SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of tonight’s The Walking Dead series finale & The Walking Dead: Dead City spinoff coming next year.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said,” Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan) tells Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in tonight’s The Walking Dead series finale, “and if I can ever forgive you.”
I can’t forgive you, even though I am so grateful you saved my son, even though I know that you’re trying,” she tells the man who brutally and gleefully battered her husband to death many seasons ago in the zombie apocalypse series based on Robert Kirkman’s comics. “I’m trying to, because I don’t want to hate you anymore …I don’t want my son to see anyone has that kind of hold on me.”
In an explosive and emotional finale to the AMC horror series after 11 seasons, tonight’s Stevie Nicks soundtracked “Rest in Peace” episode also served as launch pad for at least three spinoffs with Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) hitting the road, and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) returning in a surprise scene. Of course, there is that Maggie and Negan NYC-set spinoff The Walking Dead: Dead City coming too.
“I think that this spin off is going to take place a couple of years after, and here’s the problem with those couple of years that we don’t see what happens to these characters,” Morgan says of the almost finished filming Dead City. Expected in the first half of 2023, the Eli Jorné showrun series is the opening salvo in a greatly expanded and evolving TWDuniverse.
On that, the Angela Kang, Corey Reed and Jim Barnes written TWD finale, and all the feels connect to that, plus dust-ups with AMC brass, Morgan and Cohan chatted with me as they prepare to say their own final goodbyes to the mothershow after 177 episodes.
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DEADLINE: Lauren, with one season off, you have been with Walking Dead since the second season back in 2011, what was it like saying goodbye in this way in this finale?
COHAN: You know, it’s one of those things again that needs like distance.
The cocktail of emotion on shooting the finale was pretty great. We got to do some things that we rarely do in the show, which is to show sort of a warm, good time when you know this banquet scene with Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide.” But how you can possibly encapsulate like the journey that these characters have been on in moments great and small in there? You know, in the symbol of Rosita’s plight as a mother protecting her kid and sacrificing her life and the process of it, and then to have the kind of farewell that we got to have with her, which is also so rare on the show.
So, I guess to say I don’t have a short answer, but the experience was so whole for me. Shooting that episode, and the run up to the finale, the last sort of four episodes that we had were just done. It was like knowing college is ending or knowing high school is ending, and you’re with people that you love and that it’s so easy to sort of like laugh and cry with. It’s all happened before and it will all happen again, and just sort of had that territory, that emotional territory with people, it’s really rare.
DEADLINE: Does it feel over?
COHAN: Well, you know, in terms of like thinking of things coming to an end, you know, for Norman and for Jeff, and I think we all knew we were sort of going to wind down briefly and then gear up to do these spin offs. So, your head is kind of, you know, your body and your adrenaline probably don’t let you sort of fully recognize any kind of conclusion.
DEADLINE: Jeffrey, this “Rest in Peace” finale finally saw Negan say sorry to Maggie for killing her husband Glenn (Steven Yeun) in what was the Season 7 opener. What was that like for you as an actor and, as far as you can tell, for Negan?
They have tried to take steps forward in this relationship, this uneasy truce of a relationship, for a long time and it just they don’t really get anywhere, and I think finally between the two scenes that we had in this episode, the one where it really is sincere apology, as sincere as you’re going to get I think from Negan. I think he has learned a lot about himself in the last year. I think he learned a lot very recently while being on his knees and thinking he was going to lose his wife and unborn child.
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DEADLINE: Lauren, with that and with all of us knowing Dead City is coming, what’s your take on that scene …so much under the surface in so many ways…
COHAN: Well, it was really complicated to be honest with you because…okay, so what it was like to do the scene was such a pleasure.
DEADLINE: Not what I was expecting you to say.
COHAN: Well, it’s because it’s really nice for Jeff and I to actually have a conversation when there’s so much tension and avoidance and passive aggression in a lot of what these characters and how they interact. And so, to actually have a conversation where things are said, you know, where we talk about the elephant in the room and where Maggie is actually very vulnerable with him because at some point it’s like, as much as there is this like deep hatred, there is a seeing of each other, you know, what I mean?
