The Walking Dead boss weighs in on Carol's pill-popping visions
This article contains spoilers about Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Ghosts.”
As if fighting against walkers and Whisperers is not hard enough, Carol showed on Sunday’s “Ghosts” episode of The Walking Dead that there other internal battles that need to be waged as well. Haunted by the death of her adopted son Henry (among the other losses she has experienced over the years), and hopped-up on expired caffeine pills, Carol started seeing things and having imaginary conversations. But judging by what we saw in the final scene, she appears to have indeed been correct when she said she spotted a Whisperer in their midst.
What does Carol’s breakdown mean moving forward? And how about that big confrontation she had with Alpha? We asked showrunner Angela Kang about all that and more from the latest episode, including the 49-hour zombie siege, Negan’s big field trip with Aaron, and Rosita completely shutting down Eugene. Read on for intel and answers.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You guys have really been playing with time a lot, and that continued this week as you show these snippets over 49 hours of battling wave after wave of zombies to start the episode. Where did that idea come from?
ANGELA KANG: We wanted to tell the story of, what does paranoia look like and feel like? And what are the things that can exacerbate that? One of the things that came up with this idea of sleep deprivation and the way that can push people even further into the brink. That montage was really this great pitch from our writer, Jim Barnes, who said, “Okay, here’s the ways we can show it. We just show wave after wave of zombies is coming.”
And they don’t know whether it was the fire that would draw zombies. So there’s a very logical explanation there. Or they know Alpha’s back, and is she sending waves of zombies so she can control the herd? Our people don’t know that. All they know is they have to fight back this threat so that they don’t get trapped inside the walls of Alexandria. So we’re starting with that and we’re also starting with Carol. She’s taking these expired caffeine pills, just popping them, and that might have started before this conflict with the zombies started. So it really all came out of wanting to show in a visceral way what it feels like to just have this unrelenting thing coming at them.
I really love how it came together in the edit as well, where you get that sense of like, it’s just an assault. It starts slow, and it builds and it builds until people are just barely on their feet. And hopefully that gives the audience a feeling like, “Oh, my God. What time is it? What day is it? What going on?” Because everybody in our cast, all those characters are just a little bit off their game to really get into the episode.
Let’s talk about the meeting at the border. Alpha says it’s all about rules being followed and that’s why she’s taking their land, but I get the sense she’s toying with them a bit and enjoying keeping them off balance. What is her headspace as she goes in there and messes with Michonne, Daryl, and, most of all, Carol?
Alpha enjoys a little bit of cat and mouse action, and I think part of what Alpha is good at is, she can spot weaknesses and poke at them. One of the things that I really love is how Alpha has this weird Zen quality and that’s part of the cult leader thing where she acts like she’s above death and none of it phases her. Even when Carol takes the shot, Alpha got to her. She got to Carol. Carol can be a pretty cool cat too. And just the fact that she just got right under her skin in the spot that she knows that she can dig and dig and dig and dig at that scar with Henry — the shot is taken and she just stands there, and is like, “Cool, you took a shot.” And that’s all part of the game.
But Alpha also thinks she has to have a show of strength here, especially with Beta thinking: Has she lost her chops as a leader? It’s like part of this is all a show for her people too. That’s one of the things that we had in the back of our mind, is the fact that people can take a shot at her, that she is a strong leader at the border, that she is taking action and putting consequences on these people while still not involving her people in a war. At this moment that makes her a strong leader for her side as well as being a worthy antagonist for our group. But she just keeps everybody off guard.
We have a big Negan outing here and it’s with Aaron. Why pair him up with Aaron?
We always like matchups that are new and unexpected, and we really haven’t had those two together. And yet Aaron carries the pain of his loss from losing Eric in that battle when they were trying to take out one of the Savior outposts. That was the love of his life. We’ll see that he still thinks about Eric all the time. And Aaron, who’s such a gentle character — even gentle, kind, giving, forgiving people can have those people that just bring out anger and some of the worst feelings and instincts in them. We just thought that was interesting for Aaron’s character, to show a different side of him.
It was this odd dynamic of the nice guy really going a little dark, and Negan calling him on it. And, by the end, they come to this very odd, uneasy state of understanding or partnership. Whether or not that lasts, we’ll see what happens next, and I hope people will watch. But I love when those two guys get on screen together. I think that they’re really compelling together.
Negan does take off at one point and leaves him there, maybe to die. Is that his intent at first?
What I really think is happening there is, yeah, he’s like, “F— this guy.” We always feel Negan is Negan. Negan has certainly done a lot of things to try to redeem himself. He certainly wants to be a member of the community. He’s not a guy who likes being in a jail cell by himself. That’s a terrible punishment for Negan. He wants to be in the middle of the action. But here’s this guy who’s been making him fight zombies with a broomstick, and he has an emotional reaction to that. He takes off.
