- Warning: There are massive spoilers below for “The Walking Dead” series finale, “Rest in Peace.”
- Showrunner Angela Kang told Insider this isn’t the original script that was pitched to AMC.
- Kang pushed for Rick and Michonne’s return, and an actor volunteered to have their character die.
Rest in Peace. “The Walking Dead” is finally over.*
After 11 seasons and 177 episodes of fighting the living and the dead, most of the cast of AMC’s apocalyptic drama survived.
Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) said they love each other (as best friends), Ezekiel (Khary Payton) is running the Commonwealth with Mercer (Michael James Shaw), Judith (Cailey Fleming) survived a gunshot wound to the chest, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) made a shocking apology to Maggie (Lauren Cohan), and Daryl rode off on a motorcycle solo searching for Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira).
And, as fans hoped, Rick and Michonne popped up to tease their upcoming “TWD” spin-off series.
But their cameo in an end coda isn’t what showrunner Angela Kang pictured when originally pitching their return.
Over a Zoom call Thursday, Kang told Insider she had a “different end point in mind” for the show, which was changed late in the game to service the larger “TWD” universe. (*At least three spin-offs are in the works.) In a separate interview, finale director Greg Nicotero told Insider that Lincoln and Gurira filmed their secret scene for the series finale in August, months after “TWD” wrapped filming at the end of March.
Based on Robert Kirkman’s comic series, “TWD” premiered on October 31, 2010, and has been a part of Kang’s life for over a decade. Joining the series’ second season as a writer, Kang took over as showrunner during season nine, and, against all odds, made the show a great watch again until COVID-19. She’s been invested in not just crossing the finish line, but, as she told us in previous interviews, sticking the landing with the finale.
As Daryl and the survivors fought for their freedom and their communities, Kang sought to deliver a finale that rang true to the heart of the series despite the complications of filming for 17-to-18 straight months during a pandemic and lacking the funds and time necessary to execute her original vision.
While it may not be the complete episode she originally pitched, Kang hopes the team delivered an ending that brings “some joy” to fans.
Daryl’s massive black eye in the series finale has nothing to do with Norman Reedus’ on-set finale injury
Let’s start by discussing Daryl’s very noticeable black eye at the episode’s start. I had confirmed in March with Norman’s rep and AMC that he suffered a concussion on the set of the finale. Am I correct in assuming Daryl’s black eye is somewhat real and not all make-up on the finale?
No, it’s all make-up.
We were already shooting with the black eye on the day that he hit his head, as far as I know.
A different version of the finale script was pitched that they couldn’t shoot due to budget and time limitations
So much happens in the finale. Did you get everything and everyone that you wanted in this episode or did you have to make any compromises?
[Sigh] I mean, the original version of our script was not shootable in the time and with the money that we had. So, in that way, there were compromises made because we had to cut down a lot of what we had and we still got extra days and extra money.
But it was not as much as if we did the full version of the script as we originally imagined. But that’s a normal part of the script-shooting process. Compromises like that were constant in the filming process throughout the entire season.
In terms of anything else, I think we got who we wanted. We wanted Rick and Michonne and then we wanted to focus on the current cast. So that worked out.
Do you want to share any of the things that didn’t make it into the finale that you were hoping to see?
Oh gosh, I don’t even remember at this point. The only thing I can remember off the top of my head, just ’cause our interview time is short, is the sequence with Rosita going down by the ambulance. That was originally a longer, bigger sequence.
There was so little time to film everything. It still took two full days of filming, but it probably would’ve taken another day and a half.
Maggie was never going to forgive Negan on the finale for killing her husband, Glenn. She could maybe forgive him one day.
The Maggie and Negan conversation is such an emotional one and we’ve talked a bit before about revisiting Glenn’s season seven premiere death. I felt like this conversation was almost a therapeutic moment for viewers who may have tuned out after Glenn’s death and who may be coming back to watch the finale after dropping off years ago.
So, two things: Why was it important to have this very honest moment? And was there ever any consideration of having Maggie tell Negan she could forgive him or did everyone in the writer’s room know that this was the move because anything else would be a cop-out?
I knew from the beginning of trying to map out this season that I felt like, they had to finish the emotional business of what their relationship started as and that the Glenn death still hangs over both of them, in every way. That’s why we had this moment where he had said early on in the season, “if I could do it all again, I’d do it all over again.” And that’s very honest on his part.
They have moments where they’re working together. Maggie had a moment where she felt she needed to kill them all. So they’re kind of dancing around each other’s POVs. But we always knew we needed to get to the two of them face-to-face. And he has apologized and she has to decide whether to accept the apology, and we knew that the forking paths are either she does or she doesn’t.
I felt pretty strongly, all along, and the writers were kind of with me, that it’s like, ‘It’s just too big a thing for her to forgive him for right now.’ I mean that’s not to say — Maybe she can at some point.
