The Walking Dead showrunner addresses penultimate episode shockers

If you thought we would have to wait until the series finale to see blood spilled on The Walking Dead… well, grab a mop, a bucket, and start cleaning. There were two brutal acts on Sunday’s penultimate episode, titled “Family.”

First, Lydia (Cassady McClincy) offered up her arm as a tasty treat for a zombie, who went on to feast on it like it was a bucket of leftover Halloween candy. Lydia was trying to save her post-apocalyptic boyfriend Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) who was getting carried away by the horde, and would not let go. That decision cost her, as she not only lost Elijah, but had a huge old chunk taken out of her arm. While Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Jerry (Cooper Andrews) quickly cut off the arm (OUCH!) so the infection hopefully would not spread, that does not mean Lydia is out of the woods yet.

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead

Jace Downs/AMC Cassady McClincy on ‘The Walking Dead’

As if that was not enough, Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming) then got totally shot. Jesus, she’s only a kid! And hasn’t the Grimes family suffered enough?! The episode ended with Daryl (Norman Reedus) frantically trying to carry Judith to safety while both the invading horde and unfriendly Commonwealth soldiers appeared to be behind almost every corner.

We asked showrunner Angela Kang about this penultimate double dose of doom, as well as Mercer’s big surrender and a call back to one of the most famous Walking Dead speeches ever.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why give us a reprise of the Ezekiel “And yet I smile” speech to Negan there?

ANGELA KANG: It came about because I feel like it is one of the most recognizable pieces of Walking Dead dialogue. It is key to defining Ezekiel’s character. It’s something that means a lot to Khary Payton personally and a lot to his fans, because a lot of people who have been through illness and trauma and difficult moments in life have told him that that was something that phrase has helped them carry through.

And so as we got to the end of this run, we were talking about, “What is the unfinished business between Ezekiel and Negan? And what is Ezekiel’s take on Negan?” And I had this great conversation with Khary, because I think he and I are very much on the same page, which is that Ezekiel didn’t let any of that stuff go that Negan did. He remembers. It’s all locked in there. But, at the same time, there is something where holding onto anger is exhausting for the person who’s holding it. And he felt that Ezekiel would want Negan to step up. And that felt very, very true to that character.

And I started to think, we have to bring back this idea of the “and yet I smile.” So we just talked about it with the room, and my writers did a great pass on this, and we just spent some time honing it. But it just felt like those two things in some way were related because it’s sort of his mission statement in life and the thing that gets him through horrible things. So he has gratitude for being there, and he wants Negan to have that same thing. And that just felt like a really cool way to bring things around for that character full circle and something that was really important to Khary while also being specific to the Negan dynamic that we were trying to get to a landing spot.

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead

Jace Downs/AMC Khary Payton and company on ‘The Walking Dead’

I guess you hadn’t cut off any limbs in a while, so why have Lydia lose her arm here while trying to hold onto Elijah?

We talked a lot about what happens with this group that’s out there. And at this point in the story, our people are so capable that it really takes very specific walker circumstances for them to die. You really have to get so f—ed if one of our characters is going to die because they just have been through it all.

And for Lydia, we just thought that there was something interesting to this idea that she has rejected her mother’s philosophy in life, which meant that she lived amongst walkers and she was safe, but she was not alive in any kind of way that was satisfying for he. And now she’s kind of thrown that away and she wants to live, she wants to love, but that means that she’s sort rejecting mom’s philosophy of survival of the fittest, don’t care about what happens to anybody else around you.

She cares deeply for Elijah, and she’s afraid that he’s going to die or she’s going to lose him. And so it’s in this moment of love and really living her life that she is not careful for one second. But I think that for Lydia, it was still worth the effort. But, of course, it’s just horrible. It’s scary. We don’t know how it’s going to play out for her, but I think it’s about that choice. Sometimes when you choose to live your best life to the fullest, it means that you’re taking risks and it’s horrible. But also, maybe that’s the way she needs to live.

Why does Mercer surrender himself to Pamela’s spy there?

I think it felt like for Mercer, he is always keeping his eye on the bigger picture. And if there’s a shootout with his people and some of Pamela’s people, all that’s gonna happen is the good people that need to continue the fight die. There’s no help for any of our people. And so I think he feels like, “Why take that risk? Let me hope that I can call on everybody’s better angels and figure out what has to happen next.”

And also at that moment, he is kind of surrounded. He only has a small crew that’s with him at the time, and Pamela just got the better of him in that moment. And that’s a moment that’s sort of loosely based on a comic book moment where Mercer’s trying to pull a coup. He’s caught and then hijinks ensue from there.

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead

Jace Downs/AMC Norman Reedus and Cailey Fleming on ‘The Walking Dead’

You have Judith getting shot, and Daryl is carrying her and she’s out of it and she looks up at him and says “Daddy?” What’s going on there?

I think that there are a couple of things. For Judith, mom and dad — Michonne and Rick — have been on her mind this entire time. And remember, she has this secret of why mom actually went off and what she’s doing. She’s the only one that knows that Rick might be out there. She has not shared this with the adults in her life because she’s scared. And so that’s what she’s thinking.

And B, when she kind of loses consciousness and she’s in Daryl’s arms, she feels like somebody is trying to keep her safe, and is that dad? Did he come home? But also, Daryl is her father figure. Either way for Daryl, he’s looking at this child that’s in his care and he’s like, “I f—ed it up. I have to save her. I can’t let anything happen to this child that I love and that is my best friend’s daughter.” Whatever’s happened to him, Michonne made me promise he was gonna take care of these children. And so for both of them there is this kind of emotional tie moment because Daryl is the closest thing to a parent that she has right now. And that puts a lot of responsibility on Daryl.

I mean, Daryl kind of is her father at this point, right?

Yeah, he calls them “my kids” earlier in the season. He has kind of stepped into that role for them, and they have a very wide family that is taking care of them. It is a village. But at the same time, this is her special person. He’s the one that went to get her formula when she was first born and gave her nickname and made sure at various times that she had that father figure when she needed it.

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