[Warning: The below contains spoilers for Season 9 midseason premiere of The Walking Dead, titled "Adaptation."]
The Walking Dead has (literally) unmasked a new evil in the back half of Season 9.
With the introduction of the nightmarish Whisperers, the show seems to be moving toward another large-scale confrontation between the good guys and the dead-people-wearing bad guys. But several things have to go horribly wrong before that happens, and in the midseason premiere, "Adaptation," the seeds of discontent have been sown.
Plus, Angela Kang weighs in on The Whisperers and the threat they pose in the second half of Season 9.
We talked with showrunner Angela Kang about translating some pivotal moments and relationships from comic to screen, introducing the very important mother-daughter duo of Alpha and Lydia, and what fans can expect from the second half of the season.
In the comics Carl and Negan have a bond, but on the show it seems that connection is between Judith and Negan. How did you adapt that story for these characters?
Angela Kang: We really love the dynamic that exists between our young actress Cailey Fleming, who’s wonderful as Judith, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. What’s fun for us is that in vibe, we’re jumping back to when 10-year-old Carl and Negan were interacting in the comic, or a younger child. But at the same time, Judith is really her own character who is very spunky but also optimistic in a way that Carl wasn’t, necessarily, because Carl was out there in the world whereas Judith has grown up behind walls. So I think we took the approach of “let’s use that concept of the Grimes child interacting with Negan but try to adapt it for this different Grimes child, with her specific personality.” We have a story between them that I think is pretty delightful across the season. It’s been really fun working with those two on that.
Speaking of Negan, I was curious — why did he opt to go back to captivity rather than heading for the hills after he left the Sanctuary?
I think for Negan, he’s a person who thrives on being around other people. He’s a person who certainly likes to tell people the way the world is and the way it should be, and he likes to have people to talk at. He already went to the place where he thought he could find people or get his people back, and he knows the world is in a bad state. He’s taking a risk in going back [to Alexandria], but he’s taking a risk he feels, in the moment, like “maybe there’s more payoff here.”
And I also think he genuinely, really likes Judith. He feels like there’s a friendship there, and he’s like, “You know, maybe there’s more value in going back and trying to build on the relationship that I have there rather than heading for the hills and maybe just finding more dead people.” Negan is on a journey to try to see what his new place in the world is.
She left the series last year.
Another thing from the comics I wanted to ask about — Lydia’s introduction was changed a little. In the comics she’s calm and straightforward in answering the questions about her group, so what went into the decision for her to be more fearful and less direct in talking about the Whisperers?
We were talking a lot about “What’s the psychology of this particular child who has grown up in the apocalypse, and what is her mother like?” We reveal a little more about what that relationship has been, and also, this is a person who may have tactics that she has to use in order to survive. What we wanted to do for the audience is leave open the question of: How much can you trust her? How much of this is real? How much of it is the feral child who is trying to make her way out of a crazy situation? We ended up loving what Cassady (McClincy) did, and I think she does really well in playing a real complexity to this person.
We see Daryl in a particularly brutal headspace this episode, as he comes so close to executing Lydia. What changed his mind about going through with it?
I think for Daryl, he’s always been a really good judge of character. He’s had quite a bit of evolution over time, and we’ve seen the Daryl who was quick to jump to violence or other things in the past. He’s become a little more tempered. But he comes from a very rough upbringing himself, he’s a survivor of abuse, and I think he’s pretty good at recognizing when somebody has come out of a similarly chaotic situation. I think it’s also a testament to how smart he is that sometimes he’s able to suppress the initial instinct to jump to a rougher way of dealing with something, to something that’s a little more strategic.
And I also think the presence of Henry, Carol’s child, somebody he cares about very much and he respects — Henry begging for him to go easy on this girl snaps him back to himself a little bit and forces him to change his mindset.
Another Daryl scene I thought was interesting this episode was when we got a tiny conversation between Michonne and Daryl where Michonne thanks him for trying to find Rick, and then thanks him for “after.” What can you tease about that “after”?
There’s obviously been some clues laid in the season… We’ve seen that Michonne and Daryl bear these scars on their backs. That is a story that we will be telling over the course of the season. There will be answers to that. There is definitely shared experience that forced them to deal with very difficult situations together and cemented that bond even further.
We got our first good look at Alpha at the end of this episode. That scene with her was pretty cool — what were you trying to convey with it, and what can fans expect to see from her during the rest of the season?
It’s our version of, in the comic, there’s a figure that comes out and has a sawed-off shotgun and a mask and all of that. And I think Samantha (Morton) is doing phenomenal work on the show. She’s so lovely as a person, and so committed as an actor, and I’m really excited for people to see everything she’s been doing.
We’ll definitely get to know more about the Whisperers and their particular philosophy of life. In many ways, they’re another game-changer in the show in that they are a different kind of threat — it’s a threat where these people could be hiding anywhere. We’ll see that Alpha is an incredibly formidable leader who is complex but very, very scary. She really does not mess around. For people to have adopted such a radical philosophy, as the Whisperers have, it makes them hard to deal with because they are unlike other enemies. So I think it forces our characters into some really interesting situations and they have to make some hard decisions and deal with a lot of scary things that come their way.
I know there are some pretty big events from the comics coming up…
There’s some big stuff from the comic! So for people who know that, they may be waiting for things to happen. I don’t mean “waiting” like it’s not going to happen, but there will be an interesting and winding road that goes to some dark places.
The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC