How Talking Heads saved the day on The Walking Dead
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday’s episode The Walking Dead titled “A Certain Doom.”
Our heroes on The Walking Dead appeared to be facing insurmountable odds at the start of what was supposed to be the season 10 finale of the series. (Because of COVID-19, the installment was delayed six months until Oct. 4 and will now have an additional six episodes tacked on to the end of the season, that will air in early 2021.) They were all holed up in a building while Beta and the Whisperers led a herd of walkers towards their certain doom. Hence the title, “A Certain Doom.”
But our heroes had a secret weapon on their side… Talking Heads!!! Yes, the new wave pioneers who turned oversized suits into a fashion statement saved the day through the power of song! After a select group of survivors slipped through the herd, and Lydia saved the backpack fill of equipment, they were able to distract and turn the thousands of flesh-eaters away from their intended target. How? By blaring the 1983 Talking Heads classic “Burning Down the House.”
How did Talking Heads become the unlikely heroes of the episode? “There's just a lot of fans of the Talking Heads on the show,” says showrunner Angela Kang. But Kang reveals that while some songs on The Walking Dead are specifically written into a script beforehand, the selection of “Burning Down the House” actually came well after the fact as the episode was being cut together.
“I think that that was actually a choice by our editor,” says Kang. “That was how it came about. It was not one of the ones that was written into the script, because sometimes we do write queues into a script, and either it has to do with the lyrics or the vibe of the music and we're trying to get something across. But, in this case, it was just like, ‘Okay, they're blasting something that's loud rock music.’ And the editor picked this, and then we were listening to it in the edit and we're like, ‘Okay, well, this song is perfect.’”
What made the song perfect? Says Kang: “It just feels like they're in this place where they're like, ‘All right, these are impossible odds. If we've got to burn down the house, let's do it. Let's go out and style.’ And it felt like the right match for whatever reason.”
Even though the song was perfect, the price tag to use it was not, which caused TWD producers to consider other options. “The song was expensive,” says Kang. “So there was a point where we're like, ‘We might have to change the song because it's kind of pricey.’ But we tried out different options and none of them ever felt right. So we were like, ‘Okay, let's just scrape up the money from, we'll do this and we'll cut that.’ It just feels like it's the right song. There was no deep, scripted meaning to this one. It just felt so right once it was in the cut and I love it. So I was glad we were able to put that one in.”
Of course, there were some other heroes in “A Certain Doom” not named David Byrne or Tina Weymouth. Kang spoke to EW about a big return, a big death, a big cliffhanger ending, and much more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, how exciting was it getting Lauren Cohan back on the show, as Maggie shows up to save the day here?
ANGELA KANG: Amazing. Lauren and I have always bonded, and Maggie is such a great character. And she's so lovely and so fun to work with. She just brings such energy and optimism and positivity to our set. So we'd been trying to work out, “How and when can you come back?”
And so we were all really thrilled to have her back with us. It just felt like we hadn't missed a beat. And she was just right back in and she did a wonderful job. We'd had her for a little bit before that because she came and shadowed a director that season, so it was just fun having her ease in, in a different way. And she was just hanging with us for a while and going to all the meetings with the director. And then she just stepped on set and it was like no time had passed at all. So it was really great.
I want to get into the Negan and Lydia-ness of it all because they’re hanging back and then have a conversation about being a hero. He hands her mom’s mask, he drops down an elevator shaft. Let’s take Lydia first. She’s the one that grabs the backpack after Beatrice gets swarmed. She’s the one who is going to lead the herd over the edge of the cliff, and then she’s the one who saves Carol at the last second from plunging into the abyss and then throwing her mom’s mask off the cliff to boot. Why is Lydia ready to sacrifice herself and why does she then go save Carol?
I think with Lydia, this character is such an interesting one in the comic, and then we did our own take on it. And a lot of what we talked about with Lydia in the writer's room is here is this girl, and she's essentially grown up in the Whisperers. That group is a wild group, and her mom is abusive with the way that her mother treats her and controls her, especially when her mother wants to force her to kill her. And it's such a dark thing to put on your child to say, "This is the mantle I wanted to pass on to you. You should be the Alpha growing up and take over this group." And for Lydia, she's just trying to figure that all out, because at the end of the day, she's still a kid.
She's a kid that's approaching adulthood, but she is still a teenager and she needs a loving mother. And I do believe Alpha loves Lydia — that's one of the things that makes her complex and interesting as a villain in the comics. And so we want it to be true to that, but it's a love that's also toxic. And I think for Lydia, she accepts that she knows how to work the hurt, she's been doing it her entire life. She learned to do it as a child. Our people are just starting to figure it out, and so she knows that she has a role that she can play. And the thing that she's gained from being in this group is the confidence to understand that she can be one of the heroes, she can help in her own unique way.
