‘The Walking Dead’s Josh McDermitt on Eugene’s Mysterious New Friend

Jace Downs/AMC

[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 10 Episode 6, “Bonds.”]

When one radio channel closes, another opens — or so it seems for Eugene Herman(!!!) Porter.

“Bonds” set Eugene (Josh McDermitt) up for heartbreak yet again when, unbeknownst to him, Rosita’s illness made her unable to talk with him about their friendship. As it turns out, that might have been for the best; Because he wasn’t chatting with her, he made a connection with a total stranger who has very specific (and very sentimental) ties to his pre-apocalyptic life. Comics readers will recognize Eugene’s story as a potential indicator of communities yet to come, but as we all know, TWD rarely adapts things straight from the source material.

We chatted with McDermitt about Eugene’s new friend, what his character’s perfect match would be like and what might happen as a result of these clandestine-yet-comforting radio conversations.

The show has a habit of remixing or changing things from the comics, but based on this episode, it looks like Eugene’s radio conversations are staying the same. Were you excited to see him keeping that story arc?

Josh McDermitt: It still remains to be seen if we’re going to do exactly what’s done in the comics, but I think last season Gabriel started tinkering with the radio. I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!” Then he sends Rosita and Eugene out to boost the signal and all that, and I was like, “Is my story from the comics being given away?” So I was happy to see that come back, because I think it’s a nice, fun storyline for him — whatever version we do. It’s exciting, and I was happy to see him get that back.

Father Gabriel got Rosita, but you got the radio.

[Laughs] I know!

It was also neat that we found out a little more backstory about Eugene during this episode, like the fact that his middle name is Herman. Did you have any input on that?

No. The writer of this episode, Kevin Deibolt, made me laugh out loud when I read that. Of course his middle name is Herman. That fits Eugene’s name perfectly.

You know, I love that we’re able to find out more things about him. We don’t have many specifics from his past, and I don’t think he’s talked about what his life was like before the apocalypse. I would say his life probably wasn’t that great. He was probably bulled, and people probably thought he was weird. So for a person to be interested in who he was before all this, and for him to find that connection through Strasburg, Pennsylvania, and that train fan expo was huge. It was a fun, tender moment from his childhood, and he has that connection with this stranger.

I found it very interesting, too, that this whole thing happened when Rosita wasn’t answering — he then hears this new woman on the radio. Would it be accurate to say that while one door has closed for Eugene’s love life, maybe another has opened?

I mean, I think that’s one of the truths of life. He’s in a dark, lonely place after having the reality of the relationship he has with Rosita come crashing on his head. So he was just trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces and get over to Hilltop and separate himself a bit, throw himself into his work and figure out what’s next.

And for Rosita to be the first one to reach out to him on the radio, I thought was really interesting. She’s longing for her friend. It’s a little awkward because neither one of them knows the new parameters for their friendship. What’s going to be OK, moving forward? So they set that time to talk, and he doesn’t know she’s even more sick than she was, so he’s let down. Then he’s picked up by this stranger who knows nothing about him, and who finds him amusing and finds him engaging, and he can have that fresh start with someone that he’s desperately looking for.

What do you think his perfect match would be like?

I think Eugene has a sense of humor that nobody understands, because it’s very smart. Like, Neil DeGrasse Tyson might think Eugene’s hysterical. A normal person with a normal IQ probably wouldn’t understand the references. So I think he’s looking for someone who’s intelligent and understands his humor, and can actually have a conversation with him and nerd out about the things he nerds out on.

But then, [he also wants] someone who doesn’t judge him. He’s at a place now where he doesn’t have to wear a mask and lie to people about who he is and that sort of thing, so I think he just wants someone that would accept him.

Going forward, how is Eugene going to manage keeping these radio conversations a secret? If he’s always on the radio at the same time, and he’s on there for hours, eventually someone’s going to notice…

I think people know he’s building the radio, and I think people know he’s using the Russian satellite parts to boost the communications between the communities, but he’s also kind of left alone. Not many people are coming up to poke around in what he’s doing. The biggest threat he would see is Nabila, who was helping him initially. She could wander back up there like, “Hey, let’s play with the radio!” and see what’s happening. But other than that, I think he’s kind of left alone. That’s his domain.

Is there anything else that you can tell me about this character on the other side of the radio? To me, someone who has knowledge of the comics, she sounds a lot like Stephanie.

I can’t say anything! You’re just going to have to tune in and find out. Like you said, we do things differently from the comics, so the fans will have to see if this is something we do different. I think the fans will be really excited with what’s to come.

How’s Eugene feeling about the Whisperers? He’s in a place where a lot of people want to go out and fight, but fighting’s never really been his style.

I think he’d still prefer to use his brain, although at this point in the apocalypse he’s proficient with his knives and he can fight. But I think you’re right — he would still prefer to be the general, drawing up the game plan and the plan of attack.

We’re just a few months removed from the heads on the pikes, and that’s still rattling the communities. Eugene is definitely feeling that, and it’s a nice escape for him to be on the radio. There’s not a lot of hope in this world, and even though he’s not really sure what’s going to come of this conversation with this person, it’s certainly promising that he’d at least have a new friend.

When he was talking with Rosita, he said he wasn’t sure when he’d come back to Alexandria. Has this development with the radio made him more certain he wants to stay at Hilltop?

He doesn’t know where this person is, and if he goes back to Alexandria, he doesn’t know if the setup Gabriel has there will reach them. He’s fine with staying at Hilltop, but he hasn’t given much thought to when he’s coming back because he doesn’t know the parameters and boundaries between him and Rosita. But now he thinks he’s been stood up, and he’s thinking, “Well, I got stood up. Whatever.” Then he finds this new person just having a normal conversation with him, and he’s like, “This is great! I want this to continue.” They spent the whole night, for hours, talking. I don’t think he’s thinking about getting back to Alexandria right now.

Michael Cudlitz directed two episodes in this half of the season. Was it fun having him back on set?

Yeah, he’s great. We don’t see each other as much as we used to because he’s not on the show anymore, but when he comes out to direct, we try and get some time. We talk on the phone a bunch, but there’s nothing like having some cuddle time with the “Cuddles.” I don’t think he likes that nickname, but we used to call him “Cuddles.” He’s a fantastic director, and I’m excited that he got to do two episodes this year. I hope he’s able to do more. He does episode 7 for us this year, which is one of my favorites this season for sure.

In the comics, this first radio call is the start of a pretty huge journey for Eugene. What can you say about what’s coming up for him?

I think there’s going to be some major consequences just in talking on the radio with this person. He’s making some decisions that could severely alter everyone’s way of life, and I don’t know that that’s solely his decision to make. There could be some life and death consequences based on those decisions he’s making. Everyone’s got a different opinion about how to do things, so it’ll be interesting to see how these conversations that he’s going to keep secret as long as he can, how they impact everyone else’s way of life.

The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC