‘The Walking Dead’ Season 6 Returns: More Danger, More Daryl and a Behind-the-Scenes Look at What’s Ahead

The Walking Dead - Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus
Gene Page/AMC
Norman Reedus, Andrew Lincoln

Welcome to the Battle of Alexandria.

That’s what The Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln has dubbed this night in late August on the Senoia, Georgia, set of AMC’s zombie blockbuster. It’s 1:30 in the morning, and Lincoln—along with the majority of the series’ main players and about 180 “walker” extras—is pacing in the middle of a bright red blood-soaked street with a battle-ax in hand. Feral screams and grunts pierce the night’s warm, heavy air as Lincoln psychs himself up for hours of hand-to-hand combat between the residents of the Alexandria Safe-Zone and the walker horde that has breached the walls and infested the residential community.

“As if you didn’t have enough to do tonight, do you want two more kills?” stunt coordinator Monty L. Simons asks Lincoln, who eagerly obliges. Soon, even more fake blood is being applied to Michonne’s (Danai Gurira) samurai sword, and the army of warriors pushes deeper into the zombie-infested streets, hacking and slicing at every walker that gets in its way like a carefully choreographed ballet resulting in a symphony of guts and gore.

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“This is the biggest episode we’ve ever done in terms of the amount that happens,” Lincoln says during a break in the action. “This is the greatest jeopardy they’ve all faced, and it’s going to take a lot to save this community.”

The Walking Dead

Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus

The second half of The Walking Dead’s sixth season marks the beginning of a new chapter for the series. The idyllic Virginia community that was a brief beacon of safety and hope has been compromised by hundreds of flesh-eaters and is now without its leader, Deanna Monroe (Tovah Feldshuh), who was bitten and fell victim to the herd during November’s midseason finale. Now it’s up to constable Rick Grimes (Lincoln) to lead the entire population of Alexandria on the counterattack.

“This is a huge turning point for Rick and the group, because there’s a lot of chaos and it’s very brutal,” says executive producer and creator Robert Kirkman. “This is not the end of Alexandria, but we’ll see a different Rick Grimes as he faces possibly the biggest hardships ever.”

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There will also be an expansion of the show’s universe. “We are going to see a larger world and discover all sorts of complications and complexities to the world that the group was not aware of and not even thinking about,” says showrunner Scott M. Gimple, who also promises a more straightforward and linear viewing experience—as opposed to telling the story through various timelines, as he did in the first half of the season.

Viewers got their first glimpse of that world beyond Alexandria last fall through the eyes of tracker Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus). As Daryl was escorting the zombie herd away from Alexandria on his motorcycle, he was ambushed and captured by a trio of assailants who were fleeing from a community of their own. After establishing a sense of trust, Daryl helped them escape from their mysterious pursuers. But Daryl’s faith in the others proved to be misplaced—he was double-crossed and stripped of his beloved crossbow and bike. “At the end of filming that day, I was really pissed!” Reedus admits. “That’s my motorcycle. Nobody rides my motorcycle! For Daryl, he feels like he just let Rick down, and he’s also pretty pissed at this point.”

While Daryl’s storyline was fairly limited in the first eight episodes of Season 6, Gimple promises the audience will get to see much more of the fan favorite this winter. “We put Norman through his paces,” Gimple says. “He’s very scary in this back half, but there are a couple of moments where he made me laugh out loud. There is a whole lot of Daryl and a wide variety of Daryl.” Upon his return to Alexandria, he will also reunite with Rick for a “little adventure” of their own, says Reedus. “We have a little Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid–type thing going on,” Reedus says with a laugh. “It’s safe to say that we get to do the tango, much to everyone’s excitement,” Lincoln adds.

The Walking Dead

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan

Daryl’s path home to Alexandria hit a hurdle during a coda in November’s midseason finale when Daryl, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) were stopped by a group of armed men who demanded all of their possessions. After being asked who they worked for, one of the men uttered the name most avid readers of the comic book source material have been waiting for years to hear: Negan.