The thing that I took from Lauren Cohan’s own point of view is that not forgiving him and having to live with that is actually really painful because you want to not have that trauma living with you all the time. It’s actually exhausting to hate him. Those aren’t her exact words, I’m just kind of paraphrasing the idea.
We worked that idea into the scene because there is a part of her that wants to just move past it, but she can’t. Every time she looks at his face, she remembers Glenn. We always knew we were pointing in that direction for a very long time.
I cried through the whole scene. I think it’s going to play really well.
They’re both really, really good in it.
Kang pushed to have Rick and Michonne in the finale, but she wanted them to appear in a different way
I want to make sure I ask about the big Rick and Michonne coda scene. When did you know that was going to become a part of the finale? Did that happen late in the game? Was it always part of the plan?
And just to make sure I’m interpreting the scene right, am I correct in that we’re simultaneously seeing Rick before the events of Michonne’s final episode and then Michonne at some point after season 10, episode 13? Can you confirm where on “The Walking Dead” timeline they are?
Yeah. Your timeline is correct. It’s a past and a present story kind of living simultaneously, but it just shows that their intentions are emotionally the same.
I wanted them in the finale from the very beginning of mapping out the season and pitched it that way to AMC and said, “I know it’s not all up to me, but I think the best version of the story is that they come back.”
I had a different wish for what we could see, but that’s so dependent on universe things and, at that time, the movie was still possibly being made and so it was complicated and everybody’s like, “Yep. We hear you. That’s cool. We don’t know if it’s gonna happen.”
From the time that I first kind of put it out in the universe to when we actually locked them in was a very, very, very long time. And I wasn’t sure until very late in the game that we were gonna be able to lock them down ’cause there’s so many moving pieces with the universe and business deals and their schedules and all of that. Even work visa stuff. It was a whole situation. [Laughs.]
We were just happy that it happened, in the end. That’s how things happen behind the scenes.
Did you ever have a different end point in mind for the show than what we see on Sunday’s episode? Or was that what you had envisioned?
I actually did have a different end point in mind and we changed some of that in editing.
Christian Serratos volunteered for her character, Rosita, to be killed off
You guys played it a little safe with the deaths this season and on the finale. I was a little surprised the largest deaths were Luke and Rosita. Was there ever any discussion of killing anyone else or are viewers who are hoping for more and bigger deaths missing the larger point of the series?
Additionally, did you want to kill off anyone but were maybe met with resistance because AMC wanted them to stay around for potential spin-offs?
No. This is a big question, right? The show is known for its carnage, but if you look at the source material, it is moving towards: How do you create something that sustains for the next generation? A lot of people are alive at the end of the comic.
The thing that we can’t do is do what the comic did, which is, the leads die. The parents die. And we know that all of the people that kind of fit that are going off to spin-offs and Rosita’s sort of the next biggest person left alive and Christian volunteered for her death.
So we felt that, and I felt that doing a carnage version is actually not true to the spirit of the overall story. I think one impactful death, plus Luke — which gives us a lot of sense of stakes at the beginning — for me, that’s enough to really pay honor to how important a character Rosita is and not litter the thing with, everybody randomly dies.
During the course of your time as showrunner, you’ve been thrown so many challenges. Andrew Lincoln left. Then Danai Gurira. And kind of against all odds you succeeded in not only turning the show around by making it a true ensemble again, but I think delivering the best season in years with season 10. Then a pandemic happened. And, to put it mildly, it changed a lot of things.
From the outside looking in, it seemed like you were given a perfect storm to fail, Angela. Did you ever feel like, ‘Wow, the universe is really testing me?’
Can you speak to how difficult all of these challenges may have been and whether or not you ever got frustrated or wanted to throw in the towel? What kept you going? Essentially, are you happy that you took on the challenge of becoming showrunner during a time when you were thrown curveball after curveball?
Yes, I’m happy I took on the challenge. I feel like it’s made me a stronger writer and producer, but admittedly it was very, very hard just because there are a lot of emotions that come with big changes, no matter what.
A lot of things have happened and the pandemic season was incredibly difficult. I started therapy during this final season, so that helped me a lot. But it was a lot going on.
The support of my writer staff, we’ve always been a good group just working together ’cause we’re just with each other all the time. But even that, it was hard for everybody. We all lost people that were important to us. People were hospitalized. So, as with everybody around the world, it was not an easy time.
At least we got to do something creative that hopefully brings people some joy in the end.
You told me super briefly in July that you have something big you’re working on now that you’re not doing the Daryl spin-off anymore. Is there anything you can tease or any final words on what it’s meant to be a female showrunner in charge of such a massive property?
It’s been great and I’m grateful.
And the new thing, I think, is gonna be announced soon, so I hope people will check it out when it happens.
Editor’s note: Hours after we spoke, Amazon announced Kang will lead a live-action “Spider-Man” spin-off series, “Silk,” developed by Kang and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. After the announcement, Kang told Insider she wasn’t aware the news was coming Thursday, but added that she’s “having a great time so far” working on the project.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.