The Walking Dead showrunner on that shocking cliffhanger
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the season 11 premiere of The Walking Dead.
It may not have been bashing someone's brains in with a barbed-wire-covered baseball bat, but what Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan did at the end of Sunday's season 11 premiere of The Walking Dead was just as shocking.
Believing that Maggie (Lauren Cohan) had lured him on a dangerous subterranean mission through the D.C. Metro system with the intent of killing him as revenge for offing her husband (see: baseball bat reference above), Negan, with a choice to either help her climb on top of a train car to escape an incoming horde or leave her to die, chose the latter.
The fact that it came while staring right at her as she pleaded for help made the move that much more diabolical. And it wasn't the only gasp-inducing moment between the two, as it followed an earlier incident in which Negan proclaimed that he would not let Maggie put him down like a dog "like Glenn was." (YIKES!)
Fortunately, Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang neither abandoned us nor treated us like dogs when we reached out to ask about Negan's turn back to the dark side. She also took us inside that silent opening scene and Yumiko's big discovery at the Commonwealth. Grab on for dear life as we delve into the Walking Dead season 11 premiere that was "Archeron Part I". (Also make sure to read our episode Q&A with Jeffrey Dean Morgan.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you tell us about where the idea came from to start the season with a nine-minute scene featuring — outside of maybe one or two lines of sign language — no dialogue whatsoever?
ANGELA KANG: We knew that we wanted to start the season with a really cool action sequence. We knew that we wanted to really highlight the struggles that they have for food in the aftermath of the Whisperers war. And so part of it is just the challenge of like, what do we do that we haven't done on the show before? We liked the idea of doing something with lurkers. We liked the idea of having to go into something that feels like a nest of vipers.
And then, my co-writer, Jim Barnes, had this great pitch and we were like, "Let's do it." Both he and I really enjoy action sequences where you try to tell a full story with as little dialogue as possible. So at a certain point in the process, we were like, "Let's just do this whole thing where nothing is said." There's a little bit of sign language, but there's nothing verbal that you hear. And honestly, that was kind of tricky because there are points where it's like, "Oh, well s---, would they be saying something to each other?" We're like, "No, no, no, it's okay. They're just going to signal each other and go." And it was just a really fun challenge to think about.
But I've got to give Jim all the credit in the world because he came up with this pitch, and I think he did a great draft of it. And then, of course, we worked with the director and production and even just all of the backend work of the effects and music and stuff to make it all come together.
Let's talk about the Commonwealth. What do we learn here from this interrogation about this community doing the interrogating?
I think that the interesting thing about the Commonwealth is they've created a version of the world that is like the America that we remember, except that things are a little bit amped up because we are still in an apocalypse. So as much as they are like, "It's the world put back," it's also like, "Okay, well, there's the immigration process," right? But there's definitely a bit of an apocalyptic version of how you vet people. I think what it says is they're very, very security-minded, which they are. They are vetting everyone very, very hard. And so it means they've learned some things about who's out there in the world.
It probably tells you there there's not a lot of trust of outsiders. The fact that they're sweeping up people before they even get to their gates means they have a certain level of disengagement from the things that are around them, probably because they have something that they feel is something that they want to protect and keep it as is. And so I think for our characters though, they're just like, "Oh man, is this even apocalypse-normal? What do we do?" And there is always that push and pull for how do you evaluate whether a new group you come across is more good than bad, or vice versa?
You end that story with Yumiko [Eleanor Matsuura] seeing a note from her sibling, Tomi, indicating that she has family living in the Commonwealth. How is that going to impact things moving forward?
I think once you see, "I've got family there," it makes it less abstract. It makes her feel like, "Well, if my brother's here and I know my brother's a good person and you're allowed to look for people, then that tells me something about this community. And after you've passed the test, maybe there's something good at the end of it." And so it gives her this level of like, "Okay, I know on the basis of this it can't be all bad." And I think that that absolutely affects the mindset of our people.
Like Stephanie [Margot Bingham] — Eugene [Josh McDermitt] thinks he trusts her, but it just seems like the signs are all bad. But then once you know somebody personally that's there, I think that there's just starting to be some evidence for our people like, "Okay, maybe there is something we can trust about it and we just have to get through it."
And then there's obviously the story of what happens when she finds the small lost family. What does that even feel like? And what can they tell them about this place? We cast a really wonderful actor to be in the show on the other side of that story, so we're excited for all that.
Is Yumiko taking over the Michonne [Danai Gurira] story line with her daughter being a resident of the Commonwealth in the comic?
