The Walking Dead showrunner shares alternate Negan story line
SPOILER ALERT: Read only if you have watched Sunday’s midseason premiere of The Walking Dead.
Negan escaped! Negan returned!
That’s the short version of what happened with the former Saviors leader on Sunday’s “Adaptation” midseason premiere of The Walking Dead. But there was a lot more to it than that. After taking advantage of that open cell, Negan made his way out of Alexandria (with permission from Judith) and back to the Sanctuary. Only problem was, there was nobody else there. (Unless you include a zombified Big Richie, which we don’t.)
So a bored Negan went back to his cell in Alexandria. But what if the Sanctuary hadn’t been empty? What if the Saviors had still been there and welcomed him back with open arms? What then? We asked showrunner Angela Kang to tell us what would have happened in that story line with the former — and perhaps future — big bad.
Kang also shared insight into all the other big developments of the episode. What are we to make of Alpha’s daughter Lydia? Is Henry the new Carl? What’s up with that insane love quadrangle? And what does the introduction of Alpha at the very end mean moving forward? We pestered the showrunner about all that and more. (Click through both pages of the article to get all the intel, and also make sure to check out our episode Q&A with Cassady McClincy, who plays Lydia.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with this little journey you put Negan on here. It begins with Judith catching him escaping out of Alexandria, yet he convinces her to let him go by telling her, “I promise you I will not hurt anyone. Even if they try to hurt me, I promise you I won’t hurt them.” Does he mean that, Angela?
ANGELA KANG: Well, it’s Negan, and he really wants to get out of there. [Laughs] I do think that in that moment, he at least believes he’s being sincere to Judith. Whether or not that’s totally, totally the truth may be a question, but Negan definitely on the show has been on a bit of a journey trying to figure out how to navigate life after being in prison. The major difference that we have with the comic book is that they’re in a different timeline, whereas we jumped so far ahead.
We were just thinking about this man who has had a lot of time, basically, in what was amounted to solitary confinement. Then he had a little more interaction with people, but he’s been kind of talking back and forth to Judith. I think she has had an impact on him. I do think that, at least from his perspective, he’s like, “Okay. Here’s my big opportunity to get out of here. What do I do with it?” And he’s kind of hoping that he’ll go back, and find his people, and maybe forge a new path forward. I don’t know. But yeah, it was a fun interaction to film between those two because I think they play really interesting stuff together.
Well, let’s play a little game of ‘what if’ because it’s my favorite game in the entire world. When Negan gets to the Sanctuary, he’s hanging out with Big Richie a little bit before he decides, “Hey, you know what? Being a loner in an abandoned factory, it’s not much fun.” So he heads back to his cell in Alexandria. My question is: What happens if he gets to the Sanctuary, does his little Negan whistle, and the Saviors all come out? If they had still been there, and if they’d welcomed him back, what does the Negan story become?
I think in that version, if the people were there, he might have taken back over again. Then where does it go from there? That’s a different kind of story. I think that the thing with Negan is, he fundamentally is a person who wants to be around other people. He’s kind of a blowhard. He likes to tell people what’s what. There’s no fun in being alone to doing that, so we knew that we wanted to arch it that he has to, in the end, go back to Alexandria and make a choice.
So we’d already been thinking like, yeah, they’ve abandoned that Sanctuary. It broke, and there’s something about that place that he built being scattered to the winds that was fun to play with. But I kind of believe that if he had the opportunity to be the head of a group again that that might be another turn in his journey. So if he’d found all the people, I think he may have wanted to save them.
Let’s talk about the introduction of Alpha’s daughter Lydia. She alternates between telling lies and the truth, acting scared and strong. What can we make of this character and who she is?
Lydia was such an interesting character in the comic book when she was revealed, and we really kind of stole that reveal straight out of the books. They think they’re up against these crazy people, and the skin masks with knives, and then they discover just kind of this doe-eyed teenage girl. It’s a question of whether or not she’s trustworthy. She’s a kid, but she’s a kid who’s obviously grown up in some pretty strange circumstances, so that’s definitely part of the story that we’re going to continue to delve into as the story unfolds.
We’ll learn more about exactly the things that drive her, how much you can trust her or not, where she comes from, how she’s become the person she is. I think there’s just some interesting things to see there. Cassady, our young actress who plays Lydia, she’s absolutely fantastic. We all just have loved having her coming to that story, and she’s done a really great job for us.
When we talked after you first did the time jump, you mentioned how with Carl now gone on the show that Judith would take on some of his comic book story lines — as we’ve seen with the relationship between her and Negan — and that Henry would take some on, as we saw with him already going to Hilltop and becoming an apprentice there. Now we see him with Lydia down in the Hilltop jail, so fair to say there may be something brewing there?