There are ways that she hates him and keeps a distance but all this time, it’s not that we as an audience and as people, you know, it’s just the characters of the show. You’d know that he sees the reason behind it, but I thought there was something powerful about her giving him that window into the hurt that perpetuates, the hurt that actually motivates all of her defenses and her anger against him.
It’s going into the heart of darkness of him being somebody that actually is an unlikely place to process the grief, and I think that the scene that we have on the porch where he gives something of an apology, the closest he’s done, you don’t say sorry is the beginning of that thing. And I think it just also highlights, you know, that we can be demons. Not even demons, but we can be…I mean, Negan’s a sociopath in so many ways, but then there’s the other parts of him that are so…
DEADLINE: To put it lightly …
COHAN: (LAUGHS) Yeah. And it’s just not straightforward. It’s like, even though he is…it’s complicated even now for me. Why does she need to engage with him at all really, and she needs to do it for herself.
MORGAN: For Negan, I think he finally understands all of that, understands why she hates him so much. Negan has always been able to kind of charm or whatever his way into another level. I think this group of people he has worked so fucking hard at getting on their side, and he knows that he’s never going to be on the right side of Maggie.
DEADLINE: Talking about the right side, or at least the other side, there’s the Dead City spinoff coming, which has you basically transitioning in real time from one show to the next, what’s that been like with this finale airing looming?
COHAN: It’s kind of like shooting something in sequence. It’s an interesting thing because I had similar feelings when I left (Cohan exited TWD in Season 9 and was on ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier for its one season run, before returning to TWD in Season 10) and we had this sort of unknown of when Maggie was coming back.
I mean, do we ever really say goodbye to a character first of all, especially on long running series, for both the audience and for the actors. I think it’s like, you spend enough time with someone and they’re there. They account for like, you know, 22% of your physical body by that point.
So going into the spinoff, I think that it was cool for Jeff and I because as we wound down we didn’t know completely where we would begin. But, we had in mind, you know, this is sort of a brief resting place for these characters and for the relationship that they have, and more is going to be explored. We were both really excited about that because as you know, there’s just like so many people in The Walking Dead, and we knew we’d be doing more of a deep dive into something, which to me is just really compelling.
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DEADLINE: Without sounding stupid, why?
COHAN: Because to live with rage and resentment and still have to face the person who inspires it most in you every day and carry on with your life is just like such a ripe area of exploration for me.
So, I was sort of excited as much by what wasn’t said as the Walking Dead came to a close by what is said and this whole idea of talking about the future. You know, we even end the show on this, like, Maggie seemed somewhat like, quite hopeful, and I think that as people we have to be, to put on a face that you sort of have to just keep your eye on the prize and keep reminding yourself of the upward trajectory that’s possible. It’s hard because the thing that is sort of dragging your spirit or sort of the lead in your soul is not really resolved for her. So, we’ll get to see that sort of sticky place of trying to keep climbing the mountain but the demons that prevent it being sort of continuously inescapable for now.
DEADLINE: Jeffrey, for you, what’s cooking with Dead City?
MORGAN: A lot!
I think that this spinoff is going to take place a couple of years after the Walking Dead finale, and here’s the problem with those couple of years – – we don’t see what happens to these characters. Negan has an opportunity to fall into his old ways in these missing years. He is very much a creature of habit, and he knows how to survive.
When he was with our group there was another way to survive, and he tried to adapt to those ways. I’m worried whatever happens in these two years away from our group, what he will become and who he will become. And so, when Maggie and he are together again, the chance that Negan isn’t who we see as when we leave him here on the show.
MORGAN: I think is a pretty good chance that he’s not going to be that guy anymore because he adapts to his surroundings and things are f*cking rough. He’s going to go back to some old habits.
DEADLINE: Sounds like Dead City is no f*cking Moonlighting.