Roughly. It's not going to be exactly the same because I think that Michonne's a very specific character in the books and a parent-child relationship is different than a relationship of siblings. But there are elements of it that she is taking over.
Let's switch over to the Alexandria group. Maggie leads this mission to go take back Meridian and takes a group down into the subway, and Negan thinks it's a suicide mission and really pushes back, saying she doesn't have a plan and is playing dictator. Is he right?
I think from his point of view, he's really right. I mean, is there an objective truth? I think for both Maggie and Negan, they have strong opinions about the other person. And sometimes that's based in something that feels like objective truth, but a lot of their perceptions are also just colored at all times. Negan's really smart, but so is Maggie, and they're both reading things in each other where it's like, "I know what he's up to," "I know what she's up to." And neither of them is exactly wrong, but at the same time both of them are trying to get through this mission and could be misreading each other. There's definitely a dynamic that shifts at any given moment between them, because there's so much that I think the other person is not going to trust about their nemesis.
What I love about what you all have done with Negan is that when you keep a "villain" around and he or she evolves, what usually happens is the character gets softened and the rough edges are sanded off. But you'll still have Negan do things — and we'll get to the big one in a minute — that still make you gasp. Like when he brings Glenn up, announcing that he was put down "like a dog," since he's the one that did it. I actually gasped when he said that. That's pretty hardcore.
For me, a Negan that is completely soft is not interesting. And I think it's also not really true. If he got all the edges sanded off, I would never think he's being genuine. Because what's true about Negan is he likes to talk a lot about his own philosophy. He definitely has his own views of how the world should work, and there's sometimes been an evolution in those views, but he's got a big mouth. Sometimes he can't help himself. And so I think that those are things that are core to his character. So in terms of the choices he makes, I think we've shown over time that sometimes the choices he's making have evolved as he's tried to redeem himself.
However, I don't think that fundamentally the person he is — which is a guy with a big mouth who can be a little impulsive at times and sometimes very, very strategic and purposely theatrical — that hasn't really gone away. So it's important to retain that core of the fact that Negan is an edgy character, and an edgy character does not automatically have to be the villain, but that edge does lead him to say things sometimes that are shocking because that's part of who he is. So that's what we're offering when we're dealing with Negan.
Which brings us to the final moment when he climbs on board the Metro car, Maggie's climbing, and her leg is grabbed and she cries out for him. And there's that pause there where he's looking at her, and he's deciding what to do, and then he just leaves her. So what do you have to say about that, Angela Kang?
Just so you know, me and my co-writer John, we talked about this a lot and we were like, "Well, the truth is if you're Negan, you do think that Maggie is there and you're there with her because she's trying to take you out." And all the little signs along the way are there. She does not seem like she's soft. You're surrounded by people that are not your ally. You're looking around nervously going like, "Oh man, well, at least maybe Daryl [Norman Reedus] could help me out," and he's like, "Don't look at me." And so he feels like he's in danger, and we know that Negan is quite pragmatic and he likes to live. He is not somebody that wants to step in front of the bullet for people, for the most part. Maybe for a kid that he likes, but other than that, that guy is there to survive.
And so we just felt that the thing that would show growth and redemption is if he helps her up. But we were like, "No, that guy is amped up. He would leave her." So we really tried to come at it from the character's standpoint of, where's his head at? Obviously it does give us a very dramatic moment, but that actually felt true to Negan at the time because she's been talking a lot of s--- since they started on that mission, and he's not into it.
Does he have a right to do that if he feels she's trying to kill him anyway? I mean, clearly he's not doing the right thing here, but is there any sort of justification for what he does?
Me as a person, I don't think necessarily he should have done that regardless, but I suppose you can justify it. It just depends on the point of view you take. I remember there used to be quizzes on Talking Dead about whether something was the smart thing to do or the right thing to do. Those things are not the same. From Negan's point of view, in terms of "What keeps me alive," it was probably the smart thing for him to do, but I don't know that you can justify it from every point of view. It really just depends on what you value in terms of, is it better to try to work together in spite of your differences, or do you just cut bait and run? But we like living in those kinds of questions. That's what's fun for us to write.
Okay, what's going to be coming up in next week?
We're obviously going to see the aftermath of what happened at the end of this episode. You will see more about the tough choices that our characters have to make once they decide to stick around for the Commonwealth's processing center. You will get to see more of our people in the subways. There are some tough choices that are made in that episode, some gruesome things that happen. And there's a very Daryl-focused story that happens in the tunnels too as he's searching for the dog. So lots more to come and then some scary, scary things at the very end.
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AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.