‘The Walking Dead’ is back: “These new episodes will change you”

As our own apocalypse seemingly approaches its end – another gets going again. Here's what to expect from the zombie epic's return

If you think summer is too long ‘til post-COVID normality, then spare a thought for The Walking Dead fans. They’ve been patiently awaiting the end of their own apocalypse since 2010. But as the zombie epic enters its eleventh year on our screens, we can finally pencil in a date for its climax.

Announced in September, The Walking Dead will end in 2022 after its eleventh season. Don’t worry though, the franchise won’t be going anywhere – there are plans for a number of Rick Grimes-centred films and a Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) spin-off series, not to mention Fear the Walking Dead, World Beyond and the upcoming anthology series Tales of the Walking Dead. There’s life in the decaying, flesh-eating old girl yet.

“It’s been a thrill every week for a decade”
– Norman Reedus

But before all that we’ve got six extra episodes to bridge the gap between seasons. These bonus stories will give showrunner Angela Kang – largely responsible for the show’s
steady revitalisation after a period of decline – a chance to continue her good work.

New storylines will be introduced, including that of mysterious new community the Commonwealth, and fan-favourite Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is set to return and confront big bad Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). It all kicks off this weekend (Monday March 1 in the UK) – and NME was granted an audience with the show’s cast and showrunner to hear how these upcoming adventures will be some of the goriest, scariest and most exciting yet. Get ready walkers, it’s nearly time to say goodbye.

The Walking Dead
Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon. CREDIT: Eli Ade/AMC

Norman Reedus

Who do they play: Daryl Dixon

His story so far: The gruff crossbow-toting, motorbike-riding hero has been with us since the very beginning, seeing off walkers and bad guys alike while providing a protective and reassuring presence in an otherwise chaotic hellscape. His loyalty to the cause is soon to be tested though: he and Carol recently mooted the idea of starting afresh in New Mexico – and a spin-off series starring the two characters has already been commissioned…

Did you know what you were getting into when you signed up to do the show a decade ago?

“I don’t think you can ever imagine what you’re getting yourself into. I read [The Walking Dead] as something that I wanted to watch, so I wanted to be in it! I didn’t read zombies into it at all; I just read a guy looking for his family and [then] something went down. It became this giant thing that I surely didn’t know who was going to live! We went through a stage in the show where people were dying every week. It was like: ‘Tune in this week and see who gets eaten!’

“But it’s had so many peaks, valleys and twists and turns. It’s been quite the ride. I’m curious as to what we’re gearing up to do in this last season and how this show ends to kick us off on the spin-off. It’s been a thrill every week for a decade.”

What can we expect from Daryl in the new episodes?

“We have these six really intimate episodes. The Whisperers War just ended, which was exhausting, took forever and we lost a lot of people. The characters are dealing with their PTSD from that and then Maggie’s group comes in and it’s a whole new thing. Daryl’s like: ‘Wow, that was exhausting! What, there’s another problem?!’ He never really sits still!”

The Walking Dead
Lauren Cohan as Maggie in ‘The Walking Dead’ CREDIT: Eli Ade/AMC

Lauren Cohan

Who do they play: Maggie Rhee

Her story so far: Steadily rising in prominence after being introduced in season two, Maggie became one of the lead characters before tapping out seven seasons later. The fiery warrior returned in the most recent episode to help finish off the Whisperers – and it looks like she’s back for good. Maggie’s not best pleased to discover Negan, who callously murdered her husband Glenn (Steven Yeun), has been integrated into the survivors’ community though…

So, Negan…

“Maggie’s coming back with really no options left, so it’s sort of a ‘I have to make this work with Negan’ [situation] – but making it work might mean one thing to her and another thing to him. He’s pretty comfy where he is. He’s been able to redeem himself with all of these other people in the community – but that may not be enough when Maggie comes back.”

What can we expect from Maggie in the new episodes?

“I recently turned on one of the episodes that I hadn’t seen yet, which was one of Danai’s [Gurira, who played Michonne] last episodes, and I felt so encouraged seeing characters that I’ve watched for 10 years make it through another episode! I was like: ‘This is why everyone is watching this right now [during a pandemic], because it feels good to see that it can be OK’.

“I think that my pitch for these six new episodes is that it will help people see that you can maybe pull through one more thing that seems insurmountable. You will be changed!”

