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“It’s going to feel like classic Walking Dead, hopefully,” Kang shares with The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the Aug. 15 final season premiere on AMC+ (it airs a week later on AMC).
For AMC’s gritty zombie drama based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series, finding hope in the apocalypse can seem nearly impossible. Kang, who has run the show since its ninth season, notes the cast and crew “learned a lot” from working through six pandemic-impacted bonus episodes in fall 2020.
“During those six, we are so safety-oriented. We care so much about the health and safety of our cast and crew. So I feel like we really got our protocols pretty well locked down,” Kang tells THR.
The pandemic threw The Walking Dead‘s 10th season for a loop as it became impossible to complete postproduction on the season finale (originally set to air on April 12, 2020) in time. Instead, six bonus episodes were tacked onto the end of season 10 and aired last spring, offering smaller, more intimate stories between prominent characters.
“When we came into season 11, we felt like we’ve learned a lot. We were able to do some of our bigger episodes again. So hopefully, for most of our audience, they’re not going to see or feel a major difference in season 11,” Kang says. “Around the edges of it, we’re still being really careful about how many extras are in a scene. We are very, very safety-minded when it comes to two people that are really in each other’s faces or anything that’s intimate or, you know, zombie attacks. We had the benefit of doing six where we kind of learned what was hard to do and what wasn’t. So we were able to come back and do one of our big seasons again.”
As for how COVID-19 protocols will impact the drama’s remaining 24 episodes, Kang notes there are some elements that the Walking Dead team “scaled down a bit across the season” from what they would have normally executed. “Things are more expensive to do right now during the pandemic. Like even just building things cost more. So everything is just affected by the global ripple effects of working during COVID.”
However, she notes her crew is still working toward delivering “the epic nature of the fun of the show, while being responsible.”
The Walking Dead‘s final season also has some time to possibly surpass the pandemic’s chaotic impact on production. Rather than featuring the show’s standard 16-episode season, AMC supersized the 11th and final season to include 24 episodes that will be stretched into late 2022. “Who knows where we’ll be,” Kang says with a laugh, noting that for the moment the show’s priorities are “being really careful” and “responsible.”
When the end ultimately does come for AMC’s flagship zombie drama, Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride will segue from the mega-hit and reprise their roles as Daryl and Carol in a new spinoff, which will also be overseen by Kang. While the spinoff effectively guarantees that the fan-favorite characters who have been with the series since its first season will survive, Kang notes there will still be high-stakes action for Carol and Daryl.
“Every moment feels like it’s infused with just a real urgency,” Kang says. “But I do feel that we also have ways of creating that urgency without it always been about whose life is on the line. We’re just playing with different kinds of stakes this year. So there is zombie danger, there’s always the possibility of people still getting injured by zombies. Even with Carol or Daryl, we know they’re moving on to something, there are high, emotional stakes. There’s a lot of questions about what’s the right thing to do and who are the right people to work with and like what can you stand?”
Kang adds that for all survivors entering the final 24-episode season, “there’s still tons of tension and danger” to take place. Soldiers in white and red suits with sophisticated weaponry have captured Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Ezekiel (Khary Payton), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and Princess (Paola Lazaro), marking the introduction of the Commonwealth, the most advanced civilization yet in the Walking Dead universe. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) are both living within Alexandria’s battered walls, with the latter accepting whatever fate may befall him from the woman whose husband he brutally murdered. Although the Whisperers have been eliminated, a hostile group known only as the Reapers lurks as a new threat against peace and survival.
With all of that to consider, Kang offers an ominous preview for what’s to come: “They’re fighting for their souls and for what is the right way forward.”
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