By Amy West
Like many shows last year, The Walking Dead was forced to reevaluate its filming methods due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For showrunner Angela Kang, and the rest of the team behind the post-apocalyptic horror-drama, it quickly became clear that gathering its huge ensemble cast would be difficult with social distancing rules to adhere to on set, and assembling large groups of zombified extras was out of the question completely.
So they decided to hold off on shooting season 11, which is set to be an epic 24-episode effort, in the summertime and started working on six smaller-scale outings that would bridge the gap between season 10’s previously planned finale ‘A Certain Doom’ and the show’s final chapter in the autumn instead.
Concentrating on a few characters rather than the whole gang, the episodes centre on Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl (Norman Reedus), as it flashes back to reveal what the duo got up during the time jump, and sees Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), Princess (Paola Lázaro) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) attempt to defuse a hostile run-in with the Commonwealth.
It seems safe to suggest, though, that one aspect of 10c that audiences are most excited for is the confrontation between Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and somewhat reformed baddie Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
“Fans will definitely see other sides of both characters,” teases Cohan. “Angela made a good point to me when we were talking about it, when she told me that the writers had found it fun to find the parallels between the two of them.
“Whether either one of them are willing to see that yet is another question, but I think it’s something that will be a big driving force as to how each character develops and whether or not they can cohabit or cooperate.”
As loyal viewers are already aware, Cohan left the show temporarily in season nine, when Maggie decided that she could no longer face living in close proximity to the man who killed Glenn (Steven Yeun), her husband and father to her unborn baby at the time. So she took infant son Hershel and found somewhere else to call home for seven years. According to Kang, there was never any doubt that Maggie would eventually reunite with Daryl, Carol and co.
“We always intended for [her] to come back, and it was just a matter of figuring out, like, what those exact terms were,” she explains. “We knew that we wanted it to be big, and now we have a big story for her to come back to. But, yeah, we’ve been in touch for the entire time that she’s been gone, so we’re excited that it worked out.”
Aside from featuring briefly in Maggie’s episode – which will also see the newly returned character “fight an unseen and unknown threat” – Negan will front one of his own. Titled ‘Here’s Negan’, it lifts inspiration from a standalone volume of Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels, and attempts to shed some light on who he was before he became the feared leader of the Saviors and picked up that baseball bat. Most notably, it’ll give fans a glimpse at his life with his late wife, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer right before the outbreak.
Before production began, Morgan’s real-life wife Hilarie Burton was cast as Lucille. Kang assures that the fact her involvement allowed for more intimate scenes was just an added bonus, and that they had had her in mind for the part long before they were tasked with considering COVID-19 protocols.
“The two of them are wonderful together. [Chief Content Officer] Scott Gimple and I have talked for a long time about the fact that, perhaps, she could be Lucille if we ever came to do the ‘Here’s Negan’ story,” she says. “She brings such a great spirit to that role and she really, really did her research on what it’s like to be a cancer patient. I think that she brings such beauty to the way that she plays the many different facets that I think people will love to see.”
Burton isn’t the only newbie joining the ranks temporarily, what with Terminator 2 star Robert Patrick having been brought onboard to play Mays, a scorned survivor who’ll share a tense stand-off with Seth Gilliam’s Gabriel.
“Robert is somebody I’ve been a fan of for decades,” Kang gushes. “He was brought up as a name to play this new character we needed to introduce and immediately the writers and I, who share that same sense of fandom and we were like, ‘Oh, my God, like, can we really get him? Is he really interested?’ We got him and he was absolutely lovely. He’s such a sweet, wonderful man and he just brought such gravitas. He’s amazing.”
Cobra Kai’s Okea Eme-Akwari and Bosch’s Lynn Collins will be introduced as Maggie’s scythe-wielding right-hand man Elijah and outsider Leah as well; the latter of whom is expected to be the cause of some tension between Daryl and Carol. It has already been revealed that she was the former owner of Daryl’s pooch Dog, and that she was someone he grew close to in the years following Rick Grimes’ “death.” Past episodes have hinted at Carol being aware of her, too. Turns out, though, she may not have been privy to all that went on between her longtime best bud and the mysterious recluse.
“I imagine that they tell each other everything,” Reedus says of Carol and Daryl’s bond. “There’s certain storylines that are gonna expand on that and maybe expose some stuff where not everything was told. Everyone is still dealing with the aftermath of the war, of course, but there’s some backstory that reveals a little bit more about them.”
Elsewhere, Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Gabriel bicker over the best course of action for the Hilltop and Alexandria communities following the devastating effects of their stand against Beta (Ryan Hurst) and the Whisperers. Unsurprisingly, given their natures, the former insists on them continuing to help people and rebuild what they once had, while Gabriel is having difficulty letting his guard down again.
“Seth gets to do some crazy stuff in these episodes,” admits Marquand. “Gabriel really got the brunt of the trauma from the battle and that’s definitely going to influence how he [thinks] going forward.
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“Both of these men are trying to find some meaning to life, and how to recover after defeating this horrific enemy that has claimed the lives of so many. They’re gonna be doing a little ping-pong, a little back-and-forth to determine that… what the characters focus their time and energy on when there’s not a threat looming over them all of the time. We will see in these episodes how the two of them have very different ways of seeing the future world.”
If the past ten seasons of The Walking Dead are anything to go by, whatever they decide, the peace won’t last long anyway.
“The only fear that I’ve ever had about getting killed off of this show is what my next job is going to be,” jokes Gilliam. “The deaths are always impactful and dramatic so any scene like that would be fun to play, but then the finality of it would hit me and I’d be like, ‘Well, how am I going to eat next month?’”