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EP Angela Kang on Rick And Michonne’s Return, the Original Ending and More

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After over 12 years and 177 episodes, that’s it for The Walking Dead. The storied zombie series that long dominated ratings and changed television forever wrapped up with tonight’s episode, appropriately titled “Rest in Peace”. Directed by series mainstay Greg Nicotero, from a story by showrunner and EP Angela Kang, and written by Corey Reed and Jim Barnes, the extended length episode wrapped up the show, while teasing the three upcoming spinoff series that should be debuting in 2023.

But the biggest surprise — and spoilers past this point — was saved for the final moments, with the return of beloved actors Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira to their iconic roles of Rick Grimes and Michonne. In a closing montage that flashed through most, if not all of the departed cast members from the past 11 seasons, we caught up with Rick and Michonne as they wrote letters to each other and their family, followed by individual scenes cross-cut and narrated by the duo. For Rick, that meant finally explaining how his boots and a painted phone were discovered by Michonne a few seasons back. And for Michonne, that meant revealing a new look for her, as well as sending her off into the wild to continue looking for her husband, Rick.

“It involved a lot of months of conversation,” Kang told Decider on the big returns. “I pitched from the very beginning that it was important to have them back, and to bring some kind of, either essence of closure, or at least a sense of where they’re at to get into their next story. So that was put out into the universe in 2020, and then it took until pretty late in maybe 2021 to actually make it all happen.”

As Kang revealed, the sequence was written by TWD Universe head Scott M. Gimple, on Kang’s request, given that he has been heavily working with Gurira and Lincoln on the forthcoming Rick and Michonne spinoff series. And the sequence was directed by Nicotero a few months after the official wrap of filming, which led to an interesting conundrum: how to actually end the final episode of The Walking Dead?

The bulk of the finale is spent on wrapping up this season’s central storyline, the conflict with the community The Commonwealth, which has been locked down by the increasingly maniacal Pamela Milton (Laila Robins), and invaded by zombies who both walk (per the title) and climb… And as seen in this episode, smash windows with rocks, too. With the safe haven invaded, ultimately our post-apocalyptic heroes stepped up and encouraged the Commonwealth to work with them to repel the undead invaders. They did this by first imprisoning Pamela, and then blowing up the fancy neighborhood of the Estates after luring the zombie herd to the location.

With the main conflict out of the way, it was time to wind things down, though not without a few losses… In the attack, Rosita (Christian Serratos) got bit by a zombie, and was given the sort of quiet, tearful goodbye we haven’t really seen in the series. Luke (Dan Fogler) was the other major casualty, going out after having his leg bitten by a walker, and dying of blood loss from the resulting amputation that hoped to save his life.

And of course there needed to be time to tee up the three, upcoming spinoff series. Though she stopped short of forgiving him for murdering her husband Glen (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohan) told a choked up Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) that she wanted to, but will never be able to get past the image of him bashing Glen’s head in with a baseball bat — clearly something they’ll have to deal with in the upcoming The Walking Dead: Dead City, which sends the duo to New York. Meanwhile, Maggie instructed Daryl (Norman Reedus) to go explore more of the world, and after a heartfelt goodbye to Carol (Melissa McBride), he headed off on his motorcycle to, uh, Paris (how he’ll drive over the Atlantic Ocean is TBA). And of course there’s the aforementioned Rick and Micchone spinoff, which will reunite them in more than just a montage.

The final image of The Walking Dead? The children of Rick and Michonne looking out over a beautiful field of flowers, flipping the script with Judith (Cailey Fleming) telling her brother that, “we’re the ones who live,” in direct contrast to Rick’s iconic declaration in seasons long past that, “we are the walking dead.” According to Kang, who remained otherwise tight-lipped, that wasn’t the original end of the series — but something that made sense once they edited together Daryl’s goodbye, the montage, and Rick and Michonne’s scenes; as well as at the urging of Andrew Lincoln, who felt the show should leave viewers with the current cast.

To find out more from Kang about those big returns, the final shot, Maggie and Negan’s conversation and more, read on. And be sure to read our interview with directer Greg Nicotero about the episode, as well as his work on the upcoming Daryl Dixon spinoff, too.

Photo: Jace Downs/AMC

Decider: What was involved in getting Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira back? And what was important to show with Rick and Michonne, given that they’ve been offscreen for so long?

Angela Kang: It involved a lot of months of conversation. [Laughs] I pitched from the very beginning that it was important to have them back, and to bring some kind of, either essence of closure, or at least a sense of where they’re at to get into their next story. So that was put out into the universe in 2020, and then it took until pretty late in maybe 2021 to actually make it all happen. So it took a while to sew it all up, but you know, fortunately it happened. And then I asked Scott [M. Gimple] if he wanted to write up this section since he was going to do the spin-off, and was already hard at work with Andy and Danai talking about what that may be. And so this was really created with Scott, we were in constant contact, and he worked with Andy and Danai to talk about, what are the some of the moments that we’d see in this, or what would the feeling be? But we knew that it needed to stitch into the emotional idea of the end of this.

