Alexandria’s in ashes. The Saviors are free. So, is Negan on top as we rejoin The Walking Dead Season 8, as the newly homeless Rick (Andrew Lincoln) deals with epic heartbreak as Carl's (Chandler Riggs) days dwindle?
With matters of life and death direr than ever, we ask Jesus — a.k.a. Tom Payne — and our favorite brand-new wino, Dr. Eugene Porter (that’s Josh McDermitt), for intel on both sides as “All Out War” continues.
On “Why Carl?! Why?!”
Josh McDermitt: You start to go, ‘Who has complete immunity on this show?’ Carl was always on that list. The thing is this is about the story. Yeah, I people want to make it out to be this thing where maybe something was said — "I don't like that guy. Let's kill him off." That doesn't happen on this show. We're putting the story first.
That's not to say Chandler or anyone else should be OK with him leaving the show. I was shocked and speechless. When Glenn and Abraham died … those things as devastating and tragic as they were, didn't hit me like it did when we found out that Carl was going to be leaving us because at the heart of it, this is the show about a man and his son surviving in the apocalypse. You're taking that away.
But what does that do to the story? What does that turn Rick into? What does that make the rest of the people who knew Carl? What does that make them deal with in their own lives and who do they become? I think it allows us to explore some really cool places.
The closing moments of tonight's 'The Walking Dead' Season 8 midseason finale revealed that, while a heartbreaking death wasn't in the offing, it's coming soon.
Tom Payne: Carl and Jesus are on a similar page in the respect of how we should proceed and the pointlessness of all of it — but Carl is, to many people, the future of the show and the future of life. The world is very different with no children, because there is no future. To see how that affects every character is going to be interesting, from Negan to Rick to Jesus to Michonne. Everyone.
On The Decimation Of The Sanctuary And Alexandria
McDermitt: People are focused on Alexandria being blown to bits, but I don’t think the Sanctuary is in a good place, either, even though I do feel like they have the upper hand in this situation. We’re going to explore a lot of “what’s left,” you could say. This is a world where resources are finite, and now we’re expending them at a greater rate than we ever have before — and I may or may not be talking about bullets and food.
Payne: When Maggie and Jesus are driving along the street and the Saviors have gotten out, they don’t know how that’s happened. They don’t know what’s gone wrong with the plan. They don’t know what's happened to Alexandria or the Kingdom. They're just aware of what they're doing at Hilltop and how the plan is working from their end.
Remember, this whole first half of the season where the plan is being enacted, I think it’s only 48 hours that we’re on now. So Jesus doesn't know Rick, really — definitely not as well as he knows Maggie. And like Tara said to him, "You might have Maggie's ear, but I've got Rick's." There's a little bit of worry in Jesus's head of "You're right,.You know Rick and I know Maggie, so I'm just going to work on Maggie."
On Hilltop’s Savior POWs
Payne: This is the first instance where Jesus made a decision which affects everyone else around him. He’s only ever really risked his own life in any given situation, so when Maggie comes back to the Hilltop and kills the Savior who Jesus effectively saved a few episodes before, he has to accept that. He sees within Maggie an inherent goodness and he’s trying to make sure that she doesn’t lose what’s left of her sanity I think in this world. He’s absolutely there to be a right-hand man and a sounding board, but he’ll fight his beliefs and his call on something.
McDermitt: It’s scary, because [Maggie’s] a person who can come close to being unhinged. We’re not too far out from the deaths of Glenn and Abraham — and she’s pregnant. We would hope that she would lean into being this moral compass that the show definitely needs. But she could go just as far in the other direction … and we’re starting to see the seedlings of that now.
Gabriel and Dwight call Eugene's loyalties into question, while Tara, Michonne, Rosita, Daryl and Morgan debate whether to advance the plan without the missing Rick.
On Eugene’s newly wobbly allegiances
McDermitt: He’s forced to ask the hard questions to confront the decisions he’s making in the past and the ones he wants to make moving forward. He knows Father Gabriel’s right. He knows that Tara is right. He knows that Sasha was right. These are all kind of brewing inside of him.
When he helps carve a path for Dr. Carson and Father Gabriel to escape, this is not just, "I'm going to help them escape." This is going to help save Maggie’s child. It's "I'm going to be selfish, but I'm going to help you only because I'm able to maintain my anonymity." It's fun. I can't wait to see Father Gabriel and Dr. Carson on their little journey back to Hilltop. It’s one of my favorite scenes coming up in the back half.
On why Eugene has yet to rat out Dwight
McDermitt: Eugene definitely understands the position Dwight’s been put in, the moral ambiguity. But I also think this is a game of survival, and I’m going to survive — on my own. When he's in the meeting room with Negan, he’s about to spill the beans, the Saviors walk in — but keep in mind, Dwight walks in too. Then it becomes my word against his. Eugene lost a little bit of control over the situation.
But he's able to process the stuff that's in front of him and make decisions that way, and when he sees Dwight come in, it’s like, “Nope, I'm going to change this plan.” And as he changes that plan, he starts to realize “Oh, I'm just as much like Dwight as anybody else who doesn't want to be here.” He still has the tape [of Dwight’s confession]. He still has that ace card up his sleeve. That may come back. It may not. They’re all just trying to live another day, so when Eugene says, “I am Negan,” yeah, he’s Negan to Negan. But he’s Eugene to Eugene.
People ask me, “Do you think he’ll ever be Team Rick again?” I go, “I don’t think he was ever Team Rick. He’s always been Team Eugene."
The Walking Dead Season 8 returns Sunday, Feb. 25, 9/8c on AMC
The actor lends his voice to the Wizarding World.