Warning: This interview for the “Something They Need” episode of The Walking Dead contains spoilers.
Exactly which players are on which side remains somewhat of a mystery, but the penultimate episode of The Walking Dead Season 7 continued to bring Rick Grimes’s group closer to its goal of not only avenging the crushing season premiere deaths of friends Glenn and Abraham, but also of getting themselves out from under the control of barbed-wire-bat-toting baddie Negan, perhaps as soon as the Season 7 finale on April 2.
TWD co-executive producer Denise Huth talked to Yahoo TV about the group’s journey to the finale — and maybe the beginning of the big showdown — including what Eugene is really up to, why Gregory continues to become more cowardly in the face of Maggie’s growing leadership, how Daryl was permanently changed by Glenn’s death, and the complicated Negan backstory. Huth also uses the best words possible to describe the season ender: “Very, very satisfying.” (Read our full recap of this week’s episode here.)
Yahoo TV: It’s rare that we get to see this many characters in the same episode, especially when they’re not all together. And we’re at four different major locations in “Something They Need.”
Denise Huth: Oh, yeah. The cast is so big now, which is really, really exciting, but it is definitely a challenge to keep everybody’s stories moving when we don’t always get to check in with them every single episode. What was kind of fun about this one is, even though they’re not all together, most of them are pretty much on the same page as to what they’re doing. They’re all kind of working towards the same goal, even if they’re not necessarily together. Maggie’s at Hilltop, but she knows what the group is up to and is in support of that. It is tricky to manage this number of storylines and keep everybody checked in with the audience and know where they’re at in the overall trajectory of their individual storylines, as well as the broader, bigger storyline of Negan and the season. A lot of [the cast] didn’t get to work together this much this year just because of the nature of the story, so when they do… you get Andy [Lincoln] and Norman [Reedus] together, they’re going to have a good time.
Starting with Maggie, I love her line about the blueberry plant, that if it’s good it can produce for 40 years… “We gotta start acting like we’ll be around that long.” For her to be the one with that level of optimism, after everything she’s been through this season, is powerful.
It really is. I love that you noticed that, because it’s kind of a small moment, but it means so much. It’s an acknowledgement of, we have these day-to-day pressing issues and dealing with the struggle that is Negan and Gregory, and these issues as they’re working around each other, but she is definitely thinking long-term. I think she kind of has to. It’s partly because she’s pregnant, but I think it’s just in the spirit of Maggie. She’s lost everyone, her close, immediate family, since this has begun, obviously Glenn being the most traumatic. But she’s not just going to lay down and die. I always look back on the season premiere — the first person to stand up was Maggie. They were all broken. They were all shattered. They’re all there on their knees in the dirt witnessing this horrific trauma, but she stood up. She was ready to go and keep moving forward despite what she had just witnessed. I think that speaks a great deal to her character, and what things she learned from Hershel and things she learned from Glenn and just who she is that she doesn’t want to focus on small-scale. Oh, she wants to kill Negan just like the rest of them do, but she wants to think about the future too, and how they can build a life, not only for herself and for her baby, but for the real future. That is really nice. It’s a lovely undercurrent underneath all the rage and the misery and the vengeance that goes on.
This episode really showcases Maggie’s natural leadership skills too, and how much the Hilltop people have come to trust and respect her and look to her for their way forward. That, of course, is threatening to the cowardly Gregory. We know he’s not brave at all — which he thoroughly proved in a new way with his reaction to the walkers — but we’ve assumed he’s smart enough, or maybe he was opportunistic enough, to become the leader of Hilltop. Why is he so blind, then, to just how badly his trip to the Sanctuary is likely to go for him?
I think Gregory’s such an interesting character. He’s certainly a coward. He’s not a fighter. That’s not how he has managed to stay alive. He has sort of bulls*** his way… that’s how he’s been able to keep it going. I think whether it’s ego, pride, all of these things that go into why we make bad decisions, he’s in fear. Despite the fact that Maggie has actually been kind to him, fear of, “Well, if she’s in charge, what happens to me?” I think he’s turning to whatever outlet he has to maintain control and maintain being the boss, maintain that sort of relatively protected position he’s had. We learn that he hasn’t been outside the walls. He hasn’t killed any walkers. He’s managed to survive in a very different way than most of our survivors. He’s not out there fighting, he’s not brave, but he works people. He finds the person who can protect him. I think he’s not looking at Simon as being necessarily a threat to him personally, though, of course, he should be thinking that. He’s more of, “Well, if I have Simon on my side, then I at least have somebody in my corner.” He’s spiraling a little bit, I think. He sees what he has created, in his mind, he sees it slipping away. He’s spinning a little bit in order to protect that.
We get to see a nice moment for Eric in this episode. He’s out there on the battlefield, and he has that great line to Aaron about how being with him makes abject terror tolerable. One of the most romantic lines of the whole season.
