After laying out Alpha’s (Samantha Morton) origin, and then a nature documentary inspired episode, this week’s Tales of the Walking Dead gave us an hour that took the mind madness of Memento and the cult weirdness of The Wicker Man and mixed them together in a heady stew of strangeness and melted zombies.
“We shoot out order all the time, but when the script is out of order, it’s harder to wrap my mind about, or wrap my mind around where my character is in each specific moment,” episode star Jessie T. Usher told Decider. “So there was a lot of open dialogue with Channing [Powell] and Michael [Satrazemis] about where he is and what he remembers. Is he fooling himself? Is he fooling the people around him? We get to play with that, with those levels a little bit.”
In the hour, Usher, who you may know best as A-Train from Prime Video’s The Boys, wakes up to find himself with no memory, handcuffed to a melted walker and accused of murdering several children. Did he do it? And if not, who is responsible? That’s what he’s aiming to find out, as his frequent flashbacks show off a charming romance with Loan Chabanol’s character, Nora, and a more complicated relationship with Embeth Davidtz’s character, Amanda.
To find out more about how the episode came together, what era in time it’s actually set in, and whether Davidtz’s classic Matilda character Miss Honey would survive the zombie apocalypse, read on.
Decider: This is a very broad question for all three of you, but what made you want to join The Walking Dead franchise?
Loan Chabanol: I just love the genre. And as I keep saying, I love to be scared and I love being taken into a world of mystery. And I love the situation of life or death, where you will have to make a drastic choice. It reveals who people are, truly, in those kind of moments. So for me being a part of this whole world and going to Atlanta, shooting in a place that has created such a history of a show, was like a dream come true. Then the day… I was like, I couldn’t believe I was there. And every day felt like a dream sort of, because I was there and I was able to live the life of those characters with, and develop this story with new characters, that was really exciting in this universe. And we were all doing it together at the same time.
Jessie T. Usher: Man? I mean, The Walking Dead is just freaking cool, Alex. I was a huge fan of the series, Fear of the Walking Dead… The stories are well told and the show is shot beautifully. So I was very excited to be involved in that aspect, but also it was just… The story was captivating. I was reading page to page, wondering what in the world is going on. And I knew that if I was drawn in that way, then maybe the audiences would be too. These are characters that we don’t know, but instantly we were forced to care about them and the relationships that they have, and the stakes are extremely high. And I love that. I knew it would be a challenge. I knew that we would have an incredible cast, as you see here. So I was thrilled to jump into the deep end of what this would be.
It felt like there was a world that I’m familiar with, but have never been a part of. And I’ve kind of always wanted to be involved in that fantasy, just to see what it’s like. Like Loan said, it’s just something about being in Atlanta, where the history of this show has grown. Once you get onto the set and they put the smoke in the woods, it’s almost like I’m watching an episode, but I’m in this episode. And there was all the makeup and the blood and the costumes. Sometimes I even forgot what my appearance would be as the character until we’d go to lunch. And then I see myself and I go, “Oh yeah, this guy’s having a time.” But you’re just in the moment, and you’re just going through it. I was almost like a fan within the show, while shooting it. So for me, it was kind of playing both sides of that. And I was looking forward to it from the very moment that I heard that this was coming up.
Embeth Davidtz: Selfishly, I wanted to be part of the phenomenon. I was like, “This is so damn cool.” I’ve got teenaged children, who literally nothing moves the needle with them. When I said I was doing this, everything changed. Everything changed with them. Everything changed with all their friends, who were like, “your mom’s doing that?” I see the kids looking at me slightly differently now. So I was just taking the cool factor of it, and wanting to be a part of something cool. I just wanted that.
Photo: Curtis Bonds Baker/AMC
Not that you’re usually filming in order anyway, but Jesse, you touched on this a little bit. What was it like filming a story told through the lens of broken memory?
Usher: Oh my goodness. Challenging. It’s very challenging. It’s even more… Like you said, we shoot out order all the time, but when the script is out of order, it’s harder to wrap my mind about, or wrap my mind around where my character is in each specific moment. So there was a lot of open dialogue with Channing [Powell] and Michael [Satrazemis] about where he is and what he remembers. Is he fooling himself? Is he fooling the people around him? We get to play with that, with those levels a little bit.
