On Sunday, The Walking Dead began a bold new chapter in the wake of Andrew Lincoln's surprising exit (to make Rick-centric TV movies), and it affected every familiar face on the show.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Walking Dead episode "Who Are You Now."**
In some ways, the whole of the show's ninth season has been a new chapter for the showing, starting off with a short time jump and giving us a look at the survivors as they tried to build a better world in the wake of their war with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Then the series said goodbye to Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and jumped time in a way that made that initial leap look like more of a skip. Sunday's episode, "Who Are You Now," pushed things forward roughly six years, which for the show and its world means so much more than a grown-up Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming).
So, how did the show determine where each of its major characters would end up in the post-Rick era, and what were the challenges in finding those threads? Showrunner Angela Kang broke it all down in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Kang described the episode as something "like filming a new pilot," seeing the world in large part through the eyes of a new character, Magna (Nadia Hilker), as she and her friends encounter the Alexandria community in its new form for the first time. In the time that's passed, Michonne (Danai Gurira) is parenting both Judith and R.J., her son with Rick, and has joined a governing council of Alexandria alongside other major characters. Carol (Melissa McBride) has become queen of the Kingdom, Daryl (Norman Reedus) has become a hermit out in the woods, Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) have become a couple, and most importantly, a new threat has arrived by the end of the episode.
In figuring out how everyone ended up where they did, Kang and the show's writers did their best to extrapolate out from their personalities when we last saw them.
"We talked a lot about the philosophies we have seen from these characters before, and the coping mechanisms we've seen them use in the past when going through trauma," Kang said. "How do you figure out what that's going to become? For Alexandria, we see it's ruled by a council of elected leaders. Michonne clearly has a big role in that. We felt like Alexandria was trying to create something like an American democracy, though it's much more complicated than that, as we'll see throughout the season. With Daryl, we've always known that he's felt like a lone wolf, someone who is better off on his own. We thought it would be an interesting thing to see. If this man has been off on his own, what does that look like? What kind of impact has that had on people who care about him, such as Carol? We'll learn a lot more about what's going on at the Hilltop in the next episode. For Carol, as a person who was an abused housewife and has survived so much and grown so much and changed, she's now someone who is looking for a spot of brightness and happiness in her life. The Kingdom is the most joyful community we have encountered thus far."
The time jump — and the removal of characters like Rick from the picture — also allows the show to explore even more elements of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's comic book series in a different way. In the comics, Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) carries on secretive conversations with Negan in his jail cell, and now on the show it will be Judith who gets that honor, with a different version of Negan's story playing out. The same could also be true of the arrival of the Whisperers, the show's new villains, who seem to appear to our heroes at first as walkers who have developed the ability to speak. There's obviously a clear path laid out for the Whisperer arc in the comics, but in discussing where her team plans to go from here, Kang promised some surprises.
"This is part of the mystery of the story of the Whisperers that we're starting this season. What I'll say is there are some twists and turns to this story, but there will be some answers by the time we get to the midseason finale," she said. "It opens up a Pandora's box of other things. Hang on: It's a really cool ride. This is one of my absolute favorite moments from the comic book. These issues were coming up while we were working on a prior season of the show. As we were reading the issue in the office, everybody was like, 'Oh my god. What just happened? What is Robert Kirkman even doing here? What could possibly be next?' The answers were so satisfying and fascinating to us. I hope the audience gets to experience it the way readers experienced reading it."
The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC.