‘Walking Dead’ Showrunner Angela Kang On Tonight’s Real Season 10 Ender, The Final Season, Steven Yeun’s Possible Return, & That Negan Smirk

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains details of the real Season 10 finale of The Walking Dead tonight.

“You’re a clown, a cult of personality with no cult,” Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan mocks himself with in tonight’s Season 10 real finale of The Walking Dead. “Time to face the facts old man, you are nothing without her,” The Unholy actor adds in a jab at his own character and the loss that we now know defines him.

At the end of 10th season that was supposed to end in April 2020, but then was pushed to October last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and the halting of all film and television production and then saw another six episodes this year, tonight’s ‘Here’s Negan’ was both a throwback for the series and a lurch forward to the fast approaching 11th and final season.

Based in part on the multi-issue 2016 comic series unveiling the backstory of the TWD villain and his murderous baseball bat, the 22nd episode of the TV series’ 10th season brought the long simmering tensions between Morgan’s character and Lauren Cohan’s Maggie out in the open. Though Negan returns to the Survivors’’ HQ from exile at the end of the David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick written and Laura Belsey directed episode, the looks that he and Maggie give each and the fatal warning that Melissa McBride’s Carol proclaims certainly sets the series up for its multi-pronged 24-episode final season, set to premiere on August 22.

With all that, and some very real-life horrors in America, TWD showrunner Angela Kang chatted with me about the tonight’s finale and the broken up last season to come. The EP also touched on the potential return of now Oscar nominee Steven Yeun to the fold for the final season, Morgan’s real-life wife Hilarie Burton sharing the screen as the character’s cancer ridden spouse for Sunday’s highly emotional finale tonight and her emotions as the show comes to an end, of sorts.

DEADLINE: Tonight’s episode plays it both forward and back in many ways heading into the final season, but that smirk that Negan gives Maggie right at the end, what is that telling us about where this is going, because clearly the A team are about to become cannibalizing so to speak.

KANG: Maggie and Negan have only just started to be in each other’s orbit so I think I think that they’ve got this look, they share a few significant glances over the course of these six.

I think in this one he’s been a little kind of nervous about what it’s going to mean for him to have Maggie back and he’s been trying to bridge that gap and stay out of her way in some ways, but I think here because of the events of the episode he’s really been thinking about like what his place is in the world and his past and his future.

We’re hoping to convey and think Jeffrey played this really well. He’s just like I’m here, we are going to have to deal with each other and I belong here and I have a place here. So that can mean a bunch of different things but I think there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in that journey to come that should hopefully be fun for the audience to watch.

DEADLINE: Obviously there’s differences between the Here’s Negan comic and the show as there always is with The Walking Dead and its different incarnations, but this final episode of Season 10 was very powerful, if for no other reason than Jeffrey is actually acting on screen in real life with his real wife Hilarie Burton

KANG: It was really fun for us.

DEADLINE: I bet, and them too.

KANG: (LAUGHS) We’ve been thinking about Hilarie to play Lucille a while and so it just it happened to come together really well. We never knew where this story was going to land, we just knew we wanted to keep some sort of version of this back story of Negan. But, like you said it’s not totally true to the comic and part of that is because we’ve used pieces of that story from the comic in stories and in adapted versions of scenes at various points during the show already.

We kind of got to where we were like there’s not a lot left that is going to feel fresh to the audience so let’s make the decision to really dive into this relationship with Lucille. To understand who we think she was and if that meant we were going into different territory than the book but I think that it’s kind of paid off because I think like they play so beautifully off of each other.

We wanted to kind of portray they weren’t really angels before all of this or as the virus was spreading. They had ups and downs in their relationship, but there’s a real kind of human aspect of like there were times when he was a shithead. They had a real marriage built with real love and they worked through these things together but you know, he’s got a lot of regrets too that he’s carrying.

