The Walking Dead's Commonwealth set is built where the Sanctuary and prison used to be
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead, "Out of the Ashes".
Welcome to the Commonwealth! Eugene & Co. got their first look at the new community on Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead, "Out of the Ashes," and so did viewers. And the location may look a tad familiar to eagle-eyed fans of the show.
As showrunner Angela Kang confirms, the bustling, idyllic-looking town was built on the set at Riverwood Studios (formerly Raleigh studios) in Senoia, Ga., where TWD films, and it was actually constructed on the exact same spot of land that used to house the outside of the Sanctuary (the original home to Negan and the Saviors in seasons 7 and 8). That same stretch of land was also used as the top end of the exterior prison set from seasons 3 and 4.
We spoke to Kang all about creating the Commonwealth and what we learned about the community itself in this latest episode, as well as some of the inhabitants in it. Plus, is an opposites-attract romance blooming between stony, silent Mercer and the loquacious Princess? And who cut that Whisperer's hand off, anyhow? Answers below!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We finally got our first look at this new community of the Commonwealth. Obviously you all have the look from the comics to help guide you here, but what can you tell us about creating the physical space for the Commonwealth, how you came up with the look here, and what you wanted that look to say?
ANGELA KANG: We we had a lot of guidance from the comics, but also our production designer Marek Dobrowolski really had an interesting vision for taking the idea of a train station and converting that into the center of their government. So a lot of the architecture of the interior of that seat of government and operations is taken from the idea of an old vintage train station. It's built into some of the idea, and there's this real kind of town square, Main Street sort of vibe to it that I think is very true to what the comic does while having a very specific interpretation for the show.
It took many, many months to build this while the pandemic was going, so everybody worked incredibly hard. You're building a town, a lot of it is facades and sets obviously, but they built a whole giant room with all these details. So a lot of it really came from the brain of our art department team and the production designer.
And for us, we knew that the comic book Commonwealth — to a greater extent more than any other place they've come into — feels kind of like a normal world. You got a little bit of that feel with Woodbury and you got a little bit of that feel when you come across Alexandria, but now you're talking about something where people can shop, they can go to work, they dress up, there are lawyers and doctors and all of these things that we've never had on that scale. So for our characters, they're coming in and we wanted that sort of surreal experience of like, we just didn't think a place like this could exist anymore. We had no inkling that anything beyond a small town could even be up and running and as successfully as it is right now.
Did you all build this set right on your studio lot in Senoia?
It is on the studio set. So it took over the area that used to be the Saviors' compound. Basically, it sits where the front of that factory was and the yard with all the zombies attached to the fence, which is also the same as part of where the prison was. So they tore down all of the Sanctuary sets and that took over that area.
What about the Commonwealth welcome video, where you have this cheesy early-'90s type of vibe, but then you mess with the audio and video a bit, I assume to give off this impression that maybe things are just a bit askew?
This came into the brain of our writer, LaToya Morgan, I believe. We're showing that they have some technology. There is this feel of, well, this is like the world. You sit and watch training videos now, but at the same time it is the apocalypse, so things are imperfect. Which I think is true of any community they've come across as well. So yeah, there's a cinematic element, but you're also seeing kind of the boundaries of what you can do with technology. It's almost like the old world, but not quite. It's a little glitchy.
It seems like whenever you introduce a new community on the show that Greg Nicotero directs the episode. Is that intentional?
That is usually intentional. Greg wasn't available to do our premiere block because he was finishing out Creepshow, but I really felt like he should get the first shot to do the new community. And he does such a great job of introducing all the visuals and finding the interesting angles. So he just felt perfect for this block of episodes.
Are we seeing maybe some sparks here between Mercer [Michael James Shaw] and Princess [Paola Lázaro] with the $2 bill and the eyelashes?
Yeah, if you read the comics you know where that story goes. For Princess, up until this point everything she's been doing is to try to keep her people safe. But at the same time, I do think that there is a sense that Princess knows that there is somebody that is real under that suit. And he's not just the guy who's standing around in the imposing-looking gear. She senses that there's a real human under there. And the fact that she asked during the interview, "Can I please get this $2 bill back?" and it just showed up and she knows that the only person that would've done that is him — it just says something that the two of them see something in each other, and have some sympathy for each other that kind of transcends the situation they've been trapped in together.
When Stephanie [Chelle Ramos] says that that Lance Hornsby [Josh Hamilton] is going to make them pay somehow for what they have done, what does that entail?
The Commonwealth operates on a cash economy and you've got debt. So she's really saying, "No, you don't get anything for free here. If he does something for you, and if he scratches your back, you're going to have to scratch him one way or another." Whether that is massive consequences or minor or whatever, or an inconvenience, it's just kind of saying like, this is not a place where people just do favors for you just to be nice.
One non-Commonwealth question: Who cuts off Keith the Whisperer's [Brad Fleischer] hand?
Oh, that's interesting. We skipped over that moment. I don't know if my writer has her own answer to this, but I kinda think that the Whisperer might've sawed off himself. Just because he was with Alpha and this guy was used to, like, rough living. So I think he's like, "Oh well, I guess I got bit. I'll saw off my hand now." And he's been so victimized that it's like, "Yeah, this wasn't that bad for me. At the end of the day, I've gotten worse." Which is his own kind of a f‑‑‑ed-up mindset.