The Walking Dead using some 'different choices' to tell Negan origin story
Showrunner Angela Kang says when it comes to the upcoming Negan flashback story, "There's a lot in our adaptation that is original to the show."
It's the episode Walking Dead fans have been waiting for ever since the character was first introduced on screen, and those fans are about to get it as the last installment as part of the six season 10 bonus episodes beginning to unfurl Sunday, Feb. 28, on AMC. The biggest bad (turned kinda good?) in the Walking Dead universe will finally have his origin story told on screen when TWD brings the "Here's Negan" spin-off comic series to life.
Showrunner Angela Kang already told EW that the bonus episodes are a mix of what would have been season 11 stories moved up into season 10 and all-news tales created specifically for this extra batch, and it sounds like the additional episode order — after the airing of both the season 10 finale and season 11 itself were delayed due to COVID-19 — made it the perfect landing spot for the Negan origin story.
How much of what we see on screen will match how things go down in the "Here's Negan" comic? While Kang assures us that "there's some lines that are almost straight out of the book, which people who are comic fans will recognize," she also notes that "there's other things where we've made some different choices, but that hopefully will still be really cool." We spoke to Kang about adapting the comic book on Negan's past and casting Jeffrey Dean Morgan's real-world wife, Hilarie Burton, as his doomed onscreen spouse (and baseball bat namesake), Lucille.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's talk about the "Here's Negan" episode. People are really looking forward to seeing that standalone story make it to screen, so what can you say about adapting that?
ANGELA KANG: It's something we've always been looking forward to adapting at various times and gone, like, "Oh, it's definitely going to fall in this stretch," or, "It's definitely down that stretch." It's just kind of moved around. And it felt like this was the right time to do it here because we were able to tie it to something he's going through in the current timeline.
What can we expect in terms of how different it's going to be, or how similar it's going to be to what we've read on the page in the comic?
I'll say that it's not exactly the same as what people have read in the page, because to tell you the truth, we've told some of those bits and pieces of story. We didn't show it, but he's talked about his relationship with Lucille to various people. We kind of took little bits and pieces over time. So when we looked at it, we were like, "To do this, we sort of need a very strong way into it. What does it mean for him? And really, like emotionally, what's the story that we can tell?"
I think that in some ways it's very true to the comic, in that it is true to the spirit of the love that he has for Lucille, but there's a lot in our adaptation that is original to the show, but in a way that I think supports the same sort of emotional journey that I think he takes on the page. So there's some lines that are almost straight out of the book, which people who are comic fans will recognize. And then there's other things where we've made some different choices, but that hopefully will still be really cool.
How did the decision to cast Hilarie Burton as Lucille come about?
We got really excited about casting Hilarie Burton, who is Jeffrey Dean Morgan's real-life wife. We've always kind of thought that that could be cool. And the two of them are just awesome together, so I'm excited for people to see this version.
Hilarie's obviously a very accomplished actor in her own right. But I was wondering if the COVID situation also sort of nudged that casting in that direction, like, "Oh, this works out perfectly, because we know that they're already in a pod together." Did that play a part in the casting at all?
So, I'll say that the COVID situation and the fact that they are in a pod together, these characters have to do intimate scenes. It definitely helps just for comfort level, but the conversation about her possibly playing Lucille far predated the start of the pandemic. It was always something that [Walking Dead chief content officer] Scott Gimple and I had kind of batted around. So, we just feel like she's perfect for it.
And the two of them really work together well and just have a really cool dynamic, so it worked out really well. But definitely that is this weird COVID-specific side benefit that came with it, which is just like, as we were going to great lengths to make sure just that as we started filming, that all of our actors feel very, very comfortable with the plan for how we do scenes. It opened up things a little bit, I think, for the two of them. And it opened up the types of shots that we could do and really feeling that true closeness between them, because of the pod. But that's what we would have hoped for anyway. So I guess it gave us the ability to tell something that felt like a very, very intimate, wonderful story with them.