DEADLINE: This is really Jeffrey’s tour de force, he is literally on-screen almost the whole time. evolution of the man into the villain and now into the person we know. But you know more than most that Walking Dead fans will always read a lot of things into the symbolism of the show, so can you tell us, Angela, what does it mean that he finally burns that bat?

KANG: I think that that really is it’s part of the end of a chapter for him.

I don’t think that that really says that it fundamentally changes everything about him because as we know humans are just much more complicated than that. We took inspiration for that from the comic and we played it out a little bit differently since we unburied the bat in our show. David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, who wrote this episode, was like well, he unburied the bat so is it weird for him to like dig a hole and put it back in the ground? We were like let’s just you know like what if we burn it?

So I definitely think for Negan there is a desire to figure out a new future for himself but I say it’s always a complicated road because he’s a complicated individual and you can’t just erase the past just because you want to.

DEADLINE: That’s reflected in Jeffrey’s performance, which will hopefully receive the acclaim it deserves …

KANG: Oh yeah. I mean, what was really cool about this was that Jeff is who’s just…I love working with him and he’s just…there’s no bullshit and we just get along very, very well because we’re very straight with each other, which is kind of a similar thing with Norman too But Jeff is just an incredible dramatic actor and I think he’s had fun playing like villainous Negan over the years. But he really loves digging into this stuff where you get to see like all this emotion on display and he just locked into the script, he got it like right away.

In that sense, it was so meaningful for him and Hilarie to get to do this together. Let me say, he was really emotional during the shoot in a really beautiful way and really allowed that vulnerability to show. For me, it’s so exciting when actors go there.

I had all the confidence in the world like that he was going to do an amazing job and you know I think there’s still scenes where I’m like oh, my God, this is even like better than I thought it was going to be you know. As I said, I found myself so emotional watching the burning the bat scene and Jeff had asked like can I add in a couple of lines, you know that really show that I love her and we were like yeah, go for it, and then I was just sitting there like crying like a baby watching the first cut, we’re like I think this is going to be good and people will like it you know so it was super, super cool for me. I loved the experience of it.

DEADLINE: And it sets us up pretty strong for Season 11, right?

KANG: It does. I think it definitely tells us about where he’s been and a sense that he wants a place with this group.

DEADLINE: That’s not going to be easy and I don’t just mean because of the situation with Lauren’s Maggie…

KANG: No, that’s not going to be easy and, in some ways, facing that, the hard thing that Negan didn’t want to face, which is one of his regrets with Lucille. He couldn’t deal with watching her die or thinking of her dying and so he missed it altogether – which is I think in some ways where’s he’s now as well. He’s saying, I want to live and I can’t miss out on that because I’m afraid of Maggie. So there are good ways in which the emotions of this scene kind of carry over into his struggles going forward, for sure.

DEADLINE: To that, with all that the world and the show has been through this year, how does it feel to finally have Season 10 end in public, after all the stops and starts? 

KANG: It feels amazing. I mean, I thought I had Season 10 under my belt and then obviously we kind of added these extra episodes that we shot during the pandemic. So it was this weird thing where a lot of our process we had moved on to Season 11 in the writers’ room and so it’s nice to be able to like say okay, now Season 10 has officially all aired. So, it’s s a really good feeling to now cleanly be on all on Season 11 work from here on out.

DEADLINE: Tonight it broke that you guys are back on August 22 with the start of Season 11. That’s a very fast turnaround for The Walking Dead. You guys are coming back with eight episodes, as much as you can or will, give us a sense of how that final season’s going to play out because obviously it’s a mega season.

KANG: Yeah. It’s a mega season alright. And you’re right, it is sort of a quick turnaround from finishing of airing Season 10 to the start of Season 11, but you know our process was sort of all upside down.

We’d actually started working on what will be the Season 11 premiere like many, many months ago in 2020. So we’re just excited to get back to the storyline that we’d been planning.

DEADLINE: How will that be different that these back six episodes, that have been fairly stand alone and intimate, by TWD standards.

