The Walking Dead showrunner on if Maggie has become an antihero
"She was an optimist and wants to do the right thing. But that also makes it progressively harder to get through each and every day."
Warning: This article contains spoilers from Sunday's "Archeron Part II" episode of The Walking Dead.
"I lost something." So said Maggie Greene in the middle of a harrowing story on Sunday's "Archeron Part II" episode of The Walking Dead. Not only did Maggie (Lauren Cohan) say she lost something while killing some very bad men and taking their food after finding the tortured, deformed women the men left behind, but she also opined that it was ultimately a good thing she had lost it.
But what exactly did she lose? And how has it changed the former Hilltop leader? We spoke to showrunner Angela Kang to get her take on this pivotal episode for Maggie, who spared Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) life upon returning after he left her for dead, but also allowed Gage (Jackson Pace) to die alone in a subway car surrounded by zombies rather than risk the walkers getting through and killing everyone. Has Maggie made a slight turn to the dark side? Here, Kang talks about that and everything else that went down in the episode — including Eugene's big speech, Daryl's subterranean journey, and the arrival of the Reapers.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me about this new world you created in which Daryl (Norman Reedus) is in the underground metro where people were living and there's this chewed-off arm handcuffed to a briefcase and artwork of people with crowns on their heads later getting attacked.
ANGELA KANG: One of the things we deal with in the season is this idea of a social class — that even in an apocalyptic world, at this point in the story, there are haves and have-nots. And there are versions of it that played out in the world before everything fell, and things just intensified. When we were thinking about doing this story, we did a lot of research into various subway systems, and one of the things we came across were the stories of people living in subway tunnels in various metro areas. That's a real thing. And sometimes subway tunnels will flood and people die, or people are running from place to place in these closed tunnels.
We just thought that was an interesting element of what would really be part of the environment of a subway tunnel. So when we were deciding to do this storyline where Daryl has to split off to find the dog, we were like, "Well, what kind of stuff would he come across in the bowels of the subway?" We thought that would be interesting for Daryl, who came from nothing, to come across. He sees that even as the world was falling apart, there were people trying to run, with money in hand. There were people who had been down there forever. There were people who were [suddenly] without a home, without resources. And all of it came and mixed together in the subway tunnels. We just thought that was a different backdrop for him that also plays to some of the themes of the season that we're dealing with.
Negan lies to everyone and says Maggie was behind him and assumes she's dead, then she makes it back and tells everyone he left her die. He says there's a big difference between trying to kill her and seeing her in trouble and deciding not to help. Agree or disagree?
I think from Negan's point of view, I agree. I think he definitely is like, "Well, I wouldn't have kicked her while she's down, or stepped on her fingers, or pushed her." But I think he definitely is like, "If it had been three seconds later, I wouldn't have seen it happen anyway. So might as well walk away." He's in a place where he really thinks Maggie, if the positions were reversed, would have pushed him down, so he's like, "Why do I want to deal with that down here?"
You just brought up a really good question, and now I'm going to make you play another round of my favorite game, "Walking Dead What if?" What if their positions had indeed been reversed? What if she were on the top of the train car and Negan were saying, "Maggie, help." What does Maggie do? Does she help him? Does she push him? Or does she just leave?
I kind of think she might've just left too. I don't think she would've necessarily pushed him. I don't think she would've necessarily helped him. I think she would have [made] the same move. So that's the interesting thing: They are more mirrored than they want to admit.
What do you make of Maggie's decision to not let Gage into the car and leave him to die, because if they let him in they would be overwhelmed? They have to sit there and watch him get devoured. What does that decision say about her and the person she's become over the past five or six years?
That decision probably falls more in the antihero category. It's certainly not truly heroic. But at the same time, she's just [thinking], "What are the risks? What are the rewards of letting him in?" And she's like, "I mean, that guy ran off with all our s---. And now we're supposed to risk the lives of every person in this train car and, by extension, every person back at home, when we know we don't have the ammo to get out of this?"
As a leader, she's like, "This is not a decision I want to make, even though I think the guy's an a--hole. But what do we do here?" So it just shows the evolution in Maggie, where she's more willing to make these really, really hard calls, even if they don't feel good. And in some ways, she's had to become a little more numb to it than she probably was before she left. It doesn't mean she delights in it at all. I think that's really the line. But you know, it's like she's a military general that's like, "Well, what's an acceptable level of loss for the rest of us to go forward?"
