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‘The Walking Dead’ EP Gale Anne Hurd Talks Death, Negan, and the Kingdom

Variety logo Variety 12/12/2016 Oriana Schwindt
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Read no further if you haven’t seen the midseason finale for “The Walking Dead,” which aired Dec. 11.

“The Walking Dead” ended the first half of its seventh season in its usual bloody fashion — even Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) went unscathed, if you count the stubble he shaved off at the beginning of the episode, or the fact that his barbed-wire-encrusted bat, Lucille, took a bullet. “Walking Dead” executive producer Gale Anne Hurd talked to Variety about the nature of tyrants, how tough this season was for the actors, and why Spencer (Austin Nichols) had to go.

The tagline for the second half of the season, which premieres Feb. 12, is “Rise up.” Is that a “Hamilton” reference?

It’s so funny, we didn’t think of that! I saw “Hamilton” when it was at the Public, but no. The line is really inspired by the fact that now we’re on the road to rebellion against Negan’s rule…. And it had to fit on a billboard. It’s hard to find something that is powerful and that will fit on a poster. I think it’s powerful. [Laughs] But we’ll take it! It can be an homage to “Hamilton.”

What was the biggest wake-up call for Rick?

There was a plethora of them! I think, obviously, the Spencer thing was part of it. Even though he didn’t like Spencer, he didn’t know Spencer was plotting quite so obviously to take over from him. Though I think he and the audience knew he was a weasel. But taking Olivia out, randomly killing someone, that was a wake-up call. Then of course, there was his conversation with Michonne. She never wanted to give up. He was actually surrounded by people who did not want to continue under the yoke of Negan. And so when his bromance brother Daryl returns, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that they’re going to go to war.

Can they really fight the Saviors and win? And if they do, at what cost will it be to their humanity?

There’s a lot of blood on everyone’s hands, it’s true. I think at this point each and every one of them will do what has to be done. We’ve seen Maggie come to the fore at Hilltop. She’s reminded that they have the future to think about. It was so chilling to see Negan with Baby Judith — and how he treated Carl, trying to mold him into a sociopath. It’s like the Ghost of Christmas Future. However bad they’re capable of being, it isn’t on the same spectrum. But we also don’t want them to remain complacent and give up or give in.

We don’t truly know the extent of any possible dissidence within the Saviors. We saw a couple small cracks with Dwight, and Joey’s words were very revealing when he said “I’m just trying to get along,” but there’s so much we don’t know.

I think that people, at a certain point, embrace a demagogue because they make certain promises. But they won’t accept a tyrant. We also don’t know how long Negan has been in charge — it has to have taken a while to have consolidated this empire and create these trade deals. It’s almost like Rome: His control is pretty wide, but we don’t know how far. We’ve seen seeds of rebellion growing at Hilltop. We know at the Kingdom there’s some people all in, and King Ezekiel is like, “I want to keep my people in the dark, keep them happy,” because at this point there hasn’t been too much that has affected them negatively. But really, “Rise up” will give you the clues you need.

This was a tough eight episodes on the actors. They don’t seem like the type to complain, but did you take extra care with them during this run?

You earn your stress on this show, but no one complains. And everyone gets together. Because we’ve separated the cast due to the structure of these episodes, everyone’s gotten together every couple weeks to maintain their humanity. That’s been the wonderful thing too — when you add a larger-than-life character like Negan and he’s played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, it could go a couple different ways. But luckily for us he’s just a delight. Huge kudos to him on winning the Critics Choice Award last night. That’s another thing that has helped the show be something that the makes the cast want to return year after year … until they meet their maker.

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