MORGAN: (LAUGHS) Yeah, it’s no f*cking Moonlighting at all. Not at all.
These characters are going to have a hard time functioning around each other, which is why I wanted to do Dead City so much by the way. I just thought it was fascinating that you got two characters that kind of hate each other, having to find a way to work together. We saw a little bit of that last season of The Walking Dead of them having to work together, and we saw how snarky they were with each other and how short they were. And so, I think Dead City is an opportunity to take that to the Nth degree and it’ll be very interesting to see.
COHAN: It’s so cool, I have to be honest with you. I mean, it’s just such a sense of renewal, even having done this for as long as we have to go into this new territory physically and emotionally with the depth that we’re able to do.
You know, our showrunner Eli bringing in this new perspective gives us a chance to have a whole new light on our characters. To me, it’s like anything good. It’s like a good friendship. You spend a lot of time with somebody. You spend a long time with someone, and it only grows in intensity and in depth and in nuance.
So, what’s fun about this, put it mildly I mean, I just think it’s such a great opportunity. And I think also being in this new terrain and being with new characters. Zeljko and Gaius are just so…I mean, I’ve been so excited to seeing our episodes come in and working with these guys. What it’s going to be and how it helps us see things in a new way, and you know, we’re filming in New York and New Jersey and the scale of things being so crazy.
DEADLINE: Jeffrey, you were very vocal about the network announcing the spinoffs before the end of the show. You made it pretty clear you felt it was a mistake, you felt like it took the drama out of it of who lived and who died. Looking back on that, what’s your feelings now?
MORGAN: I can’t say that I changed my mind, Dominic. I got in a little bit of trouble probably for being so vocal about it, but look, if you had watched the scene in the last episode of that lineup, imagine how much better that scene would have been if you thought Negan was going to die. You know. I just think that the stakes are raised that much higher, and going into a finale episode, I think the audience if they don’t know that four of your main characters or whatever it is are doing spinoffs, you know, those are four more people that may not walk away from this.
I just always believe that to be the way that I would have gone. Let’s try to keep it now. Would we have been able to keep it a secret this long? Probably not, but fuck, let’s try. Let’s give it a go. You know, I mean, look, if it leaks out, it leaks out and that’s the end of it, but that was I guess my only point. I would have liked to have kept it as a surprise.
COHAN: I thought the same thing. I thought when the spinoffs were revealed, it was a little less suspense than I would have liked.
In some ways, I didn’t want to completely gut the audience with the episode, with the finale, and maybe revealing there’s a spinoff was another way to not completely gut the audience because our fans have been with us for so long. We already know what can happen in the show and in this world. Do I wish it had been announced a little bit later. Yes. But in the same way that I like that not everything about the finale is totally gut wrenching, I can kind of accept it. Put it that way. It’s a comfort, you know.
DEADLINE: You know, I spoke with Scott Gimple and Angela, and they referred to the finale and the spinoffs as one chapter ending, another beginning, one door closing, another opening. What’s the process been like for you, because it seems like a constant state of status quo and flux simultaneously …
MORGAN: It’s weird. I haven’t been able to watch the finale because there is a finality to it that I don’t think I’m ready to deal with yet. I haven’t watched the last four episodes to be honest with you, and I’ve had time. I just haven’t wanted to watch them. I think I just needed to be in a mood.
I still talk to Norman damn near every day. That being said, yes, of course, another door is opening up and I get to continue with a character that I have loved playing for the last seven years, and I really have, or I wouldn’t still be doing it. But I miss the show. I miss that crew, and when I say crew, I mean the cast and the actual crew.
DEADLINE: What do you miss?
MORGAN: We spent especially the last fucking two years with Covid. We were together the whole time, and really the only people we could hang out with was this group of people and we really leaned on each other. It was hard the Covid, you know, not being able to do anything, it was hard on a lot of people, and it was hard on us too and thank God we had each other, but who we had was this fucking group of people that did a television show, and that meant a lot, a lot.