The Walking Dead showrunner on that epic Daryl-Beta brawl
SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Chokepoint” episode of The Walking Dead.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall. And boy did Beta fall on Sunday’s “Chokepoint” episode of The Walking Dead, plummeting through an elevator shaft on the receiving end of a Daryl Dixon shove at the end of one of the most epic one-on-one battles the show has ever staged. Beta went down…down…down, but as we saw at the very end, he is far from out.
What was it like staging this heavyweight battle? We asked showrunner Angela Kang to share her insight and intel on the brawl. Not only does she do that, but she also explains the inspiration for the Highwaymen (who went from Kingdom enemies to allies over the promise of a movie screening), if we might see Oceanside, and what to expect next on the show. Read on as she answers all our burning questions about the latest episode!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So let’s begin with the Highwaymen. It starts when they attack Jerry and give him a note to bring back saying that they control the roads and anyone who wants to pass must pay a toll. This is a group that does not exist in the comics, so how did you all come up with the idea for these guys?
ANGELA KANG: The idea for these guys came from the brains of the writers who wrote this episode, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, and Eddie Guzelian. They were brainstorming, and I believe that they were the ones who were kind of like, “You know what? It might be fun to have this left turn.” In an earlier episode we saw a group of wagons going by, and you saw this kind of sign that was painted on the back of a street sign. It’s sort of like the apocalypse version of tagging or whatever, saying that “This is our territory.” The symbol, it’s a horizon and then a road going up to meet the horizon at a point. So that was the idea behind that.
What we were really looking to do was introduce a group that has sort of an unusual MO, and had a really unique perspective on life, and a unique way that our people have to deal with them. It was a lot of fun, and we were really lucky to get the wonderful actor Angus Sampson to play the role of the lead Highway Men, so that was a lot of fun for us to work on.
They did attack Jerry. And they threaten to take Ezekiel hostage, so where do they fall on the morally ambiguous scale?
We thought of them as if a mob moved into this territory that was created by a power vacuum after Carol took out Jed in that group when she so famously set them all on fire earlier in the season. We thought, how interesting if the action that she took there which kind of stamped out one problem from her mind actually created the side problem. And yet, we like the fact that this group is sort of morally ambiguous. Really, are they bad guys, or did they just have their own thing that they’re trying to do just as our people do? Certainly our people have done some things that are in the gray area themselves.
We wanted to tell this story of how do groups coexist with each other or not? Because there’s certainly a very specific story with the Whisperers that’s happening. Then here’s a different kind of group, and how do you negotiate what are your borders, or where you go? I guess the long-winded answer to your question is, I don’t really see the Highwaymen as being good or evil. They’re just people who exist in this world, and they’re trying to grapple with having neighbors just like our people are.
This is a pretty tense stand-off between the Kingdom and the Highwaymen which ultimately gets defused when Carol offers them a red carpet movie premiere. That’s a fun way to build up that tension that’s ultimately solved with a moment of levity.
I really enjoyed that the idea of the movie came back around to have a completely different context. I think even internally there’s always debates about is this kind of storyline about people going to a movie theater to get a projector bulb too frivolous in the face of everything? But even real life is so fraught with danger, people still have to live their lives, and what is important to them? Is it just about fighting wars and grappling with enemies, or is there something more to life? I think that’s the question that Carol was really presented with that movie theater story. The interesting thing is she’s able to take this thing that felt like a frivolous trip at first, and it actually became key to solving a problem for them that was a real, real problem that affects their survival.
But I also think Carol is so smart because she reads the situation better than anyone really. There are people who are like, “Well, we’re gonna have to kill ’em all.” She’s like, “Well, they wrote a letter.” She’s looking around and seeing people — they’re basically apocalypse cosplayers. They’re in this weird warehouse with mannequins, and they’re kind of wearing these uniforms. They obviously like to have a little bit of fun, the guy’s acting like he’s the Wizard of Oz. So she kind of just takes the gamble, like maybe something that’s sort of fun and frivolous will appeal to them, ’cause clearly they, as a group, are having a little bit of fun in the apocalypse.
I have to say, that moment when they ride in on horseback to save Tara’s group, it’s like I barely know who these people even are but I was so pumped up. There’s something about hearing Western music and watching people ride in on horseback to save the day that’s just like so exciting.
Yeah, I loved that. Our composer, Bear McCreary, we told him that it’s like a Western standoff and they kind of have this cool, heroic entry. He’s like, “Can I just go there? Can I just play with it?”. He wrote this amazing scoring for it that just fully dives totally Western, which I thought was really a lot of fun and a little different tonally than what we usually do. Again, our actor, Angus who just is absolutely wonderful, he was kind of joking that he often plays roles where he’s not the manliest type of man, and he’s like “I get to ride in a horse and leap off and kill zombies. So nobody could question my manhood now!” He certainly enjoyed getting to have that heroic entrance.
I need to ask you: Where’s Oceanside?
Oceanside is off doing their Oceanside things, man. There will be some Oceanside in the future.
All right, just checking. It’s been a minute, you know.