The Walking Dead
Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier in ‘The Walking Dead’. CREDIT: Eli Ade/AMC

Melissa McBride

Who do they play: Carol Peletier

Her story so far: The other remaining OG castmember who has endured since season one, Carol’s apocalypse-enforced transformation into one of the show’s most formidable and badass heroes (who could forget her one-woman assault on cannibal factory the Terminus in season five?) has marked her out as a hardy survivor. But given that she’s keen to escape to pastures new, how long will she stick around?

How was it shooting a show about an apocalypse during a real-life pandemic?

“It’s a little ironic! We were all very grateful that we were able to figure out a way where we could go back and film safely. I think there was a lot of gratitude for even being able to go back and do it at all. That was a challenge, and I think we did really well.”

What can we expect from Carol in the new episodes?

“I think Carol feels, coming out of season 10, that what she’s done and the repercussions of the choices that she’s made are not lost on her at all. It’s like: ‘I know I had to do what I had to do, and then things happened that people are not happy with’. But which is worse: having not tried and then the worst thing happens, or having at least tried? All we can do is try.

“She’s got loose ends that need tying up, and she wants to fix this relationship with Daryl. We’re going to see Carol trying to take care of some of that stuff.”

Seth Gilliam as Gabriel in ‘The Walking Dead’. CREDIT: Josh Stringer/AMC

Seth Gilliam

Who do they play: Father Gabriel Stokes

His story so far: Since his introduction in season five as a pathetic, petrified priest, Father Gabriel has grown to become one of the survivors’ wisest heads. He’s still the show’s foremost moral compass, and handy to have around when things go to complete shit – as they often do…

Where do you think Gabriel’s story will end?

“I have no idea! Usually you get a call about two weeks or so [before] if you’re going to be written off the show, so it’s not a shock or a fright when you open up the scripts and find out that this is going to be your last one. But it is a bit of a fright whenever your phone rings and you see the name and number on it!”

What can we expect from Gabriel in the new episodes?

“We’ll see that his faith is going to be tested by the trauma from the Whisperers War. Beyond that, we’ll see Father Gabriel in different lights and in different states of being than we’ve seen him in before. I’m excited to see what the audience response is going to be.”

Ross Marquand
Ross Marquand as Aaron in ‘The Walking Dead’. CREDIT: Josh Stringer/AMC

Ross Marquand

Who do they play: Aaron

Their story so far: Once a humble recruiter for walled-off safe zone Alexandria, Aaron’s rise to pivotal figure in our core group has been impressive – especially given that so many similar characters have been killed off in an instant.

Do you fear being killed off?

“I used to be so freaked out. Then Josh McDermitt, who plays Eugene, pulled me aside and was like: ‘I used to be the same way, but honestly it’s not going to make anything better. It’s going to actually drive you crazy! So you’ve just got to enjoy every day you have on the show, much like you would in real life’. Ever since he gave me that advice, it’s been a lot more enjoyable.”

What can we expect from Aaron in the new episodes?

“Aaron and Gabriel have worked together a lot in the past, but never this closely. I just love the fact that we get to see so many different facets of these characters that we’ve never seen before, and it really tests the mental fortitude and the drive of both of these men, who have been looking for food and supplies for so long.”

Angela Kang
Angela Kang has served as showrunner on ‘The Walking Dead’ since 2018. CREDIT: AMC

Angela Kang

The Walking Dead showrunner

Is it clear yet how The Walking Dead will end?

“We are actively working on season 11. It’s a long season for us, it’s 24 episodes. We keep it at 16 normally! I do have a sense of where it might end but we are working on all of that. We’ll be introducing new communities that are antagonists, sometimes allies. There’s going to be all the human drama that we’ve built up: we’ve got Maggie back, there’s a great Maggie/Negan story that we’re working on. There will be lots to look forward to for our fans who have been following us all of this time!”

What can we expect from the six new episodes?

“You’re going to see these beloved characters pull through some pretty hairy situations. Some of these [upcoming episodes] are classic Walking Dead survival stories on the road. Those are really fun for us to write, and a lot of times fans really connect with them. There’s some stuff that’s really just some base level things that they’re dealing with, like how do you have enough food? How do you have proper shelter? How do you repair relationships? How do you come out of a war and rebuild?

“I think that we throw in some mystery, intrigue and some good scares, while we also get to see and learn some things from [certain characters’] pasts that come back and have importance for the future. I think all of these episodes our actors are doing incredible work, and I hope that you’ll tune in to watch these folks do their awesomeness. I’m always blown away by what our actors do: please watch!”

‘The Walking Dead’ returns on Monday March 1 at 9pm on FOX