As fans look forward to the introduction of new big bad Alpha when The Walking Dead returns on Feb. 10, the show will also be looking to the past a few times throughout the second half of season 9 via flashbacks. Traditionally — with a few notable exceptions — the show does not use a lot of flashbacks to fill in the gaps of the story, but with the recent six-year time jump there are certainly a lot of gaps, and showrunner Angela Kang tells EW that they will use some flashbacks to help explain what happened to the characters and communities during that time.

Kang also talked about Negan’s big escape, discussed how the Hilltop will handle the loss of Jesus, and and confirmed that we will indeed see the Harvest Festival in season 9. Read on!

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the death of Jesus in the midseason finale. What are the repercussions at the Hilltop after the death of their leader? Clearly, that’s got to be some sort of change there. Even if he didn’t want the job, he was tasked with leading them. Maggie is gone. Now Jesus is gone. What does that mean for the people there?
ANGELA KANG: The people at Hilltop have really had to deal with a lot of instability in their leadership. Fortunately, there’s Tara, who has been helping Jesus. She finds herself thrust into this surprising leadership role, as well as you find that there are other characters that are there such as Daryl, who wounds up there because he’s the guardian of Henry. He was the person that wanted nothing to do with leadership and had tried to step away from all of that, but finds himself in the middle of this dilemma that the Hilltop is dealing with because the Hilltop finds themselves right in the crosshairs of The Whisperer story as it unfolds.

I remember you mentioned last time we spoke about using flashbacks. Is that something we may see throughout the back half of the season or is that just a one-shot deal?
We’ll see. It will be used, I’ll say, it’s more than once. It’s a little different each time. It’s something that tells specific pieces of backstory that I think are useful to understanding who some of our characters are and why they’re at where they’re at.

We’ve heard some talk about the Harvest Festival this season. Obviously, that plays a big role in the comic books. Are we going to see that Harvest Festival before the season is done?
Yes, we are going to see the festival. That becomes a part of the story for the back half of the season. We really dove into the idea of what this festival is in a real way for our people. The origins of these kinds of trade fairs were that people from far-flung communities would take a trek and trade useful goods because not every community had every single thing that they needed. It’s a place where people could learn new skills and pick up supplies that they needed. It’s also a chance for them to bond as different communities.

In that context, we really get to see what each community is and how they’re even dealing with the very idea of this fair, because obviously, it’s been a point of some contention between the Kingdom and Alexandria. That’s a story that we see play out over the course of the back half.

And what about Negan?
We’ll also find out what happened with Negan, now that he has broken out of the jail cell. We get to tell a really, I think, pretty cool story with Negan, as he goes on an adventure of his own.

Well, that’s interesting because I remember that moment in the comic book where the cell door is left open but he chooses to stay there to prove something to Rick. Clearly, we saw him walk out on the TV show and we see him in the preview at the Sanctuary. What can you say about changing that story from the way it was presented in the comics?
Yeah, it’s not exactly the story that was in the comics, but we thought that it would be really interesting to see. Negan has wanted out of that cell. He kind of got to a point where he was like, “Just kill me.” Then we saw him after the big time jump kind of in a place of semi-acceptance of his fate, but he’s always wanted something more. He feels like he can be more in this world and so he sets out to prove that that’s still possible. What he finds is a really interesting and different world out there from the time that he came into prison.

Because if you think about it, for him, so many years have passed, whereas our people have been adapting to the changing world, he’s just been in the cell this whole time. He learns some pretty interesting things while he’s out there. I think it’s really great to see Jefferey do this really interesting almost Western-esque journey that I think will be fun for fans of Negan to see.

For more The Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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