This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s The Walking Dead Universe Special Collector’s Issue, which is available for international pre-order online now at TheWalkingDeadMag.com and will be available nationwide on newsstands on Tuesday, August 17.
The war against the creepy Whisperers cult may finally be over, but AMC’s zombie drama The Walking Dead taught us a long time ago that lowering your guard is never a good idea. The series-ending Season 11 (consisting of 24 episodes broken up into three intense installments that wrap in 2022) features multiple postapocalyptic menaces for the survivors, according to showrunner Angela Kang—and some we’ve already met.
“There’s a variety of big bads,” she says. “And characters’ roles in things that go wrong are not always clear. That’s something we’ve been playing with, because villainy comes in many forms and isn’t always black and white.”
That’s especially true for Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s reformed Saviors leader Negan Smith. In the first episode back, he finds himself entangled even further with the recently returned Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan), who can’t quell her murderous rage toward him for killing Glenn (Steven Yeun), her husband and father of baby Hershel, more than six years earlier.
“Negan wants Maggie to see how he’s grown over this time she’s been gone, but I think, in her mind, there’s no redemption,” Cohan explains over a Zoom chat with Morgan, who has just finished up afternoon labor on his New York farm. Morgan argues that the Season 10 finale (“Here’s Negan,” which laid out the character’s devastating backstory) proves that the former evildoer “wasn’t the worst person in the world.” He adds that Negan’s “definitely trying to make his case to be a part of the community.”
In the opener, the two must work together (e.g., killing walkers side by side, above) for the greater good: putting food on the table at the demolished Alexandria. After a supply run with less-than-desired results, Maggie suggests a crazy Plan B that is then derailed by a storm, forcing the gang into a zombie-infested Washington, D.C., subway tunnel. As if the mission weren’t perilous enough, they also deal with the Reapers, the cold-blooded outfit that murdered Maggie’s last group. “It’s a fun, action-packed first episode,” says Kang. The Reapers “have some special skills, and they’re very tight-knit.”
As to whether Negan and Maggie can put aside their differences long enough to get results, well, “she’s going to try,” teases Cohan. Meanwhile, more levelheaded survivors like crossbow-wielding Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) end up in tight spots too. “Daryl has his own gigantic role in this story that is separate,” notes Kang. In Episode 2, Daryl will be searching for his furry companion, Dog, and find more than he bargained for. Could that signal the imminent return of Connie (Lauren Ridloff), who survived that messy cave-in during Season 10? We sure hope so.
Daryl always has BFF Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) to lean on, though recently their friendship has been rocky. “You have to see these two join forces again, or the world should end,” Reedus admits. “I can’t imagine [they wouldn’t],” McBride adds. (The two eventually depart on their own spinoff adventure in 2023.)
But perhaps the biggest question ahead is what will happen with the group detained by those Stormtrooper-like soldiers? Pseudoscientist Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt)—smitten with Stephanie (Margot Bingham, now a series regular), the woman he conversed with over CB radio—was captured by Commonwealth troops while trying to meet up. And he got his friends Ezekiel (Khary Payton), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and the newfound Princess (Paola Lázaro) involved too.
“When we pick up, they’re being moved to another location for the next step in dealing with this group,” Kang says. Look for new series regular Michael James Shaw (Blood & Treasure) as Mercer, a fan fave from the comics, where he’s illustrated as the brutal Commonwealth leader—and Princess’ love interest. (The Blacklist’s Laila Robins and 13 Reasons Why’s Josh Hamilton are also joining the cast.) Is Mercer’s infamous interrogation room their destination? Only time will tell. “Their story is more about intrigue: What is it like to run into a group that has very stringent ideas about how you bring people into their society?” asks Kang. Maybe they should try Rick’s foolproof three questions.
The Walking Dead, 11th and Final Season Premiere, Sunday, August 22, 9/8c, AMC