'The Walking Dead': Where do we find our characters in the final episodes? The cast checks in

Longevity isn't something one often associates with a rotting corpse, but over the last 12 years, AMC's The Walking Dead has proved that there are indeed exceptions to every rule. However, as Led Zeppelin once sang, "Your time is gonna come." After 11 seasons of post-apocalyptic adventures, the hit series (based upon the long-running Image comic of the same name) will officially start to wind down this coming Sunday with the rollout of its final eight episodes. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

As you may recall, the last block of eight ended with Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) asserting the Commonwealth's dominance over the communities of Alexandria, Oceanside, and Hilltop. "Lance is trying to keep it all together, keep the mission of the Commonwealth going and bring as many communities together under the safe haven of the good intentions of the Commonwealth," Hamilton tells SYFY WIRE over Zoom. "He has a few challenges thrown up in his way, but he likes a challenge, and, hopefully, things will work out for the best."

In a way, the antagonist feels like an amalgam of the most deplorable bosses we've faced so far: he's got the oily charm of David Morrissey's Governor and the sharp-edged cunning of Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan. "I see him as someone who really thinks he is a good guy and thinks that the is capable and wants to see a return to the pre-zombie world and create as much safety and prosperity — at least for the people who really work for it and deserve it," answers Hamilton. "The 1 percent."

Back at the Commonwealth proper, Connie (Lauren Ridloff) has sowed the seeds of revolution with a bombshell newspaper article that shines a light on just how corrupt the remaining members of the Milton family — Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson) in particular — really are. "I am desperately trying to hold this community together and to maintain my power," says Laila Robbins, who plays Pamela Milton. "To what degree and to what ends will I go to maintain that? It's not only myself, but my whole family's legacy. I think she will hang on to it with every tool in our toolbox and something she didn't even know she had in her."

Caught in the middle of the brewing conflict is Yumiko (Eleanor Matusra), who is not only a member of Alexandria, but also currently serves as legal counsel to Pamela. While Yumiko certainly feels loyalty to the other survivors we met all the way back in Season 9, she does find herself torn between two worlds when it comes to the safety of her brother, Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale), employed by the Commonwealth as a doctor.

"I think we've seen Yumiko go on this really bizarre journey this final season — from everything to finding my brother again, to now ending up as a lawyer in the Commonwealth," states Matusra. "But I'm pretty much on the other side of the fence, shall we say. That's a tricky place for me to be. I think what everyone is probably wondering — maybe even what Yumiko is wondering herself — is, ‘How is this going play out for me?’ I clearly have a good job, a job that I am incredibly good at that’s sort of come back to me. It's also affording me a different and ‘better’ lifestyle. But we’ve seen the past two seasons who I've been rolling with, and where I've come from. I think if we know anything about Yumiko, it’s that she's incredibly loyal and really believes in her group and her friends. She's always going to fight for what's right."

Another character feeling the heat of dissonance of moral ambiguity is Mercer (Michael James Shaw), the imposing general of the Commonwealth's security force. "In these final eight, Mercer’s kind of been knocked off his moral compass and he has a lot to grapple with," Shaw teases. "I think he's in a place of doubt, trying to find strength in this moment."

He continues: "It's kind of like if you have some really good sherbert and your fridge breaks down and you have no other way to keep it cool. It starts to deteriorate and melt and the things that made him who he is are slowly fading away. He has to find another way to find courage within himself. The old thing is not working anymore. You can't just sit by and watch things happen, you have to take action in another way. And he's figuring that out. Hopefully, he does it in time."

Long-haulers like Aaron are "just kind of grasping and reaching for a leg of hope," says Ross Marquand. "He's really concerned with making sure that the sustainability of his community is intact. But now that Lance has reneged on several of his promises, he's bewildered. I think Aaron and most of the survivors are just all very concerned about the future of what's going to happen to their communities."

In the trailer released at San Diego Comic-Con, Aaron sounds the alarm on what fans have dubbed "smart" zombies. When we ask what to expect from this disconcerting development, Marquand quips, "They can fly now. It’s really nuts. No, no, no. Actually, what we meant by 'smart zombies,’ is that they’re wifi compatible now. You can get them charged up with a wireless Bluetooth device. You're gonna love it."

Father Gabriel, on the other hand, begins the final episodes rocking "some nice new threads," promises Seth Gilliam. "I think he’s settled into the idea of civilization again and the possibilities thereof — like the creature comforts that go with it. As is the nature of the world of The Walking Dead, some horrible sh** is bound to go down. I think Father Gabriel is, at this point, is down for anything, man. Boogie down for whatever..."

The Walking Dead returns to AMC this Sunday — Oct. 2 — at 9 p.m. Eastern. The first two episodes will be available to stream on AMC+ the same night.

If you're looking to satisfy your zombie craving immediately, head over to Peacock and check out the movie that kickstarted the entire genre: George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Or check out the SYFY original series, Day of the Dead.

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