It has been a minute. We always imagine that Oceanside is the least involved on a day-to-day basis with our people, but they are definitely just a part of all those groups and things. Certainly they would have been invited to the fair, so we’ll see what happens.
Let’s talk about the Whisperers side of the story now. We get another revelation about them where we learn here at the start of the episode that when a Whisperer gets bit, instead of them being put out of their misery as we have seen before from other groups, they allow themselves to become walkers. Talk about what the thinking is there for this group with that philosophy.
We were just thinking a lot internally about… If you’re the Whisperers, what is your attitude towards zombies? ‘Cause it’s clearly not the same attitude we have towards them. They’re not seen as a threat in the same way. In a lot of ways they have used the zombies, used their skins, but also just their physical presence to protect them. There’s something that’s so cult-like in a lot of ways about how the Whisperers think, and the way they behave, and the way they call Alpha, Alpha and Beta, Beta. It made sense to me and the other writers that they would try to make it seem like if you die and you’re a warrior, that this is a thing of honor, and you will always be with us.
It’s part of making that entire philosophy feel as if it’s one piece, and putting importance on different things than our people would. We thought that it was interesting in this episode, which really kind of deals with what we call the Field Team Six of the Whisperers. That that’s part of their warrior mythology, it’s like you die and then you still are with us forever, which felt kind of true to the general belief system that they have.
Okay, I just want to go straight to this fight between Daryl and Beta, which has to be one of my favorite one-on-one battles you all have ever done. Why pit these two against each other and what were you hoping to achieve here?
I mean, if you have Beta and you have Daryl, and they’re in the same universe, you kind of need them to fight, right?! That was the thinking — just, that’s f—ng cool, and we want to see that happen! It does, of course, play into a larger story, but Beta is sort of the leader of their army, and Daryl being Daryl, you want to see those guys go head to head. I think both Norman and Ryan Hurst, they did such an amazing job. Everybody involved in making the sequence, stunts, the director Lesil Tommy, everybody just did such an amazing job. Those guys really, really worked that fight and rehearsed it, and came up with cool touches to put into it.
David, who wrote that sequence in the script — he’s from Aquaman. He’s an amazing action writer, and he came up with such an interesting blueprint for that fight, then everybody kind of added their stuff to it. Of course, Norman was like, “Why do I always have to fight against guys who are bigger than me? I’m going to get so beat up!” And we’re like, “Cause it looks like you could beat everybody up, so it’s not a fair fight if they’re not bigger than you!” I just think they killed it, and it was really fun. They got to destroy a set, so they enjoyed themselves.
During the whole episode Daryl is saying they can’t bring Lydia back with them because that puts everyone else in danger, but he decides at the end that they should all stick together. Why does he change his mind about her? Is this on Dog’s recommendation after they spent all that time locked in the closet together?
[Laughs] Totally. I think, for Daryl, he knows that in some ways the pragmatic choice, the “smart” choice is to wash his hands of this girl. Obviously, the Whisperers want her back, it’s causing problems. We’ve seen that he does have some sympathy for her. Both of them being survivors of abuse, he gets the stuff that she’s been through in life, his heart does go out to her. The part of Daryl that’s really empathetic, and that especially can be very protective of young people, and women — all of those buttons are being pushed, but he’s trying to push that away.
I think Connie really acts as a voice of his conscience in a way, the things that she’s saying, “We have friends, and she doesn’t.” That’s something that gets to him, just the things that he hears Henry say, knowing that Henry is Carol’s child, and knowing that if this is really important to him too…. He just is caught in between what is strategic and what emotionally he feels is probably the right thing to do.
Daryl is a person who really acts strongly on emotion. His heart is often moved to do things, whether for good, or sometimes it leads him into directions of what we call feral Daryl, where his anger can take over. I think by the end of everything that happens this episode, there have been enough things and enough people saying the right things, that he realizes he’s gotta do what is actually the right thing. The thing he wants to do, but knows is going to be dangerous and hard. But I think ultimately that’s the kind of person that he is, and that’s where he lands by the end of the episode.
The last thing we see is Beta moving there at the very end and doesn’t look like he’s in great shape. Maybe will have some dental issues, but he’s a tough guy. You showed us Alpha’s backstory a few weeks ago, and I know in the comic we get some info on Beta before the apocalypse. Are you guys ever going to get into that in any form here on the TV show?
Stay tuned. It may not be right away, but there’s another season to come, et cetera. We definitely have very clear, clear ideas of what Beta was doing before the apocalypse and in those early years and things. Ryan and I have had some of the greatest conversations about it. Obviously, Kirkman has his ideas in the comic, as well.
Okay, Tammy and Earl have adopted a baby. The Highwaymen are waiting patiently for their movie. What is coming up next on The Walking Dead?
We are going to track the story of what happens when this group continues on this road to Alexandria. We will shed some light on some of the mysteries of the season. We’re gonna do some digging into why it is that Alexandria became the way it is, and what happened between Michonne, and Daryl, and others. I’ll say that I think the performances in the episode are just excellent, there’s some really great stuff from our actors that I really can’t wait for people to see because it’s very moving and interesting.
For more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.