KANG: I’ll say, we’re kind of back to some of our usual scope and scale in Season 11, obviously with some modification still going on because we’re filming during the pandemic still. But, it’s a big, big season but you know it will air in these blocks. Actually, in some ways each block has a big arc. At the same time, there’s still an ongoing arc that’s carrying across all 24.

DEADLINE: So, have you figured out how it all ends?

KANG: (LAUGHS) Dominic, you know, I can’t get into that too much because there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes conversation still going on. We definitely have some ideas and that’s all being worked on, Yet, there’s a big long stretch of story to tell before we get to that point though.

DEADLINE: Beyond hoping for a slip of the tongue, I guess I asked because it seems like the end of the mother show will be the bridge to Norman and Melissa’s show, which I know you’re deeply involved with. So, while one show is concluding, it feels in many ways that with at least one or two more shows on the horizon, TWD ends but it never ends, kind of like an MCU movie.

KANG: Well, that’s true, it’s like there’s more franchise to come. It ends but never ends exactly like you’re saying

DEADLINE: I keep being reminded of that line that Melissa’s Carol says to the returning Negan in reference to Maggie at the end of the season closer, “if you stay here she will kill you.” We’ve always seen these characters, these survivors battling forces on the outside. Now they’re turning inward on each other, self-cannibalizing, which is a whole new level of symbolism for TWD …

KANG: I’ll say, that’s one of the interesting things that we’ll be exploring in Season 11. Part of the construction is as they run into new communities, there’s choices that people are going to have to make in life and lines will be drawn.

As far as Maggie and Negan go, it’s like the audience is privy to watching this guy with no Maggie in his life, right, and kind of the road that he’s been on. But, for Maggie, it’s this is the guy that murdered my husband in the most brutal way possible in front of me and seemed to really enjoy that. So things don’t change for her in relation to Negan now just because we as people viewing it from the outside have gotten to see him make some different choices at times. Which is to say, I think like really those two have a lot left to reckon with, with each other.

DEADLINE: You mentioned Glenn, so I have to ask, will Oscar nominee Steven Yeun be returning for the final season?

KANG: Oh, man. I mean, I love Steven. I don’t know. He’s got so much going on so I don’t know, but you know we always love our Steven. I’m so excited for him. Minari is such a gorgeous movie and he deserves all the recognition he is getting.

DEADLINE: On that, the past few years have seen a lot of the hate in this country coming out of the shadows, in more recently months over the pandemic against Asian-Americans, like yourself. And then there is the fact that TWD films in Georgia, which was passed the most undemocratic voting law one could imagine so far for a republic like America. To that, Walking Dead is, specifically you Angela, if you don’t mind me saying this, you’re at a crossroads of American political and cultural life right now …

KANG: (PAUSE) It’s so interesting. Walking Dead is a very diverse, inclusive cast and these things are important to us.

I think everybody’s really been watching the things that have been happening in this country with horror, and it’s not lost on us that there was just a horrific mass shooting and that six of those victims were Asian American women in the state that we film in. I think there’s a lot of desire to find peace and equity and that people are becoming more aware of these issues

it’s on our minds a lot, there’s a lot of things that we talk about behind the scenes.

I’m sitting here as a citizen and a person of Asian American descent really stunned by the events that are happening. That’s why, in part, I think it’s important that there are things like the movie Minari. You know seeing the recognition that Steven’s getting, and the ways that we tried to show Glenn and that character’s humanity when he was on the show. Not playing into any kind of stereotypes or tropes about Asian American males on screen but recognizing that representation really does matters. That’s what we’re always trying to think about as we’re working, always.

DEADLINE: Working towards bringing this beast in for a landing with this final season, how does that feel for you?

KANG: I mean we are deeper than past the first block of episodes and with every day that ticks by it’s surprisingly emotional at various times, you know? I’ve talked about this before with folks like my producer Denise Huth and Scott Gimple. This has been such a big part of our lives and so meaningful for us to work on something that has affected people around the world and that’s not lost on us going into this final season, not at all.

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