I also think there’s an element that he knows Aaron’s a tough guy, and yeah, he’s a tough enough guy, he can probably take care of this himself. And then he just lurks and he lets Aaron go through the worst of it before he steps in. I think that really speaks to the duality of Negan. Negan looks out for Negan, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t human instincts in there as well.
Clearly, Carol is struggling with all the loss she’s experienced, as we see in that hallucination of a textbook cover with all the kids she has lost along the way. How much is that going to continue to be an issue moving forward, or has she worked through some of that stuff now?
For Carol, the stakes are so high for her because of what happened to her son, and I think in this episode what we’re really seeing — and Melissa McBride just portrays the role so beautifully — it’s just the depth of her grief and pain and how much of it she’s been hiding away from everybody else in the group. And that comes bubbling up to the surface in a couple of really key moments, such as when she’s at the border with Alpha. When somebody is going through that much pain, and when they have such a burning desire to have revenge, and when she really wants to see Alpha pay for her sins, that’s going to have a big impact on all our people in various ways.
You’re also seeing the start of some pretty self-destructive behaviors in this episode. So the season builds from there with her story. So yeah, it’s a continuing story for us. It has a lot of emotional depth from her character side.
Well, we end with that last shot of the blood from the gym trailing outside and leading to the bloody Whisperer. Does that mean what the pill-popping Carol saw in the gym was real?
When she took those shots at what she thought was a Whisperer in that gym, there’s such a question there of: Is this all part of the hallucination? Is this a dream? Is it a dream within a dream? What’s going on? And she doesn’t know if what she’s seeing is real.
She’s been imagining Henry there and seeing weird covers of books and waking up and realizing that Darryl never told her the story that she thought he told her. And watching that blood trail travel outside of the gym is the only clue that perhaps all of that was not in her head. And what does that mean for our people, that the Whisperers are sort of hiding and laying traps for our people, and on our side of the border really?
And there’s that other scene right at the end where Carol tells Daryl that Michonne doesn’t believe her about seeing the Whisperers and then asks, “Do you?” He nods yes, but does he really believe her here?
I think that Darryl has his doubts, but he’s trying to support his friend there. He sees how she’s struggling. He’s doing the nice thing in saying he believes her. I think he wants to believe her, but the evidence is sort of stacked against her in this episode. There’s a lot of things that only she really saw and nobody has any proof of anything that happened.
Alright, let me ask you about another close pairing. Rosita says to Eugene: “You and I are never going to happen. You are not Coco’s father. We are not together. I need you to hear that.” Why do you have to break poor Eugene’s heart?
[Laughs] Well, I think she’s breaking his heart. Josh McDermitt does a great job playing this. He has to realize that he’s been a little clueless. She’s been pretty like forthright and been pretty clear: This is a friendship, man. I mean, he was peeking on her and Abraham when they were getting down, and he tries to catch a little look while she’s breastfeeding a baby in the first episode. He’s been carrying this torch. He’s tried to declare his love to her many times and every time she’s kind of like run away from it.
So she just felt pushed to a point where she had to make it as blunt as possible so he would understand it, and I think that there’s comedy that they were able to mine from that, but I also really liked the true pain of having to hear that from somebody. You see Eugene break, and I think Josh plays the moment so, so wonderfully. The two of them are so good together, and this is what was needed in order for Eugene to kind of figure out what’s next or if something is next. It’s like that love quadrangle was never going to stand in one place. Something had to shift. He was just too much in their business.
I feel like that scene works on multiple levels too, because of everything you just said, plus comic book readers who kind of know what the relationship was in the comic who maybe are hoping that something might potentially happen there, and it’s just like shutting it all down. It’s just shutting everyone down.
Well, you never know. I mean, the story goes in directions that the story goes, but we felt like it had kind of organically gotten to that place, and he has been infatuated with her for so long, but like, man, how long can you keep that going if she’s just not interested? And in this episode where everybody is just at the brink of exhaustion and stress and everything, that felt like kind of like the right time to show side effects other than just all this stuff happening with the Whisperers. There’s always a personal aspect to all of that too.
Okay, what can you tell us about what’s coming up next?
Michael Cudlitz came back and directed this next episode for us. It’s one of the two he did this season. I think he did an amazing job, and we really get into the Hilltop part of the story now. So, we’ve been bouncing back and forth. We were at Oceanside, we really dealt with being out in the world. We’ve seen what the Whisperers are up to. We really kind of focused on this group at Alexandria, and now we do a little bit of a dive into what the folks at Hilltop are dealing with.
And they are also having their own issues with the paranoia that comes with being targeted by the Whisperers and just the things that play out there. And I’ve got to say, Michael has one of my favorite shots in the season. I think people will know when they see it, but just some very cool fighting stuff that I thought he did an amazing job with. There’s some cool stuff ahead.
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AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.