That's always been the big throughline in this show: How far will you go? It's the theme these characters are constantly having to look at and address. And you see a new shade of it here. And then she tells that story about taking out these men, and finding the women with their limbs cut off and eyes gouged out. She says she lost something in that moment, and it's a good thing she did. Is it a good thing? What does she mean?
She's in a place where she feels like the thing she lost was everything feeling so raw all the time. Because she's a highly feeling person. She was an optimist and wants to do the right thing. But that also makes it progressively harder to get through each and every day. And she's got a child to protect. So it has something to do with that. It's that sense of, "I have to put this shell around myself in order to deal with the world as it is."
Because it's getting worse, not better — harder, not easier — as time goes by. Because as the supplies they had from the old world start to dry up, and they're really having to do things from scratch, it's like frontier days again for them. So to make it through, she feels she's had to deaden the part of her that is just a raw nerve all the time. Whether that is objectively good I think is a question for the audience. But I think she feels that's what she has had to be, to face the things she's had to face.
Let's go above ground for a minute and talk about this big speech Eugene (Josh McDermitt) gives Mercer (Michael James Shaw) after he's put on the spot and told, "You can't lie worth s---. It feels almost like an Old West standoff where you've got this one guy who's like, "I'll know if you're lying," and then this other guy whom we know is an amazing liar. Tell me about how Eugene conjures up this half-truth story and sells it.
The interesting thing about the group related to the Commonwealth is they put a lot of importance on who you used to be. And who Eugene used to be was a coward and a liar. So we just really liked the idea of the super power that he had, that helped them survive, was actually being a great liar. He'd be dead if he didn't lie to Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Rosita (Christian Serratos), because they were much stronger than he was. It took Eugene a minute to gain the skills those two had.
I think he's there now, but he wasn't, and he would have absolutely bit the dust a long time ago if not for that. So we wanted to get back to those roots for him. Because it felt like, if you're talking about who people used to be, that really was the core of the person we once met. Except now he's using it, hopefully for the good of the group, and not just entirely as a selfish thing. And so that's really the evolution.
Josh is so great in every scene. He just is so much fun to watch, and nails every bizarrely long monologue we give him. We wanted him to tread that line of, there is some of that scene that is absolutely the emotional truth, and then there's just flat-out lies. But you know, he's great doing all of it. And it's really fun to put him across from Michael James Shaw, who plays Mercer, because he's just very good at playing all his cards close to the chest too. Like, does he believe him? Does he just go like, "I think this guy's full of s---, however...." There's all these things. So it was just really fun to put those two together, because they're so different as characters, in a lot of ways.
So as we're trying to parse through what's real and what's not in that speech, I'll ask you: Is Eugene indeed a virgin, as he says? What's your take?
We had once written a scene for the show where he slept with Laura (Lindsley Register), the Savior. But it was cut for time, so it is no longer part of show continuity. So the question still remains, is that true or not? I kind of think maybe yes? But it could also be no. Honestly, we like leaving that as an open question.
I asked Josh about it. He says yes. He thinks because that scene never made it into the show that Eugene is a virgin.
I do think that that's true. Because I think he was a very, very late bloomer. Then he's been in an apocalypse for the last 12 years or so. And he wasn't getting any action with anybody now that that scene is cut.
I loved the nod in his speech, where he mentions watching other people do it, alluding back to the Abraham and Rosita "peeping Tom" scene.
I think [Walking Dead chief content officer Scott M. Gimple] suggested that. The scene is pretty much as it was written in our initial draft. But I think he read it and was like, "Oh, would it be cool to add in a reference?" And it's like, "Yes!"
We end with one group being admitted to the Commonwealth and the other being attacked by the Reapers. So what can you say about those two things as we move forward into episode 3 and beyond?
These are two of the major stories going on in this initial block of episodes. What does it mean to integrate into this new community? What do they like? What's the deal? And various challenges and opportunities will arise. The story with the Reapers is a really big one for our folks, because it's part of a fraught mission. And I think we always enjoy writing these high-stakes mission stories. There's some twists and turns to come, but that becomes the major storyline we're following for a while.
- Lauren Cohan wanted Maggie to kill Negan on The Walking Dead
- Josh McDermitt confirms Eugene is a virgin on The Walking Dead
- Norman Reedus says Daryl punched Negan to save him on The Walking Dead
- The Walking Dead star Lauren Cohan calls Negan's mention of Glenn 'disgusting'
- Jeffrey Dean Morgan fought against saying that Glenn line on The Walking Dead