I think in some ways, she lives up to the thing that her mother always said that she wanted for her, which is, "I want you to lead the herd." It's just that it's definitely not what her mother thinks. She's just like, "I'm going to destroy the herd because this way of living has to stop." And Carol, in some ways, those two have had this really strange, contentious relationship because obviously, Lydia's mother killed Carol's son. But Lydia loved that son, and so they've got this really strange relationship. But in some ways, I always think that Lydia and Carol are like the mother-daughter combo that should have been, but just circumstance led them down such different paths in life. And so Lydia rejects the mother that she was born to and just tries to connect with the person that, in some ways, is such a better match for her. And that she's learned from and that she hopes to make amends with.
I did like the scene though, where she tells Carol she's not looking for another mom. And I was like, "Thank God," because things do not tend to turn out well for Carol's kids, whether they're adopted or otherwise.
[Laughs] And that was the thing that we talked about too, was she's not looking for another mom and Carol is not looking for another daughter. But that's the tragedy because really, they're so well matched as a kind of family, but they're on their own. They need to do their own thing and work out their own trauma. They both have so much pain over what's happened during this Whisperer war, but maybe they can at least be friends, if nothing else.
Let’s look at the other half of the battle now. Daryl calls Negan out earlier saying you have to put your butt on the line if you want to be a part of it. Negan then does exactly that and takes on Beta. And just when it looks like Beta is going to take Negan out, Daryl, the guy who maybe hates Negan more than anyone else in the world, saves him by stabbing Beta through the eyes. First off, what a perfect way for Beta to go because I feel like Ryan, Norman, and Jeffrey are all sort blood brothers riding around on motorcycles with their leather jackets and stuff, so for them to all be involved was pretty cool.
Those three guys, they bonded in very particular ways, but they're also each like an alpha in their own right. So all three of them had to be cool and have a cool part of the thing. And I think they were all great. Negan had his role to play as bait, because he knew he could be great bait, Daryl coming in with the knives, and Beta just the tough guy but also just in some ways, he always knew he would die in the herd. So he got to have this weird, surreal exit, which I think Ryan enjoyed — I definitely liked crashing those three characters together at the very end.
Tell me about the visions and memories of Alpha that Beta's having as he's dying and being enveloped.
We talked a lot about how Alpha as this charismatic leader. I mean, she's called Alpha and he's called Beta. There's a reason why he was content to be her number two. He supported her vision, and in real life there are social science theories about when you have an organization or a government that has a really intense, charismatic leader and the entire organization is focused and built around that. Sometimes when that person dies or retires or disappears, it fundamentally changes the organization because so much of it was tied up in that cult of personality. So we were just talking about, well, then how does it even fall to the number two? What is Beta? And so one of our writers had this like crazy pitch of, well, he makes the mask out of her face.
And so, in some ways, the only way Beta knows how to carry it forward is, it's all for Alpha. He's trying to carry her spirit with him because he feels like, and this is true, there is no Alpha. He never took the title of Alpha, he remained Beta, but he was like, "I have to carry forth my Alpha's vision." And so I think it felt true to us that in his moment of death, he's reflecting on the great leader that he adored in this completely platonic way because he believed in her. And they had a spiritual bond is the way that Samantha and Ryan played it, that they probably were doing ayahuasca out in the woods and just communing... Literally, this is part of their secret backstory, but I was like, "I'm into it. I buy it." They have this very special bond and so that's what's flashing through his mind. It's like, "I've done my best to carry forward the wishes of my Alpha," and he has died with honor.
You tried to pull a fast one on us and make us think Connie was a Walker. How dare you do that? She's found finally by Michonne's pal Virgil, which obviously begs the question: How big a part is Virgil going to play moving forward?
He's not a series regular for us, but we just so loved working with this actor, Kevin Carroll. So definitely, we'd love to see him back and have some adventures with Connie. Obviously, this was a Greg Nicotero directed episode, so it was scripted as that little bit of a mislead. And I think Greg just shot the hell out of it. He knows how to make something look like a Walker that's not a Walker. So Lauren Ridloff had gone off to do The Eternals, which we wanted her to have that opportunity, but it means we missed her for a chunk of the season. And so we're just really looking forward to having her back with us in episodes to come down the line.
We end with Eugene’s group in the rail yard, the floodlights on, stormtrooper-looking dudes run out and yell “Weapons down now.” This is ripped pretty much straight out of the comic book. So what do you want to say about this group and the Commonwealth, which I have to assume is going to be a large chunk of the story moving forward?
For people who are comic book readers, they'll obviously recognize the guys in the outfits, but I don't want to spoil too much for the fans going forward. We definitely have our own way into the story. I'll just say that this group does play a very important role going forward for our characters. We're working on pre-production on an episode that picks up with that story and I think there's some cool stuff that comes into that. Who are these people? What are they about? We will start to learn that over time and unpeel those layers of the onion.