Walking Dead Showrunner Hints At A ‘Different Sort’ Of Villainy To Come
As it reaches its eleventh and final season, it’s near-impossible to sum up the plot of The Walking Dead, a show with a sprawling cast, sky-high body count and an intricate web of interconnecting storylines.
However, all die-hard fans have our favourite bits: the Big Bads that kept us hooked even as we wished for zombie jaws to close around their neck, or the parts where doomed communities appeared to flourish temporarily despite it all.
Like many others, I’ve been particularly gripped by Carol Peletier’s (Melissa McBride) extraordinary story of resilience, taking her from grieving domestic abuse survivor to bona fide Queen of the Apocalypse. Katana-wielding badass Michonne Hawthorne (Danai Gurira) has also inspired me through many a flailing fitness kick over the years.
For showrunner Angela Kang, her personal favourite moments came at the end of season four, during a touching heart-to-heart between Daryl Dixon (Normal Reedus) and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a scene she recalls as having been very ‘special’ to ‘watch come to life’.
The pair here bond anew after having both returned from respective dark and difficult paths. Rick had just ripped out the throat of the sadistic child molester Joe (Jeff Kober), while Daryl found himself grappling with the aftermath of having fallen in with the wrong crowd.
We see the two men ‘find comfort in each other and call each other brother’, in the sort of scene that keeps the heart of The Walking Dead beating brightly amid so much bloody, gory chaos.
The recurring theme of rebuilding families from strong bonds after unimaginable loss, of striving to remain ‘the good guys’ even when all law and order has fallen, is threaded throughout every doomed dash for supplies, every crushing blow to the re-establishment of democracy.
The Walking Dead explores some the grimmest facets of humanity possible – murder, cannibalism and merciless dictatorships – with writers again and again imagining the depths of depravity some would no doubt stoop to should society ever crumble to dust.
However, it’s also a show where social bonds endure even after traditional signifiers of home and hearth have decayed, a show that holds out hope that people would still look out for each other if society was ever reduced to a tooth-and-nail struggle for survival.
The opening of season 11 sees our characters face very different challenges than those presented at the beginning of season 10. Much of what they once tried to rebuild has been shattered following their fight against the Whisperers, and they may now need to listen to unlikely allies to move forward.
Without enough food, Alexandria teeters on the verge of collapse, while the Kingdom has long since fallen along with all its many admirable dreams. However, despite the desperate situation, Kang still believes ‘there is hope in telling a story of people that are fighting for each other and to help each other survive’.
Kang told UNILAD:
You know, amongst our heroes, there’s not a lot of selfishness. So much of what they do is for the people that they love, whether it’s literal family or the family that they have found by finding each other. So in that way, I think hope has always been an important part of the fabric of The Walking Dead.
I think that this is a story in the comic books that has gone from one man alone to many, many people in a community trying to rebuild something larger. And so that’s definitely part of the vibe that we’re playing with as we move towards the end of the story.
Of course, not all the characters view each other as family, and fans will no doubt be intrigued to see how the dynamic between Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohen) and Negan Smith (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) will play out as we reach this nail-biting final stretch.
Even in a show with so much brutality, Negan’s killing of Maggie’s husband Glenn (Steven Yeun) back in season seven remains horrifyingly memorable, a moment of shocking human callousness amid the mindless ravaging of the undead.
However, after so many years spent mulling over his evil deeds under lock and key, fans have begun to wonder whether Negan could emerge as a fundamentally changed – and even somewhat redeemed – asset to the group.
It’s unlikely that Maggie will come around to this way of thinking quite so easily, as, in Kang’s words, ‘these two just don’t trust each other’:
They have a lot of reasons why Maggie obviously hates Negan. But I think for Negan, she tried to come in as a vigilante and kill him. And so he doesn’t have a lot of faith.
When you have that kind of tension, I think for us as writers, that’s exciting to throw those people together because we get to explore questions about redemption, rehabilitation, forgiveness. You know, can people who are enemies learn how to productively work together, move forward? Are they doomed to repeat the same negative cycles that got them to the bad place to begin with?
While old hurts continue to fester, the survivors will also have new antagonists to face, most notably in the form of the Reapers, a hostile group that interestingly doesn’t have any basis in the original comic book series.
Offering some insight into this mysterious group, Kang said:
So we know that these are very, very formidable people. Their background was as fighters before the apocalypse, so they definitely have a skill set that most of our antagonists don’t have.
There will also be some that that have smaller stories within it. But you see people that are too far gone. You see people that are they have villainy in a different sort of a way that is maybe not as obvious to begin with. So it’ll be it’ll be whole variety because we’ve got twenty four episodes, so many different people that they’re running across.
Eleven seasons on, and The Walking Dead can still pack a punch, asking meaty philosophical questions of viewers while building atmospheric dread like no other horror TV series before or since.
The show will quite rightly be remembered as one of the most inventive in television history, a consistently compelling exploration of what remains during the darkest of timelines.
With various spinoffs in the works, this will be by no means the last look we’ll get of this desolate yet still very human world. However, fans will be keen to see a few loose ends tied up as neatly as the end times can allow, as well as a much-longed-for return of a certain sheriff’s deputy…
UK viewers can catch the season eleven premiere of The Walking Dead on Disney+ from August 23, 2021.
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