The Walking Dead showrunner shares intel on new season 11 characters
It's the beginning of the end… kinda. Aug. 22 marks the season premiere of the final season of The Walking Dead on AMC. But it's going to be a looooooooong season. Instead of offering a standard 16-episode package split into two groups of eight, season 11 will be a supersize 24 episodes, broken up into three batches. So when the show started production on episode 1101, did it feel like the beginning of the end, or, with so much filming left to do, had the finish line not come into focus yet?
"I'll say both," says showrunner Angela Kang. "We were definitely writing it like, 'Wow, this is the last actual season premiere of a season.' Yes, we've got the mid-seasons, or I don't know what you call it when there's three blocks, but there was just this weird sense of, 'That's so odd like we won't be doing that again for this series.'"
But then, notes Kang, there was the other side of the equation: "At the same time, it's like, 'Okay, we got to gird ourselves for a really, really long filming year,' because as we're talking now in August, we're not even quite at the halfway point of having finished filming half of our season. We're about a week out from that point. And so we're filming into 2022, so there's still a lot of work left to do."
With all those elements factored in, Kang says, "We're in this weird head space of like, 'It's the end, but it's not.' All day, every day."
That first block of eight episodes begins airing Aug. 22, and the focus will be divided between two different locations. We have our main group — including a recently returned Maggie (Lauren Cohan) as well as the now-free man who murdered her husband, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) — back at a struggling Alexandria. And then there's Eugene (Josh McDermitt) leading the trip to the Commonwealth, a community that currently has our heroes locked up and seeking information on whom they are and where they come from.
In the first of our daily interviews leading up to the season premiere, we spoke to Kang to get the inside scoop on what to expect from the showdown between Negan and Maggie, the fractured friendship between Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride), and a trio of new Commonwealth characters who will play a big role moving forward.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You ended season 10 with this look between Maggie and Negan after Negan resolved not to back down and returned to Alexandria. How much is that going to be playing out in season 11?
ANGELA KANG: That's an important storyline for season 11. These two, they have such a history and she already tried to kill him one time and then decided to let him rot in prison. So everything has changed now, now that she's been away so long. He's fully out and part of this community, so there's a lot going on. That's one of those relationships where I think they've just been bound together by fate and circumstance. And they've both got a lot that they're working through in terms of who they've been, who they are now, and can that relationship ever change?
They clearly are both really formidable, good leaders. And so if they can work together, they might accomplish pretty remarkable things, but can they ever? And so those are all questions that we, as writers, are trying to grapple with. And we thought it'd be fun to dramatize that because anytime you have characters with that kind of tension between them, it raises a lot of interesting questions we wonder about as human beings.
So you have this one group who is off at the Commonwealth and then the other one back at Alexandria. Let's start with the latter. What is in store for them?
Our Alexandria group is trying to hold on to the last thing they have that feels like home, because at this point multiple communities have failed. The Kingdom fell and the Sanctuary fell a while ago, so the remnants of those people after the Saviors war have folded in. The Hilltop has fallen. So I think there's this real sense of desperation to hold on to a community and have something that feels like a home. There was the season when the Saviors came and bombed out Alexandria and we jumped time and never watched what they had to do to build it back up, so we haven't seen it as badly off as it is now.
This is even worse than that, because in addition to everything they no longer have allies to help them out. Everybody's just folded in here, so you'll see them grappling with hunger issues, basics for survival. How do you have safety? How do you provide for everyone? How do you even deal with the elements and, of course, the walkers. So they've been knocked down pretty deep compared to where we first saw Alexandria as this shining beacon of hope for our people who had been on the road once.
Daryl and Carol weren't in a great place last time we saw them together. What can you say about their relationship as we start off season 11?
They are best friends, but as with all true friendships, I think there are ups and downs and painful things that happen, and real conversations. When they start, they put aside some of the things they were struggling with. But at the same time, you feel they want to do their own thing for a minute. But when it comes down to it, they've always got each other's backs, which is something you'll see. But they're both grappling with the fallout from the things they went through in the previous block of episodes.
Carol feels like she's got a lot she wants to make up for. Whether or not there's something truly to make up for, she certainly feels like there is. So she has this drive to help Alexandria after Daryl accused her of wanting to run away. If anything, she's going to dig in. And I think for Daryl, he's got a lot of emotional terrain to travel and be the leader that he is and make really tough choices and try to deal with some wisdom he's gained over the years.
What about Eugene's group? What can you say about their current captivity and what is headed their way?
We saw them run into these super soldiers that are all armored up and have these crazy weapons. We know they've run into a very security-minded community, and a security-minded community is going to have some pretty strict protocols for dealing with people they don't know. I think the thing they question is: What's at the end of this? What do we get to see? Are they just fully bananas, or do you find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? And I think they're just really adrift and don't trust it. And there are things that trigger all kinds of bad emotions for everybody. So they've found themselves in a bit of a crossroads when we're starting off the season.
Give us some quick hits on some of the new characters we'll see. Let's start with Michael James Shaw as Mercer.
Mercer is a really great character from the books who is the head of the Commonwealth army. I'll say that Michael James Shaw is an absolute pleasure to have as part of the cast. I love the work he's doing. There's a real sense of toughness, but also a tenderness there too. He can play so many different colors, and it's a lot of fun to watch him do his work.
How about Laila Robins as Pamela Milton?
Pamela is the leader of the Commonwealth. And those who know the character from the comics know she's presiding over a community that is very large, very organized, very successful, and very safe. In the show we'll see that she has this interesting backstory that we built for the family she came from and her level of comfort being in the public eye. Laila is amazing and plays the character with such warmth and nuance. She's somebody we'll get to know a lot about over time, but you don't get to see her for a minute.
Does she have a son, by chance?
She does have a son, by chance! We'll meet the son first actually.
Definitely looking forward to meeting him. And let's talk about Josh Hamilton as Lance Hornsby.
Lance Hornsby is also based on a character from the books. We've got our own take on him, and he's this charismatic fixer for the Commonwealth. Josh Hamilton is wonderful and brings such interesting flavors to the character. For people who know the movie Eighth Grade, he brought such warmth to that character, and he's playing this character that has so much energy and optimism who's trying to sell people on the Commonwealth. So there's some fun to be had with Hornsby. I want people to watch it and see for themselves.
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