Angela Kang also weighs in on the latest episode's "horrific" ending.
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Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead, "Rendition."

Reunited and it feels so… awkward? It was a rough one for Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) on Sunday's "Rendition" episode of The Walking Dead. Not only was he captured and tortured by the Reapers, but he learned that one of his captors was none other than his former cabin girlfriend (and Dog owner) Leah (Lynn Collins).  

To make things even stranger, Daryl and Leah were left to a trial by literal fire, when Reapers head honcho Pope (Ritchie Coster) put them in a locked burning room together to see if they could fight their way out unscathed. When they did, Daryl was proclaimed "forged by fire, ordained by God," and seemingly welcomed into the group as a member.

But as tough as the latest episode of the AMC series was for Daryl, at least he didn't have his entire face burned off. That cruel (and frankly, disgusting) fate fell upon one poor Reaper whom Pope (mistakenly) believed had left another soldier to die, and whose head got pushed into a campfire, his skin melting off into the flames. (Like I said, disgusting.)

We put the heat on showrunner Angela Kang and asked her some, ahem, burning questions about the latest episode, discovering that the Leah origin story and Reaper reveal were originally supposed to happen in a much different way.

The Walking Dead
Lynn Collins on 'The Walking Dead'
| Credit: Josh Stringer/AMC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Poor Daryl, getting tortured again. I mean, at least there was no "Easy Street" this time, but why do you keep doing this to this poor guy?

ANGELA KANG: Oh man. I mean, he just winds up in tough situations with scary people, and sometimes scary people like to torture him.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We have the big reveal in 1104 that Leah is a Reaper. How did this come about? When you came up with the character, did it start with this woman in a cabin in the bonus season 10 episodes and then you had the idea to make her a Reaper, or did you start with her as a Reaper in your season 11 plans?

ANGELA KANG: We actually started with the idea that during the middle of the time jump that we did in season 9, Daryl got this dog. And we'd always thought in the writer's room that it might've come from some Prairie woman that was out there that he had a complicated relationship with, but we never get anything with that story. And then we wanted to do the story of the Reapers. And so we did start with the idea that maybe whoever this person is was part of the Reapers.

This is kind of a piece of trivia, I guess — the origin story of the cabin and the episode where he meets her, which is this one, was all one story. There were flashbacks and the current story all mixed together. But then while we were in the middle of doing season 11, we had to sort of backtrack and do an extension [of season 10], so we separated the love story piece out. There are fans that have very mixed feelings about that, and others who thought the story was really interesting and loved it. But we'd always known she was a Reaper. And so in some ways I was like, "Well, if people don't like her, that's okay, because she is actually a villain and there's a toxic element to that relationship."

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I like them separated out. It's hard for me to visualize exactly what it would have been like with it all put together in a then-and-now structure.

ANGELA KANG: Yeah, I really liked how that origin story turned out. I think everybody's really strong in it, and it's cute to see Dog puppy, and it just gave it a little more breathing room and allowed us to tell stories about how Daryl was doing with Carol (Melissa McBride) at the time and stuff, which we didn't have when it was all part of this episode. And it also allowed this episode to hold more story going forward and the intro to Pope and all of that. So I think it worked out for us structurally.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So when Leah says to Pope that Daryl used to mean something to her but doesn't anymore, how true is that?

ANGELA KANG: I think she is lying. I think he does mean something to her. I think it's painful for her. And I think a part of her is still very curious about Daryl, but she doesn't totally trust him. She came up at a time where she's like, "I don't know about this," but I think she holds a memory of him as somebody she loved deeply. And it's stirring up a lot for her to see him again.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So when Leah goes into that room with Daryl, does she know it is about to be set on fire?

ANGELA KANG: She's completely in the dark. She's just totally blindsided by that, which is one of the things that comes up in future episodes as well. She thinks she's in with this guy Pope and he still was like, "I'm putting you in a room and setting you on fire." So yeah, both of them were caught off guard.

The Walking Dead
The Reapers on 'The Walking Dead'
| Credit: Josh Stringer/AMC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Now that we've met Pope and the Reapers proper and learned their backstory as soldiers-turned-mercenaries, what is their mission in this apocalyptic landscape? What are they doing and why?

ANGELA KANG: Their mission now is to survive at all costs. And I think they feel as part of their philosophy that they are in some ways chosen. It's sort of like religious concepts gone to their most extreme. They're like locusts that will kind of burn through an area, and then once an area is no longer useful to them, they'll move on. But as long as this place Meridian is good for them, they'll stay there indefinitely and hold onto it.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you land on Ritchie Coster as Pope?

ANGELA KANG: We wrote this character and knew we wanted him to have these intense and unpredictable qualities. And he was on a casting list and they were like, "We think he's perfect for this and know some of his other work and just felt it would bring a cool quality to it."

And then I spoke with him on the phone expecting to do a whole sales pitch to him about why he should come do it, but he'd read the script and loved it. And then he's really good friends with Lennie James, who played Morgan. And so he had done some digging, and Lennie obviously still has many friends on the show and was like, "It's such a great place for an actor, you'll have a great time." I was very grateful that Lennie laid that groundwork because we just got on the call and [Ritchie was] like, "I'm really excited." I was like, "Oh, okay, well then let me just answer any questions you have." He was just so lovely.

The Walking Dead
Ritchie Coster on 'The Walking Dead'
| Credit: Josh Stringer/AMC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's get into that face-burning scene, which was absolutely brutal. How did you decide how much to show, because it's pretty graphic?

ANGELA KANG: It's pretty graphic. That were a lot of conversations. And I think sometimes with human violence, we try to be a little careful with it, a little more so than if it's like zombie gore, which people love seeing. I think with this, because it's a villain killing a villain, we need to show how brutal and unpredictable Pope can be. I mean, he threw this guy in the fire because he thought he didn't do a good job protecting his friend. But go back and look at the episode where this incident happened. The guys were fighting and he took off with his friend. It's just that our people bested them a little bit, you know?

But Pope's got all kinds of paranoid ideas. So to get that across, we felt that ultimately it did need to be a little graphic and horrific. I personally am not shedding a lot of tears for this guy who went after our people and tried to do harm to them. But, at the same time, we definitely had a lot of questions about how much the fire covers. How much skin do we need to see melting off? But hopefully it struck enough of a balance that people get what they're up against here.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So what's Daryl's plan now? Is he biding his time? Is he gathering information? Is he playing double agent?

ANGELA KANG: I think it's all of it. Daryl is definitely in a very fraught double-agent situation, which is what we thought might be interesting. He's not the guy who's storming the castle from the outside. He's the one that's like, "How do I help my friend storm the castle? Or get as much info as I can to protect them so that we can stay one step ahead until we finish our mission?" But it puts him in a really dangerous dance at all times, because he is outnumbered by people who are all super soldiers. And so he's just got to be really smart.

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