Indeed, the biggest bad in the Walking Dead universe is heading to the screen this season, but Gimple has a warning for overzealous fans to temper their expectations. “His name has been invoked and his group is certainly of growing importance, but it’s not like we are going to see him starring in an episode right off the bat,” Gimple says. In fact, Negan’s first on-screenappearance—which Kirkman promises will be “bone-chilling”—won’t be until the April 3 season finale.

Portrayed by The Good Wife’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Negan will eclipse past antagonists like the Governor (David Morrissey) or Terminus-dwelling cannibal Gareth (Andrew J. West) because of his charismatic nature and intense brutality. In the comics, Negan is the leader of a group based outside Washington, D.C., known as the Saviors, who plunder supplies and resources from other communities in return for protection against walkers. He also wields a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, lovingly named Lucille. “He is the darkest incarnation of a bully,” Gimple says. “He’s a very magnetic character; he isn’t just a sociopath. He is the star of his own movie.”

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The Walking Dead

Xander Berkeley as Gregory

Another familiar face from the comics being introduced is Gregory (Nikita’s Xander Berkeley), the cowardly leader of a neighboring colony known as Hilltop. “We’re changing it in some ways so readers will experience a slightly different Gregory than we have in the comic,” Kirkman says.

If there’s one member of the group who has a fighting chance against this new foe, a case could be made for Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride). Over the past six seasons, Carol has transformed from a meek and abused housewife to a cold and calculated killer, doing whatever it takes—including murdering a young girl—in order to ensure her group’s survival. “Her evolution has been a surprise every step of the way,” McBride admits. “She’s adapting well, and I’m most proud of her coming to the forefront to utilize her capabilities and no longer shush her own self.”

When Carol first arrived in Alexandria, she attempted to blend in as a casserole-loving, cookie-baking homemaker while keeping a close eye on every resident. She reverted to her ass-kicking self following the brutal invasion by the Wolves, and she went toe-to-toe with Morgan (Lennie James) after discovering he was harboring a Wolf prisoner (Benedict Samuel) within the community’s walls. “This is not the last time they will have a confrontation over their opposing points of view about survival,” McBride teases. “We’re not predisposed to taking another life, so she’ll be struggling.”

The Walking Dead

Melissa McBride as Carol and Josh McDermitt as Eugene

The struggle was also a little too real for fans in the first half of Season 6 when it appeared one of The Walking Dead’s most beloved characters, Glenn (Steven Yeun), died at the hands of ravenous zombies. After four agonizing weeks without any further information, it was finally revealed that Glenn had been shielded by the corpse of Alexandrian Nicholas (Michael Traynor) before the former pizza delivery boy was able to shimmy under a Dumpster to wait out the herd.

The Walking Dead

Steven Yeun as Glenn

The secrecy surrounding Glenn’s fate was so intense that other cast members were enlisted to help reinforce the charade. “Steven went into hiding and I had to sneak him around,” Reedus says with a laugh. “He was in the back of my car lying on the floor with a coat over him. Those were some interesting couple of weeks, for sure.”

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Now that viewers know Glenn is definitely alive, they will not have to wait very long for his reunion with his pregnant wife, Maggie (Lauren Cohan). “Everything that they’ve lived through is bringing a new optimism to their way of life that is going to be very valuable moving forward,” Kirkman says. “It just strengthens both characters and their relationship.”

Even though Glenn’s arc had a happy ending, death is always lurking on this show, and not everyone will make it out of the first episode alive. “It is such a great group of people that it does not get any easier,” McBride says. “When the news comes, we just celebrate that person and meander down the moments that were fun, funny and wonderful. We wish them well going forward, knowing that they’ll be well.”

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Back on the set, the clock has just struck 5am as the production team races against the inevitable sunrise to prepare for the climax of this action sequence. It’s been an exhausting 12-hour shoot for the entire cast and crew, but when a costume assistant attempts to mend a hole in Reedus’s pants, the actor drops them entirely and reveals his tie-dyed boxers, bringing a much-needed moment of levity to the early morning. The battle of Alexandria may be ending, but the war for humanity has only just begun.

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The Walking Dead midseason premiere, Sunday, Feb. 14, 9/8c, AMC