I know. It’s so sweet. They’re the cutest. Yeah, it was fun to get Eric out there because he’s an important part of Alexandria. He’s one of the first characters we met in that community. He has struggled. He was not one to necessarily say, “OK, we have to fight.” The fact that he’s come around, that he is scared, but he’s out there because he knows it’s worth fighting for… that’s big.
Daryl is still very, very angry. Have we seen a permanent change in him? And is it fueled by the fact that, though Maggie told him she does not blame him for Glenn’s death, he is very much carrying that guilt around?
I think really for all of them, that event changed all of them permanently. It changed who they all are. It’s such a trauma. We all deal with trauma and loss, and thankfully it’s not to that extreme level most of the time, but grief doesn’t go away, even as you pick up the pieces and start living your life again. The grief stays with you, and the guilt stays with you. I think we saw that a little bit with Rick, when he said, “Glenn saved me, and I couldn’t save him.” That’s going to weigh on him. I think for Daryl, certainly he does feel a responsibility. Even though I really believe there is a great deal of relief that Maggie doesn’t blame him, it still is something. There is a responsibility in him because he’s a very responsible guy… he will own that, and it will probably stay with him forever. Even if he’s successful and he kills everybody, and, oh, great, everybody wins, the events of [“The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”] will never go away for him. I think it will change the way he deals with people, the way he deals with strangers. It will always be in the back of his head that when he first met Dwight, he tried to save him, and all this other stuff has occurred. Which is in no way to say it was Daryl’s fault, because it absolutely wasn’t, but I think he’s definitely much more cautious in opening up to a new person or allowing a new person into his family, which is exactly how he sees these people.
Sasha and Negan: Did it change her mind about him at all when he stopped David from raping her and when she found out Negan considers that a rules violation punishable by death?
I don’t know that it would’ve changed her mind. I’m sure it surprised her. I remember reading the comics and discovering this rule of Negan’s and being surprised by that. He seems like such a bad guy, that this particular horrible thing wouldn’t really bother him, but it really does. He’s a very interesting guy. He does have his rules that are very, very important to him. I think it maybe throws her a little bit, because it’s not expected, but I don’t really know that there’s anything that could sort of deter her from what she wants to do.
He tells her he wants her to join “the cause.” He tells her that they’re not monsters, and he does have this rule. Are these little hints at his bigger backstory? Maybe one that aligns with the “Here’s Negan” comics?
It’s one of those things where, what I always love with the comics, and I think [showrunner] Scott [Gimple] and the writers do such a great job at, is really mining the comic source material. Robert [Kirkman’s] so smart about how he laid out these characters and what obstacles he puts in their way. Scott and the writers always have a way of sort of tweaking it. I never say, “Oh, yeah. That happens in the comics, that’s definitely going to happen on the show.” I’m very curious to learn more about Negan, our Negan, and how it will come out. This isn’t the first time he’s said that… obviously, he’s done it with Eugene. Even back in the beginning when he first meets Rick, his intention all along seems to be, “We can work together.” He definitely wants to be in charge, and he wants to call all the shots, but his goal is not to kill everybody. In his mind, “If I kill you, you can’t work for me, and I want you to work for me.” He’ll even say, “Oh, I don’t enjoy doing this.” Well, I kind of think he does. At the same time, it’s not his endgame. He’s looking at it almost very pragmatically, which is, “We don’t have to kill each other. This doesn’t have to be a big battle.” I appreciate that he recognizes this is a big ask. He knows Sasha was there that night. He doesn’t know her direct relationship with Abraham, but he knows she was there. She broke into his compound to try and kill him, so it’s not the easiest ask. At the same time, he’s always striving towards that… “Listen, we can work together. I don’t want to kill you. Let’s just play ball.” I think that’s probably where Rick is always such a frustration to him, because he can’t gain any ground with Rick. He’s never been able to. That, I think, will always be his endgame: We can work together.
He tells Sasha, “We all have things we have to get past,” things we have to get over. Does he genuinely think that’s possible?
Well, look at Eugene. It seems like Eugene is playing along with him. Eugene’s pretty crafty, so whatever it is he’s up to, we still don’t entirely know. At the same time, Eugene was there [when Abraham and Glenn were killed]. Eugene’s terrified, and he’s getting onboard — that’s what Negan sees. I do think Negan thinks it’s possible. The world is crazy. It’s not the same things of what would be dealbreakers for us in our world. His point of view is, what are you going to do? He’s also looking at it as, Rick and his group killed 30 or 40 of [Negan’s] guys at that outpost. He’s only killed a few. What’s the big deal? Call it even. He has a very different approach to what is logical, I guess.
Are we still up in the air about Eugene? We’ve been unsure about what he’s really doing, and even Rosita thinks he’s playing an angle here. But the explanation he gives Sasha, about joining up with Negan because it means he doesn’t have to live in fear anymore, it makes sense for that character, that he would value that above all else.