There may be. I think it’s something that’s interesting in our world is there’s not a lot of young people in it. A lot of them didn’t make it, and so as with anybody, it’s sort of like how many people are there that are our peers that you can connect with? So we thought how interesting that really the adopted child of Carol and Ezekiel, who’s now being watched over by Daryl, intersects with this person who is from a completely different kind of lifestyle in the apocalypse. Henry has grown up loved, and relatively protected, and safe, and she has been out there in the wild. We just think that that’s an interesting pairing, so yeah, there will be some story to come with those two. (Continue reading our interview on next page.)
NEXT PAGE: Rosita’s pregnancy and the love quadrangle
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Speaking of pairings, it seems like whenever Eugene and Rosita get together, vomit is involved, but this time Rosita is doing the spewing and we learn through it that she is pregnant with Siddiq’s baby. This was a love triangle situation in the comic, but because you all are insane you now have an extra person involved here with Gabriel. How tricky is this going to be moving forward with Rosita, Siddiq, Gabriel, and a lovesick Eugene all involved? This is a mess.
ANGELA KANG: [Laughs] It’s a mess, and we call it the love quadrangle because we had to make things difficult for ourselves and add another part to this triangle. You’re absolutely right. So yeah, that’s definitely part of the story, that we’re playing with these four characters and how they navigate these murky waters. It’s based on some stuff from the comic, but we put our own twist on it. We just thought it was really interesting from a human perspective as they get deeper, and people think about family, and what happens if there’s a pregnancy? What happens when these relationships end? We just wanted to explore that with them.
I personally really enjoy the work that Josh and Christian have done as the lovesick Eugene and Rosita, and how Eugene is constantly wanting to declare his love, and Rosita is sort of not having it. I think those two, they came into the show together. They have such a great energy together. We wrote these little scenes going, “I think these will be fun.” And they just bring such humanity and comedy to it. It’s been interesting to see that. Then, I think we have some pretty fun scenes coming up as members of the quadrangle deal with each other. I’m looking forward to seeing what you think about that.
You have a very dramatic ending here as Alden and Luke are following the arrows to find their buddies, but it turns out they’ve been duped by Alpha who shows up with a shotgun. What does this tell us about the strategic chops of this new adversary?
I mean, they are so dangerous, and scary, and weird. They’re absolutely strategic. I think at the end of the episode you meet the formidable leader of this group. Our people are going to quickly find that they’re up against sort of a crazy situation with a group where the leader is incredibly smart, formidable, just scary as all hell. Just the fact that they were able to construct this ruse to trap two of our people, and the fact that they can move about the world without being noticed in that way, it’s really a problem for our people going forward.
Over the course of this season, we’ll see that every time they even encounter one walker on the road now, it’s suddenly fraught with dangerous intention in a way that maybe it hasn’t been in a long time. Because now, anybody who’s lived this long into the apocalypse, they’re pretty confident. It’s not that dealing with walkers is ever easy, but there are certainly situations that don’t scare them the way that it used to at the very beginning of things.
But now, if you think like, “Oh, my gosh, any walker might be some crazy person wearing a skin, and they actually have weapons under there.” It just suddenly makes every interaction going forward very different, very scary. So that’s been a really interesting thing to play with in the back half of the season.
I feel like you guys have done a really good job this season where every episode is ending on a huge exclamation point. It kind of reminds me of the glory days of 24, which always ended each episode with a big bang.
I have to tell you that that, from my perspective, is really an homage to the comic books, because Robert Kirkman is a master of the plot twist, and it’s a real page-turner. Even when he does an issue that feels like, “Oh, look, this is really just about people’s relationships,” and we’re getting these kind of fun scenes of people having conversations about philosophy, or here they are having lunch, whatever — there’s always that twist at the end that makes you go, “I can’t wait for the next issue.”
That was one of the story values that I was like, okay, for me, this is one of the things that equals being true to our source material, is having that feeling for every episode, looking for the thing that’s the big thing that you remember at the end of every episode that takes you into the next episode or issue. So I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed it. It’s something that we were very purposely trying to do because I think it’s just a rhythm that tends to work well for our show. Let’s just have kind of our quiet moments as long as you have that plot engine pulling you into the next piece of it.
As we’re talking about creating that feeling of needing to know what’s happening next, I guess I’ll just ask you: Angela, what’s coming up next?
We’re going to do some pretty interesting stories. In the next episode, we take a dive into a different kind of story structure than we’ve done on the show. It was really challenging for us to work on, but in a way that I hope has paid off because I think there’s just some incredible performances, and things coming up, and some interesting mystery.
Then the season as a whole, we’ve seen these communities split with each other, and something as big as Jesus’ death — which is really the thing that Alexandria, Michonne, and that group was always afraid was going to happen if people went out there and were engaging with each other — we see how that starts to spin people in different directions as this new threat kind of comes in. I’m really excited about the story going forward.