It’s getting real on “The Walking Dead.” There are so many questions left to be answered and only one 90-minute episode to go before the season ends.
Why did Michonne (Danai Gurira) coldcock Rick (Andrew Lincoln) mid-rant in front of their friends and half the town of Alexandria? Will Alexandria leader Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) decide to exile Rick’s entire crew after Rick’s rant and that ominous warning she received from Gabriel (Seth Gilliam)? Isn’t Maggie (Lauren Cohan) going to tell anyone what Gabriel said? Will Carol (Melissa McBride) kill Jessie’s (Alexandra Breckenridge) abusive husband Pete (Corey Brill) herself, after Rick simply beat him senseless? What happens to Glenn (Steven Yeun) after witnessing the death of Noah (Tyler James Williams)? Just who — or what — are Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) tracking? And where the hell is Morgan (Lennie James)?
Yes, there’s a lot going down on “The Walking Dead” right now, so Variety turned to executive producer Gale Anne Hurd to discuss the pivotal events of last week’s episode and assess where things are at heading into what promises to be an epic fifth season finale.
I know you actually know what’s coming next, but what’s your interpretation at this point of why Michonne knocked out Rick?
It’s multi-layered. Michonne — like Rick, who at the moment is doing a fairly poor job of being a constable — is charged with keeping the peace. Someone waving a gun around with innocent people standing nearby is probably a threat to that peace. He’s already pushed his son away, Deanna had no impact, so it was really the only option left to her. Did she do that because she’s embraced Deanna’s approach? Or is she doing it to protect Rick from himself? Or a little of both?
It was also interesting to hear Rick tell Jessie he wouldn’t take the same actions for anyone else. Do you think that’s true? Is his attraction to Jessie making him even more unbalanced?
You know on Facebook where it says, “Relationship status: It’s complicated”? [laughs] I think it’s complicated. Rick is torn. He has feelings for someone. I’m sure he knows it’s wrong — even though her husband is abusive, it’s still wrong. He’s suffering from PTSD, there’s no question that most of them are, and he doesn’t quite know what to do with his feelings. I think the truth is he probably would’ve done that for anybody, but he also wants to own up to the fact that she’s special to him.
And that there’s something more to what he’s doing for her than just being the constable.
Yeah, and that he wants to protect her even though she’s rejecting that protection.
Rick and Jessie haven’t spent that much time together that we’ve seen, and it’s interesting that maybe he’s projecting onto her the life he wanted to have with Lori.
Right, yes. And yet he’s sort of acting more like Shane. [laughs]
I love seeing that come full circle, especially since so many fans blamed Lori for that relationship. It’s great to see Rick on the other side of the triangle.
Yeah, you know, the zombie apocalypse complicates everything.
You were a guest on the last “Talking Dead,” and Chris Hardwick asked Yvette Nicole Brown if she would have killed or exiled Pete. She didn’t hold back saying, “I’d kill Pete. Pete’s gotta go.” What would you have answered?
I’m there with Yvette. You can’t take chances anymore, we’ve seen what happens. We saw what happened when Tyreese didn’t kill Martin. You know, Tyreese, God bless him, may he rest in peace, still felt he did the right thing. He did the right thing for him. He couldn’t kill Martin in cold blood. It’s difficult to do that. Choice number one would probably be to lock (Pete) away, so he couldn’t do harm to anyone. That would be my first choice as opposed to exile.
Episode 514 ended with Maggie overhearing Gabriel’s disturbing conversation with Deanna, and then we didn’t see Maggie at all in the following episode. Is that just a side effect of only having so much time to feature all the characters?
Yeah, and not everything that has happened is addressed on screen. Could (Maggie) have had more of a conversation? Probably. Would she approach Gabriel? I’m not sure, unless it was with Deanna’s authorization because Maggie, like Glenn, is trying to keep the peace. I think they want to stay in Alexandria and not be banished. They want to find a way to make it work. Of course Father Gabriel is complicating things significantly. And Rick is not helping himself with his actions, making Deanna wonder if maybe Gabriel was right.
Tovah Feldshuh has been doing fantastic work as Deanna, but in the comic book her character was a man, Douglas. What was the reasoning behind that change?
First of all, the dynamic becomes a really interesting one that we haven’t seen before. We’ve had a lot of male leaders on the show, we haven’t had a female leader. Having her, instead of the character Douglas, enabled us to see a different dynamic. Especially since the character of Douglas was not someone you particularly wanted to root for, and we’ve had quite a few of those on the show. Deanna may have faults, but there’s no questioning her good intentions.
Have you noticed any fan reaction to the gender switch?
From what I’ve read it seems very positive. Tovah Feldshuh is not a shrinking violet, she played Golda Meir in a one woman show on Broadway. She’s certainly played strong female leaders before and she has that presence. She’s small in stature but she commands the room. She can go toe to toe with Rick, and not many people can.
Speaking of changes from the comics, there’s a lot of concern online about Glenn heading into the finale…
[laughs] Because of the imagery of the baseball bat?
Yeah, all those clues. What can you say about those teases, are they deliberate?
It’s always fun to have easter eggs. Sometimes they portend things that only comic book fans will get and sometimes they don’t. But we love them, and I think the fans do too.
There’s been some controversy this season over the deaths of three significant black male characters (Lawrence Gilliard Jr. as Bob, Chad L. Coleman as Tyreese and Tyler James Williams as Noah). Was there any debate about that in the writers room or after the reaction on social media?
We have to go with the story. It’s really important to cast the best actors. Two of those characters were white in the comics. They could’ve been any ethnicity. Our casting calls are completely open and we always go with the best actor. Would African American actors want to be told, “We’re not casting you, because in the storyline we’re going to kill you off?” That’s how we have to look at it. We want the best actor and then we have to stick to the storyline that was crafted months before we even cast the roles.
The season finale has been supersized to 90 minutes. How was that decision made?
The story was not actually an incredibly long page count, but when the first cut came in it was clear that we were never going to be able to pare it down to the typical running time. It was actually the best way to tell the story, as opposed to any initial intent going in. AMC absolutely embraced it and agreed.
Michael Cudlitz was quoted saying the finale will “piss people off.” Do you agree with that assessment or would you put it a little differently?
I would say they’ll be pissed off they have to wait until October when the series starts up again, that would be the only thing. I don’t know that they’d be pissed off, I hope instead that there’s a great sense of longing for us to be back.
“The Walking Dead” season five finale airs Sunday, March 29 at 9 p.m. on AMC.