So it was a constant gauge of emotion, or of memory, or sense of presence that we were able to play with, and even have more than one option with every waking moment. It was almost like a scramble. And I was never sure of which direction it was going to go. There was a lot of faith in the editing room for this one. But you just believe the moment when you’re in it, and hope for the best. Luckily for me, I had really great co-stars who were placed around me, who knew who they were and where they were at the time. I could almost feel or watch and see what they’re doing, and then react accordingly. That was a lot of fun, too. So then I was able to just get out of my head and feel something, which is nice.
Embeth, I assume that was you in the Walker makeup. What was it like putting that on?
Davidtz: Okay. So, I got so lucky. I had the dream shoot, because I had the initial Walker makeup, the initial… I was me, we have our tussle in the garage. I go into the acid. It’s awful. I come out, then because I’ve had rough many hours in the chair with that makeup. It’s not fun to put on. And I had visions of that. After the initial one and the first day of shooting, it was all somebody else. It was an incredible gift. So I just had to do the hell of the voice stuff afterwards, after the fact, but I was spared. And the girl that did it is an expert, who’s done all the shows with them, obviously as different characters, and knew way better than I would’ve done how to be a walker.
Well, Jesse, you still had to drag somebody around on the floor in handcuffs the entire time. What was that like?
Usher: That was interesting. It was an element that plays for real, which then helps the character. And helps the performance. Like Embeth said, this woman who was in the Walker makeup for the majority of the shoot was very accustomed to how to move and how to walk. And it’s not on par with the steps that you take when you’re not a zombie. So it was challenging just to walk forward, you know what I mean? Or she would fall at times and I have to pick her up, and we had these medieval handcuffs, these real solid metal handcuffs. There’s all these elements that we did not Hollywood up. We kept them real and it helped quite a bit, especially when we were crawling through the mud and she’s moving around and touching me. It just makes your skin crawl in a certain way that you just can’t really fake, you have to have it. You have to have some elements of it really there in order to believe it, even for myself. So it was nice to have all of that.
Photo: Curtis Bonds Baker/AMC
And in the middle of all that Loan, you have this really sweet romance that’s starting to blossom. What was it like throwing that into mix, and for both you and Jesse playing those scenes?
Chabanol: I loved that we explored a part of a love interest, because that’s something that you don’t think will be explored in that way. And we really did. It was beautiful and it shows that there is love in this world, always. And it shows that there’s hope, although you never know what’s going to happen after, but I enjoy that part of the story. It was so beautifully written by Channing and directed by Michael, they took that story with so much care, love like a baby. And it felt like that. Instantly, we felt the same and we treated it the same way, you see, because again, what Embeth said, it comes from who’s creating, how they’re making it, and then how they bring it to life. This particular story was, to me, the first time, same as Jesse said, I read it, I fell in love with everyone in such a deep way, and it was visceral. It was already there. So I love this aspect of the story. I think that makes it very special, very strong.
Usher: And for me, it was a moment where we got a chance to slow down and warm things up a little bit. I really appreciated that it allowed there to be some contrast between how fast paced everything is, and how cold hearted everyone seems. But then you start to understand their motives a little bit more when you get to these warmer, slower, more intimate moments in and around Davon, his love, who he is personally. You understand why he’s so conflicted with the situation that he’s in, versus just reacting in a very animalistic way when he is being accused of murder. And there’s all these people yelling at. You almost wonder why he doesn’t just snap. But then we flash to these loving, kind, sweet moments. It brings everything full circle, and you understand who he is a little bit.
So it helped me out quite a bit to have those moments. It felt like we were shooting two shows at once almost. Where we could have one of thing on one side, the other extreme on the other side. And it just blended together in a way that I didn’t know that it would feel that good, but I loved it. Yeah, it was nice.
It was also nice to see the relationship that Loan and Embeth had built offscreen, and the way that they interacted with each other. It’d been built, not a barrier almost, but I felt, as the character, I did feel like an outsider and that I had to infiltrate and to prove to them that I’m not who they think I am, or not affected by this world in a way that I would come and purposefully try to hurt them. So when we do have those loving moments or whatever it was, it was almost like I finally have what it is that I’m searching for. I know what it feels like. So I can feel the loss of when it’s not there anymore.
