‘The Walking Dead’ Boss Angela Kang Teases ‘A Lot of Danger’ in Series Finale

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee in The Walking Dead
Spoiler Alert
Jace Downs/AMC

[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 11, Episode 23, “Family.”]

“Daddy?” asks a bleary, recently-shot Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming) to her stand-in parental figure Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) as he rushes her to safety. That’s how the penultimate episode of AMC’s zombie drama The Walking Dead ends. And the series finale to the long-running drama is sure to be a doozy. Almost all of the survivors are in jeopardy and surrounded by walkers — some of which have those sneaky extra abilities like weapon-wielding — after trying to take down the Commonwealth’s Governor Pamela Milton (Laila Robins).

Will they survive the horde? Is the Commonwealth about to fall? Who will take down Pamela once and for all? And how the heck will the finale set up TWD‘s upcoming spinoffs? Below, showrunner Angela Kang unpacks that Daryl-Judith moment and more.

I want to start with Judith. Especially with the voiceovers at the beginning of each episode, this felt like it was her season, or really her third of a season. What can you say about her journey in the finale?

Angela Kang: I’ll just say that Judith is in a fight for survival and that affects everyone around her. There are going to be some really important emotional moments that come out of that.

Is she hallucinating when she calls Daryl “daddy”? I’m sure everyone is anxious to see if Rick (Andrew Lincoln) will make an appearance in this last episode.

I will just leave that for fans to find out, how she experiences this.

Fair enough. Daryl has to be thinking about Rick and Carl (Chandler Riggs) and all of these other moments he’s experienced — and it certainly doesn’t seem like he’s about to abandon everybody and go off to France. What does this final episode look like for him? What’s his state of mind?

I think for Daryl, it’s absolutely what you said. All of those people from the past are on his mind, but also what’s right in front of him is this child who, from the moment she was born, he took a responsibility for her. I wrote an episode many, many years back where he and Maggie [Lauren Cohan] went out in search of formula because Lori [Judith’s birth mom, Sarah Wayne Callies] had just died. That was when [Judith] was deemed [Daryl’s] “little ass-kicker.” He’s always loved this child and he feels like he’s the closest thing to a parent that she has right now. All of the responsibility of making sure that she’s okay feels like it’s on his shoulders. That’s really the emotional thing that’s driving him in the episode.

Norman Reedus, Daryl Dixon, The Walking Dead

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Anthony Azor as RJ – The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 23 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

What motivated him to say yes to her coming along? Is he seeing a little future Rick in her, perhaps?

I think that he sees a little future Rick in her. This is just me riffing on this — for Daryl, who is somebody who had to grow up too fast because of the family he grew up in, I think that he sees that the circumstances of this world have created that in Judith [too]. And he puts a lot of trust in her. He knows it’s a scary situation, but there’s also this element of, ‘well, if she’s right by my side, then I know where she is. I know that I can keep her safe.’ He’s not expecting that she is going to be shot by this horrible Governor, so I think he also feels a lot of guilt right now. Like, ‘did we let her come into a situation that was too dangerous?’ And I think all of that is running through his head.

I want to talk about Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Maggie. Maggie is still insistent that they are “not a we” at this point, but Negan’s moment with Ezekiel (Khary Payton) where he says that he knows that they’re all better than him seemed to resonate with Maggie. We know they’ll eventually be in this spinoff together, but what can you say about how their story will “wrap up” here?

There’s so much going on there between the two of them. She still thinks about Glenn [Maggie’s husband, played by Steven Yeun] every day. They have a rollercoaster that they’ve been on together — sometimes it seems like their relationship is going up, and sometimes it crashes back down. So I think Maggie, she’s evaluating all that. Negan knows that that’s where he stands with her. Negan is the type that’s trying to make his apology via actions, but they’ve got to get through a lot of baggage in the next episode. Without saying where they end, there needs to be some things that are reckoned with, clearly, between these two.

Who is going to be the most focused on taking down Pamela? Or are they all just focused on surviving this terrible horde?

I think that’s a big part of it, they do have to survive this terrible situation, but Maggie is pretty laser-focused on taking her out.

I want that for her. Pamela also has got to have a lot of guilt, between bringing this horde to the walls of the Commonwealth thinking it would be a routine lockdown, and then shooting Judith. How shaken is she?

I think she’s incredibly shaken, but I also think that in some ways hardens her determination. What was fun to deal with in this character is, here is somebody who has always been moving pieces on this chessboard behind the scenes. She comes from this political family, and even though she tried to be the one that was above the fray, I think she has all the same skillsets as the most entrenched, sneaky politician of all time. She’s learning that sometimes when you try to manipulate, it can go out of control. The little thing that you think you are doing, you need to be prepared for the consequences of that.

And she’s very shaken because she’s not ultimately somebody who is without emotion. I don’t think that she wanted to shoot a child. I don’t think that she purposely would have done that, but at the same time, she’s so angry at these adults that are messing in her affairs that she just goes, ‘I’ve got to handle this myself.’ I think it’s a real wake-up call for everybody at that moment.

Michael James Shaw, Mercer, The Walking Dead 11C

Michael James Shaw as Mercer – The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 23 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

Mercer (Michael James Shaw) isn’t off the table now that he’s been arrested, right? He’ll be back in the finale?

He’s not off the table.

Did anything change going into the penultimate episode? With all these moving parts and spinoffs coming, I was thinking particularly of that moment when Carol (Melissa McBride) was clearing out the alleyway for Daryl to run down with Judith — was Carol originally supposed to go down that alleyway with him? Or was there anything else interesting that might have changed from the first draft to what we saw?

Oh my gosh, I can’t remember. I feel like we may have always had her clearing a path for him, but I can’t remember because we talked about so many iterations, too. I’m pretty sure we might’ve had an iteration at one point where the two of them go together, but it also felt really heroic for Carol to say, ‘you go, and I’ll hold them back.’

And then when plans changed with the spinoff [McBride dropped out of the Carol-Daryl spinoff in April] that happened very late in the game. I think we had already worked on a version of the finale or were in the middle of it. So, there were some things that were shifted in that. In terms of the end of this episode, I think we had landed on Daryl going off on his own, by the time we did our first script, but definitely, in the writers’ room, there were other iterations that existed, and eventually, you just pick a lane at some point.

Now, for everyone else facing this horde: Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and Max (Margot Bingham) don’t even look like they have weapons with them. How bad is this situation going to get?

There’s a lot of danger. And definitely for our folks that came to the community, they’ve got [weapons]. But Max, even, doesn’t have a lot of experience killing zombies because she’s been protected by the walls, but it’s dangerous for all of them because these walkers are a little scarier than usual and they were caught by surprise.

Will there be a lot of human deaths in this finale?

I’ll just say that there will be some very emotional moments for folks.

Why did you want to add “smart walkers” this season?

I would say they’re not entirely smart. I want to be careful because there are universe implications there, and there were a lot of conversations behind the scenes that I won’t really get into, but there was an opportunity to show a little more of the variety of walkers and these walkers were established in the very first episode of the show. We just thought it would be interesting now that the world is opening up, to show that walkers are constantly on the move, they’re constantly a danger, and not everybody knows everything at any given time. Just when you think that you’ve got a handle on the situation, the ground beneath your feet can shift. We were trying to examine lurkers at the very beginning of the season, they’ve always existed in our mythology, but we haven’t done a giant sequence with them, and so, it felt like it was okay since they moved geography and we’ve shown that herds move all the time, that maybe there are regional variations that sometimes crop up again.

The Walking Dead, Series Finale, Sunday, November 20, 9/8c, AMC