Final shot of the series though is Judith and RJ looking out on the road. Why that choice of image to leave people with alongside the phrase “we’re the ones who live?”

So here’s a fun fact: That was not originally the final moment of the show. I’d written a completely different final scene. But it was something that worked well in pitch and that everybody liked, but it was one of those things when we finally saw it all put together we were like, “this doesn’t quite work,” and AMC was like, “maybe you just cut this sequence,” and I was like, “I completely understand that.” So then we were kind of like, “so do we end with Rick/Michonne? Do we end on Daryl riding off? Do we end on the kids?” But the intention was always that this is about… Our generation has done all this stuff, and then here’s who’s going to carry on the legacy.

Andy very strongly did not want to be the final thing because he felt like he was already out of this show, and so it should end with people from our show… And so we picked this moment because we felt that it at least says the kids – there’s this sort of bittersweet moment with them because here they are, you see them alone and sort of small, looking out at the landscape; and there’s hope, but there’s also, I don’t know, for them they’ve just been through so much as well, so it’s not a clean “everything’s great.” Their parents are still out there in this world. Daryl just went out into the world. So I think that felt like it honors some of the vibe that we get in the comics anytime we’re with the kids which is that their view of everything is a little different than ours. There’s beauty, but also the weight of the world that they’re in.

Are you able to say what your original ending would have been?

[Long pause] I don’t know if I should or not. Ask me another time.

Photo: Jace Downs/AMC

Fair enough. Had to try. The big death in the episode is Rosita… Was anybody else on the table? And why her?

So the “why her” is because Christian [Serratos] volunteered for it. She felt that the right ending for her character was to die in an attempt to protect her child and the next generation, which was thematically something we were dealing with. Throughout the years we’ve taken various actors wishes into account when it comes to their last moments or, what is their journey. That collaboration is important, and at first, she was like, “just think about it.” So there was a whole process where we thought about it and talked about it with everybody that needs to sign off on such decisions, and we just decided to lean into telling a story that’s really emotional with her. She did a beautiful job, so that was the “why her.”

In terms of like other iterations of things, as all these spinoffs came together it really sort of changes what feels possible, or what feels like the right thing to do, because the comic really ends with the leads dying, Rick and Andrea die. When that’s off the table, Rosita I feel is the closest – she fulfills that, because she is one of the major leads. She’s, I think, the fourth longest standing person on the show at this point, and so there’s a lot of emotion that comes with that. That’s the closest you can get to Andrea’s death. And beyond that, do you really need to see the carnage of every person that’s been on the show? That’s where I landed at. That might not be satisfying for a part of the audience that wants the carnage, but I’d rather lean into the importance of her death rather than just going for straight up bloodshed. Because I think the story is about how do we survive, and move forward.

This is more of a logistical question. Daryl heads off on his bike and says goodbye to Carol. Did this moment or sequence have to be changed at all when Melissa McBride decided not to do the spin-off?

Yeah, originally Melissa would have gotten on the bike and Daryl and Carol, would have ridden off together. So that absolutely changed. The change to all the plans happened kind of late in the game. We had not yet scripted that, but we had a plan for how all of that would play out, and so we just – we changed it, because sometimes things happen and you have to change things.

Photo: Jace Downs/AMC

This is a little bit of a bigger one but my main takeaway from that episode is that Maggie’s speech to Negan gets to the heart of what the episode is about, the idea that the last time we see people is often how we remember them – Maggie talks about her last image of Glen dying is the thing she thinks about the most. That really struck me, as that’s what’s playing out here: the last way we see these people, both as characters, and as actors in the finale. Is that a theme you were dealing with?

That’s so interesting. That makes us seem much smarter than I actually think I am. No, but I love that. I definitely think where we started with is this idea of, what is the unfinished business between Maggie and Negan? We’ve been exploring that to this point. But getting to what you’re saying, I don’t know that that was intentionally what we started out doing with that scene, but what I’ll say is that the entire episode, there were things that started to feel like, it’s not just the characters, it almost does feel like we’re commenting on the end of this journey. Which is sort of different than a lot of shows because shows don’t tend to go this long, for one thing. And for another thing, sometimes [you know] the end before you even start, you know, “I’m going to do three seasons and this is how it ends.”

It’s been this emotional roller coaster, and so I feel like another scene where there’s almost this meta feel to it is in the Daryl and Carol scene on the bench, when they’re talking about, “this is going to be good for you and me and it’s not like we’ll never see each other and you’re my best friend” and all of that… There are things in some ways are truly mirroring what our real feelings, and what the actors real feelings are too. All of that emotional energy tat ends up in the show, and that is often the case. What you’re going through in real life ends up on the screen; and sometimes you are writing it, and sometimes it’s on purpose, and sometimes it’s not on purpose. But you’re picking up on something that definitely – because for us too – it’s the end of a journey. It does infuse itself into the show in interesting ways.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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