Chabanol: Between Nora and Davon, we really feel that they meet at a similar point. They have things in common. That’s why they fall for each other because they see each other in… They’re not so hard, they’re still soft and pure. So that’s why something happens between them, I think.
Photo: Curtis Bonds Baker/AMC
One of the great things about the episode is you think you’re watching Memento, and then at a point it turns into the Wicker Man instead. What was it like playing those mob scenes, which are, as of viewer, wild to watch?
Usher: My goodness, those mob scenes were intense, man, they were… Well, first of all, it helped that everybody on camera was so into it. I felt like if Michael didn’t yell “cut,” they really would’ve killed me. So that was kind of nice. It was interesting to be in the moment and snap out of you, look around at everyone’s face, and they’re so intense, and everyone’s yelling and they’re… it was just very intense, and the weather played a huge part of it. We were all bunched up together, and everyone was really tight, and it was freezing cold outside. And it just felt surreal. And it felt like, it just felt real. It felt so real. And it felt so believable and bizarre, which is exactly what Davon was feeling because he has no idea how he got into this situation. Me, as an actor, I’m sitting in the cemetery ground wondering: how the hell did I get here? So I connected with Davon in that way, but it was something totally different. It was playing two sides of the spectrum at the same time, which was a bit of a challenge, but good.
Chabanol: There was something really, really, really strong about being a part of a community that all of a sudden gets together, especially isolated, but also, coming from a different background, it’s a new thing. And having to gang up, they gang on him all of a sudden, and what it means and what it becomes and it is terrifying. I can only imagine from the other side to have a group of people come like this, coming at you and wanting to kill you.
Even me, as an actor, I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure I could do this. I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” But I was like, “Yeah, this is a story. Let’s see where it goes”. And we all dived in, and we all, as Jesse said, we just felt the cold, felt the moment, we did it, we received it. It was kind of crazy when I saw it. I could not remember half of it because I was so present that I could not remember everything. And then I was like, “oh my God, it was really intense and powerful.”
Photo: Curtis Bonds Baker/AMC
They’re speaking French because they’re on the Maine/Canada border, but it’s not entirely set up why they’re dressed like French trappers out of the 1700s. Did you have any backstory on where the costuming came from in particular?
Davidtz: So I’m in those overalls at one point. I think what they had was surplus supplies and made things incredibly uncomplicated with… We imagine sort of inherited old bales of industrial strength fabric. It was how to make something unembellished, super simple, but yet it gave that look. It made me keep thinking of The Crucible, the play, the movie. Because it looked like that. But I think it was just very worker type gear in thick impenetrable fabrics, things that would last with no sort of artificial thrills or anything functional.
Chabanol: Yeah. I actually had that question, and I was asking about the wardrobe and I was like, “Is there somebody making clothing in the village? A tailor?” And they’re like, “There’s a tailor making clothes for everybody.” … That’s what they said to me. So that person was making clothes for everyone.
Usher: You see the transition from when Davon shows up, as he’s sort of getting acclimated into the community and starts to adapt their lifestyle. Essentially, he has jeans and button up shirts on and then he starts to take on some of their clothing. And I was told the same thing, that there’s someone there who makes clothes based on who you are and what you need. They have very limited resources in machinery and they make the simplest, most useful, most durable pieces of clothing based on what they have. It just so happens when you look out at it, everyone seems like they’re stuck in this period of time, but it’s really just a matter of what they have because these people are not leaving to get a nicer fabric, just working with what they have.
I’m going to have to let you go in a second. So real quick, before I do, Jesse, how do you feel A-Train would do in the zombie apocalypse? And Embeth, what about Miss Honey?
Usher: [Laughs] Miss Honey. I love Miss Honey. I think A-Train would be fine. He can find some secluded area. He can run in and get whatever he needs, and then run back and never be seen. The zombies move slow. I think he’d be fine.
Davidtz: I think Miss Honey would’ve bitten the dust in the first round. She’s too sweet. She’s too kumbaya-ish. She would’ve gone, “Let’s all be kind to each other,” and they would’ve taken her down.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tales of the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC, and streams a week early on AMC+.