The Walking Dead showrunner on that Whisperer family reunion
SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Bounty” episode of The Walking Dead.
SMACK! That was the sound of Alpha slapping her daughter Lydia across the face for having the gall to address her as “mama” instead of her new moniker as the designed leader of the Whisperers. One can’t help but wonder if Lydia in that moment didn’t immediately regret her decision to be reunited with her mother.
But why did Lydia make that decision on Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead? Did she truly feel that’s where she belonged, or was it just to save Henry and the others from having to take the blame for handing her over to save the lives of their friends? We asked showrunner Angela Kang that and so much more about Sunday’s “Bounty” episode. What’s up with the Whisperers being baby killers? How about staging that soundless sequence with Connie? Why bring Jesus back from the dead for a flashback? And how about that fun and funky storyline with the Kingdomers heading to the movies? Read through both pages of the interview as Kang shares insight and intel into all that and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We start off with one of the flashbacks you said were coming as Jesus and Tara bring Ezekiel the Multi Community Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What made you all want to introduce that in flashback form rather than just explain what had happened?
ANGELA KANG: I just think it seems really cool to see this moment because we’re starting to learn more about the things that happened between the end of episode five and where they’re at now. We just thought: What was the genesis of how Tara got to where she’s at? What was Jesus’ role in all this? What were they all doing? It really felt like it was more powerful to see this moment, and to see this moment where Jerry’s so excited about being a father, and this bit of hope that they have between them. So, it just felt like the right way to do it because otherwise it leaps into a very long monologue, and it just was so much more fun to start with it visually.
So, who got to write the actual charter?
Actually, it was our writers assistant James Fant. He’s fantastic. He also happens to be a huge history buff, so he does a lot of research on that stuff for us. He totally researched it and then wrote it and that is the trigger that you see screen.
Let’s stay with this storyline of the Kingdom and the mission of getting the projection bulb and the light box frame for the charter. First off, a pretty big tonal shift with this story from what we’re used to. A lot of humor at play. We’ve got the Cobra Strike and the Mission Mix tape and everyone is nodding their heads and singing along to some funky tunes. Tell me about deciding to have some fun with this storyline.
When we’re writing the show, I always want that balance between this really, really serious storyline with our people dealing with life and death issues. But humor is a way that people cope with the world, and even in dark circumstances, there are people who find a way to find joy and light. I’ve always felt that with the Kingdom, that’s one of the groups where their entire philosophy is to find a way to live in the moment and find the joy. They have an acapella choir at the Kingdom. I thought it just was really fun and we were just trying to grapple with what is it that’s important in this world, and what is important to preserve.
There was even debate internally, about with everything that’s going on with the Whisperers, isn’t this going to feel too light? But there’s a reason why entertainment moves people. There’s a reason why the Olympics exist, and even in times of people being split apart, there are ways that people want to come together, and that’s important because it helps us preserve community. That’s the thing that all of our people are grappling with. It’s the importance of community. How do we draw together? What are the things that draw us together? Or the things that draw the next generation together?
It’s something that seems like a frivolous mission and actually is really important to the idea of the human condition. So, that was just a new logic for the story, and I think the sudden parts of it like the tonal shift, it’s not something that we do very often on the show. But it’s also the thing that I think makes the episode unique and memorable.
When Ezekiel and Carol are heading back after getting the bulb and the light box frame, they pass a road sign with a painted marking on the back — it looks like an upside down V with a line over it. What can you say about that because that camera sure did linger?
Why, yes it did! What I will say about it is, we will learn who is attached to that sign at some point soon.
Will we get answers sooner rather than later?
Sooner rather than later, but I won’t say exactly when. It does play into the season story is what I’ll say.
Fair enough. Let’s talk about some of the other stuff that was going on over at Hilltop. Alpha shows up demanding her daughter she says “Your people crossed into our land. There will be no conflict. Your people killed our people, there will be no conflict. Bring me my daughter or there will be conflict.” This actually kind of reminds me of when Jeffrey Dean Morgan used to talk about how Rick, not Negan, was the bad guy because he was the one who came into a Saviors station and murdered a bunch of people in their sleep — and he kind of had a point. Now, certainly different circumstances here, but should this gesture by Alpha be seen as magnanimous? I mean, she’s certainly trying to present it that way.
She’s certainly trying to present it that way. She is the hero in her own story. So, to her, this all seems reasonable. This event is a key event for the Whisperers. Like Lydia said in the previous episode, “My mum’s not coming for me. ” They don’t do that, they leave people behind and she wasn’t lying. We’ll find out that this event have a lot of different fall out in consequences going forward. Because Alpha certainly does have this personal tie to her daughter. It’s a completely dysfunctional relationship, it’s an abusive relationship, but there’s also something human at the core of it. Which is what I think is really interesting and was interesting about the story in the comics as well.
So let’s get into the baby thing. One of the Whisperers has a baby. It starts crying. Alpha gives the nod to basically put it down and says “if the mother can’t quiet the child, the dead will. Natural selection.” Is this part of the Whisperers code? It seems like all Alpha has to do is give that woman look and she knows what she has to do, right?
As we were talking about the Whisperers rules and philosophy, we started to talk about a lot of different scenarios. Like, how do they handle children? What do they do if somebody is hurt? I think that they really have a very hardcore philosophy, which is survival of the fittest and you’ve gotta be able to make it work. Otherwise, it’s all over. It’s really kind of the coldest cruelest version, and we thought: What if somebody has a baby and a baby cries? It’s the thing that Lori was scared of when she was pregnant with Judith. What happens when a baby cries? It’s just gonna bring the zombies. She really felt like you can’t survive, and here is a group of people who have taken that to the extreme.
What I really thought was so interesting and chilling about Samantha Morton’s performance as Alpha there is when she looks back at the woman and literally just shrugs. Like, “Well, you know what to do.” There’s such a casualness to it that I think is so crazy, that I love so much. I thought that was such a brilliant acting choice on her part because there’s so many different ways you could play that moment. It’s scripted that she looks back, but it could be like a cold chilling stare, it could be she just shrugs. But I think that that’s right. I do think that for this group, they all know the deal, and their whole thing is that you have to stamp out your human emotions about it. You just have to do what you have to do so that the group continues to survive.
So it’s a moment that I think is really interesting and it was interesting from the inception of it to how it ended up putting out on-screen. It’s definitely one of the more memorable moments that stands out in my mind. Of this thing that was a notion, that became this really chilling moment that is really cool because of the performances. (Interview continues on next page.)
NEXT PAGE: Why does Lydia decide to go back to Alpha and what’s coming up next?
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Playing off that, what about what happens next, where Connie runs in, grabs the baby, and then scurries off into the corn field? What’s so interesting about this is that we hear this scene as Connie, who is deaf, would with just muffles and silence. Where did that idea come from to do that?
We knew that we wanted to do something more with Connie. I think Lauren Ridloff, who plays the character, she’s just such a brilliant actress. She is so engaging to watch and she just makes such interesting choices, and we thought that we hadn’t had a deaf character on the show, and we were just talking about how can we understand more about what it means to be a survivor who is deaf. What is her life like? So, it really came out of that. There were conversations and then [episode writer Matt Negrete] had this great pitch for like, Wouldn’t it be terrifying to see what it’s like when you are deaf and you’re going through something alone, and you have to rely on all your senses? You have to be so hyper aware of your surroundings just to get yourself out of danger.
We just wanted to feel how scary that is and how capable she is, and how much she cares, in the moment, for saving this baby, that she would risk herself when she could have just stepped back. It’s an important thing to know about her character, is that character is like a crusader. It’s like when she sees something that’s wrong, that feels like an injustice — where she feels like she can do something to help and protect, that’s really something that she’ll do.
It was a lot of work with the editorial team, and with the sound mixers, and with the composer to figure out exactly what that would sound like for our hearing audience — where you almost feel like you’re inside, like it’s a heartbeat, and there’s silence. I think that that’s just our best way of capturing the feeling of it. Who knows what it actually sounds like in a deaf person’s head? It’s more like we wanted to get the emotional sense of it as it played.
You have Enid giving the big speech to Henry where she talks about the letter Carl wrote her while dying and reminding her that just surviving is not living. Tell me about the decision to harken back to that and finally reveal some of the contents of that letter.
One of the big things for me is, because I’ve had major losses in my own life, my biggest one being my mother passed when I was a teenager. In that same year, I also lost my grandfather who lived with us. I’m just very aware of the way that you carry those memories with you and the things that are important. So, for me, it feels very real for people to think about these things and to think about the meaning. So we tried to work in these moments where it’s calling back to the memories of the people who were important to them.
For Enid, certainly her relationship with Carl is one of the most important relationships she had on the show. For her to have lost this young budding love at that time, and to now be in this new relationship, all of those thoughts and feelings are tied together. Matt wrote that scene really beautifully. At first, it was actually a much longer scene where she talked about things, but we trimmed it down for time. But I think Katelyn, who plays Enid, she’s just such a lovely actor and she really played the gentle pain that lingers. It’s not fresh anymore but it’s always on her mind. So, that’s really how we came to it. It felt like, for that character, it’s something that she definitely thinks about.
When Lydia comes out and tells Henry that she wants to go, she says “She’s my mother. They’re my people. I miss them.” Is that the truth that she really does want to go back, or is that just a lie to make the choice easier for Henry?
To be honest, I think you could look at it either way. I don’t even know if the character knows. One of the things we’ve been exploring with her is that she’s an abused child. There’s so much complicated emotion that comes with that. Where she probably at all times feels a little bit of everything — which is, “I’d love to be away from her ,but also I need her, and she needs me.” So in that moment, maybe it’s the truth, maybe she’s just trying to make him feel better. Maybe it’s all of it.
So Henry, Daryl, and Connie all leave to presumably go find Lydia. What can you tell us about what’s coming up next on The Walking Dead?
We know that we’ve got some people out on the road, on the search, and we’ll get to know even more about the Whisperers — the way that they live. And there will be moments that are fraught with danger intention as they lead up a town on The Walking Dead. We will also get to meet another iconic character.
For more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.