The Walking Dead just went full neo-noir (and Eugene is NOT happy)
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Warning: This article contains spoilers for Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead, "Rogue Element."
Vertigo. The Third Man. The Walking Dead. What does that last one have to do with the first two? The answer could be found on Sunday's episode of the zombie drama, "Rogue Element," as the series harkened back to the film noir days of yesteryear with Eugene investigating the sudden and mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend Stephanie. Only it turned out she wasn't even Stephanie at all.
After professing his love to the woman who brought him to the Commonwealth via radio communication, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) became obsessed after she vanished without a trace. His relentless mission to find her eventually led him to the truth, that Stephanie (Chelle Ramos) was actually Shira, and Shira was part of a covert team led by Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) to draw the Alexandrians in and keep tabs on the new arrivals. (Losing both your girlfriend and your innocence — ouch!)
Deceived and distraught, Eugene ended up burning his self-penned novel only to be approached by a different woman (Pamela Milton's assistant Max, played by Margot Bingham), who informed him that she was actually the woman communicating with him over the radio. Wait, two Stephanies? And neither is actually named Stephanie? INTRIGUE!
We spoke with showrunner Angela Kang to get the scoop on putting together an old-fashioned noir investigation (directed by none other than former cast member Michael Cudlitz), complete with a secondary investigation by Connie (Lauren Ridloff) and some other insight into the enigmatic Lance Hornsby. Pour two fingers, all youse mugs and dames, and join the ride.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's start with the big picture. What can you tell us about staging what is almost like a film noir private dick story with Eugene for his literally disappearing-at-one-point-from-the-balcony girlfriend?
ANGELA KANG: For a long time, we've been planning this story with the fake Stephanie, and we decided, "All right, let's go ahead and reveal it here, because people are going to be onto the fact that things are funky at the Commonwealth. They're just waiting for, 'What is it specifically?'" And we thought that Eugene was just a good character to experience that story through, someone who's swept up in love.
And we talked a lot about classic noir films and Hitchcock and The Third Man, all of those kinds of influences. And we thought it'd be fun to do something that feels like a neo-noir story that's dropped in the middle of this sleepy community on the face of it. And so we had a lot of fun talking about, "How do you do a story that feels like a throwback to Vertigo or whatever, while making it very specific to our apocalypse?"
Michael Cudlitz directed this episode, as I'm sure you saw, and he really took to the idea. And he actually even pitched it further than we had it on the page. And so I feel like he really found ways to make that feel come through so specifically. And he and our DP, Scott Kevan, really worked well together, and they totally got all that crazy dramatic lighting and things like that that make it feel really special.
Michael was picking perfect pieces of temp music that felt great. And then Bear [McCreary] and Sam [Ewing] came in with this exceptional score that I think really captures that vibe. Every eight episodes, we try to find some new feel or theme or something that we're exploring in the show. And we thought that this neo-noir feel was something that was fun that we haven't really done before.
Let's get into a little bit of the nitty-gritty. What is it that finally makes Stephanie/Shira finally extract herself from Eugene?
It's getting a little too close. A little time has passed, and our people at this point in the story, they've all settled in and everything's going all right. And from Hornsby's perspective, he's like, "What's even the problem? I mean, aren't we all working well together?" So that's his mindset. And so they extracted her and she extracted herself just to make sure that this fiction didn't have to keep on continuing. Because as far as they're concerned, all's well right now.
Tell us about this scene of Eugene just losing it to Hornsby after he learns the truth. Josh has had some big emotional beats before, but this was kind of next-level.
The Josh v. Josh scene there, Josh McDermitt and Josh Hamilton, is really fun because Josh Hamilton just plays it cold as ice and Josh McDermitt is just the fieriest we've ever seen him. We left that to him and Cudlitz to figure out how big to tone it. And I really loved how he played it. I was surprised when I got it back and I was like, "Ooh, this is even hotter than I thought." But it was really cool to see him just lose his s--- like that in anger. Because I think that Eugene, if anything, he can go to tears and he can go to fear, but we really haven't seen him in that kind of a rage before. And I think for someone like his character who just felt, "For once, love is going my way. For once, I feel accepted and like I belong and I found someone who unconditionally loves me and gets me," to have that ripped away and exposed, it's part of his deepest fears that he was maybe being catfished, basically.
And it all turned out to be true! It's his nightmare. I think a lot of times on the show, horror is sometimes zombies and sometimes horror is what is your worst nightmare psychologically? And for him, it's that feeling of, "No one will ever love me." And so it's happening, it's unfolding right in front of his eyes, and it's devastating for him. And to feel like, "It's not only just that she didn't love me, that there was a scheme behind it," I think it's infuriating for him and he just has to unleash on this guy. So that was really cool for me to watch him do.
Hey, if anyone should appreciate a good ruse or lie, it's Eugene, right?
Exactly! That's the thing too, is, I think with Eugene, he was a liar, and to be faced with a lie that's like, that is sometimes the horror is looking into a mirror, like some sort of a distorted mirror. And I think all of that's crashing down on this poor guy.
What do you want to say about this cliffhanger at the end where the real person he was chatting with on the radio shows up?
We talked a lot about, "When does she emerge into the story?" And where we landed is we want to feel that off of the heels of this reveal, we're learning that there's more to the story than even he thought 30 seconds ago. And so that's going to open up an entirely new chapter for our characters in the story, but we're going to learn a little more about what else has been passing in the background and what that means going forward.
AMC has a publishing arm now, so I have to wonder: Will we ever get to read Eugene's novel? Let's get this thing out!
Oh my God. This is news to me. So I hope so. That's exciting.
We also have this other investigation going on as Connie is trying to uncover the truth of what is happening with Tyler Davis [Cameron Roberts]. What can you say about this mysterious note slipped under the door with the names of pretty much your entire Walking Dead crew?
I knew you would notice! So yeah, she gets this list of names, and that becomes just another piece of the story that is a puzzle to what's going on at the Commonwealth. And Connie, as our intrepid reporter who has this gut instinct that there's something more to this Tyler Davis situation. And it's going to just lead our people down some paths as the story unfolds.
Let's talk about the Hornsby situation here. He's got this thing with the poppies and Moto [William Mark McCullough]. What does how he handles that situation say about him? What are we learning from Lance Hornsby by the decision he makes at the end there when he gets the information from Carol [Melissa McBride]?
He listens to Carol. He trusts her. He thinks she's smart. Maybe that's all real and he's not purely some kind of maniacal evil puppet master. I think with people who are complicated villains on our show, people who are manipulating, there are their points of humanity too. And so I think Hornsby is capable of a lot of things, and not all of them are good and not all of them are bad. So I think that's the balance that we're finding out.
He has one line where he tells Carol he proved himself to the Milton family a long time ago. Are we going to learn how he did that or get some insight into his backstory at some point?
Without getting too much into spoilery stuff like that, I think there is just some aspect to his backstory that's relevant to the dynamic that he has with Pamela [Laila Robins]. So we will start to learn little bits and pieces of that as we go.
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AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.