I think Eugene always… he’s such an interesting character. Kind of similar to Gregory in a way, in that he is a survivor. He’s just not a survivor in the way we’re used to seeing. He will lie. He will manipulate people. He will do what he has to do to keep himself safe. That’s what he’s done since the moment we met him. It is understandable, which is hard, because you want to think, like, “Oh, no, Eugene, he’s killed your best friend! How could you even get in line with him?” Again, living in this world and the reality of this world, Eugene’s a coward. He’s a self-proclaimed coward. He doesn’t want to be that afraid again. He tried to be brave, and in his mind, it backfired on him spectacularly. If he can get through, if he can get by and not be terrified, he feels like he’s doing OK. That’s what we see.
But has he discounted the fact that, yes, they may keep him safe, but his alliance with Negan likely means he’s going to be pitted against his friends in Alexandria at some point?
Well, I think it’s, again, No. 1 on his list is to keep himself alive. No. 2, I don’t think there’s any animosity towards [Rick’s] group. I don’t think he would just turn his back on his people. I think he’s a smart guy, and he’s very good at manipulating people. If there is a way for him to maneuver the situation where people don’t have to get hurt, but first and foremost he doesn’t have to get hurt, that is what he will try to do. Because that’s how he approaches everything.
OK, the Oceanside women: An unexpected discovery from Rick and company’s trip to their community was that they had the opportunity to see how capable the women are of taking care of themselves, and then how well the two groups work together. Natania, unfortunately, does not feel that way. Is that a done deal, or could her people change her mind?
I think where we left her in this episode, she’s locked in. She’s not seeing the value in this. I think her fear when she walks away from the group so dejected is, not only are you guys going to be dead in a matter of days, we’re going to be dead in a matter of days. Her greatest fear is the Saviors finding them and taking retribution for the fact that they got away. As far as we know, they’re the only group who’s managed to escape the Saviors. She lost so many people, but she’s managed to keep everybody else alive. To take [a new fight with the Saviors] on, I don’t think Natania considers herself a fighter. I think she’s definitely a leader, and she feels a responsibility to her people, but she’s looking at it as, we stayed hidden and we’ve been OK. The second somebody walked through our door, and we let her leave, look where we are. It’s tough. I think the whole group is in a tough situation. Cyndie says some of them absolutely would want to go with our group and fight, but they are a united family on their own. If they’re not all going to go, [none of them can] go. They have their own rules and their own ways of making decisions. At this point they’ve definitely made it.
On to Dwight… we now know it was him and not Daryl that Rosita saw at the end of last week’s episode. She has softened a little bit, maybe, after that great heart-to-heart with Sasha last episode, even though she has been just as angry as Daryl and just as committed to revenge against the Saviors. She brought Dwight back to Alexandria and put him in Morgan’s cell, and she is open to hearing what he has to say. Why? Daryl obviously is not, understandably. But something Dwight said to her must’ve resonated enough for her to be willing to take him to Alexandria and want the rest of the group to talk to him.
Well, I think Rosita’s smart. She knows they’re up against somebody formidable. I think it was a turning point, that conversation with Sasha. It did open her up in a way that we really haven’t had much opportunity to see this season. I don’t think she’s been at all deterred from her primary objective either, but she will use every tool at her disposal. I don’t know that she’s looking at Dwight saying, “Oh, I believe him, I trust him,” but she’s recognizing he could be valuable to the group’s plans. “I’m going to bring him back to the people who I do trust and I do respect, and see how we need to handle this situation. Do we need to just outright kill him? Do we need to use him? Can we trust him?” All of that is to be determined. I think she recognizes, “OK, you dropped yourself in my lap. I’m not just going to walk away from that.” She’s going to see what everybody else thinks about it.
What can you say about the way the season ends?
The way I’ve been describing the season finale is just, it’s really satisfying. It’s been a tough year in many, many ways for the characters, for all of us. I’m a fan of the show too, so as a fan, it’s been tough. It’s been such a necessary part of their story. I really look back at that first episode and what happened and how hard it was, and then on top of it seeing the characters so broken, seeing them really not knowing what to do was painful. It’s really, really hard, but it was critical. They needed to go through that grief. We needed to see how their world has changed. I don’t remember the exact dialogue, but the end of last season, in [“East”], Glenn and Michonne had this great conversation when they were out looking for Daryl. Glenn said this whole thing about how we thought we had figured out the world. We had finally put the world back. The world fell apart, we finally put it back together, and now we have to do it all over again. Of course, things got even worse after that, but he was right. They have to pull themselves back to life again. For characters who have been through so much, it needed to be hard. It needed to cost them. It’s more about just seeing them have that will to fight … it’s incredibly satisfying after going through the whole story with them and living that grief and living that pain. To see them stand up and stand together to fight is very, very satisfying.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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