ve seen what the post-Negan world is, but in the world of the Whisperers, they have a particular philosophy and it’s a philosophy that really is at huge odds with that of our people who have been trying to rebuild something like a civilization that we know and remember. That’s really a theme that we’re exploring the entire season, just in different little chunks. We’ve seen when our people are at odds, when they’re working together, and now we see sort of like the opposition argument in some ways.
So we’ll really get to dive into what that philosophy of the Whisperers is, the way that they go about things. They’re not really a group that is big talk and no action. They stick to what they believe in, to sort of terrifying ends. So it’s a really interesting time for our characters, having to come up against a group that just does not think or behave anything like any other group they have ever come across before. Just think of what it takes to put a skin-mask on your face and walk around with zombies. That takes a very particular type of person.
We get to have some really great new characters with our actors Samantha Morton and Ryan Hurst that I’m excited for people to see. We’ll also just do some other stuff in the half-season that we’ve never done before on the show that I’m excited about. So that’s what we’ve got coming up.