The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang and director-producer Greg Nicotero have explained why Tara (Alanna Masterson), Enid (Katelyn Nacon), and Henry (Matt Lintz) were among the ten victims slain by Alpha (Samantha Morton) and the Whisperers in Sunday’s “The Calm Before,” which saw a horrified Daryl (Norman Reedus), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Carol (Melissa McBride), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), and Siddiq (Avi Nash) discover their friends’ decapitated heads placed atop pikes now marking Whisperer territory.
“You know, there were so many conversations about it, because it’s really hard to decide who dies, and any time there is death on the show, sometimes it’s just story-related, sometimes, as with Andy [Lincoln], it’s because there’s a personal factor,” Kang revealed to EW.
“There are contractual things. There are all kinds of things that go on. In this case, we love all of our actors. Some of the people who are on those pikes, we knew from the time we cast them that they were gonna be on the pikes. We specifically cast Brett Butler as Tammy knowing that she would wind up in that array. And we told her that at the time we cast her.”
Butler’s Tammy is the sole pike victim to receive their comic book death: the show’s version of the pikes was almost entirely original, claiming the lives of former Savior DJ (Matt Mangum), former Sanctuary member Frankie (Elyse Nicole DuFour), Highwaymen Ozzy (Angus Sampson) and Alek (Jason Kirkpatrick), and Rodney (Joe Ando Hirsh) and Addy (Kelley Mack) of the Hilltop.
“There are other characters that have been with us for a while,” Kang continued. “And it felt like, for the various characters who were on there, for example, Tara, as the leader of Hilltop, who Alpha really has a beef with, there’s some sort of sense and a feeling of retribution specifically with that death. And then there are people that almost feel random. And then you learn that there are people that just wound up in harm’s way by virtue of trying to be heroic, like DJ and those Highwaymen.”
In keeping with the show’s penchant for straying from the comic books, the reasoning behind the deaths was “really a mix of things,” Kang said. “Because we think that with Alpha, in some ways, this is an act of terrorism. And the thing about it is it’s terrifying because sometimes you don’t exactly understand how or why she picked her exact victims. And so that’s a big part of it. As well as, there are certain stories that we’re planning into the future, and so sometimes we’ve swapped out characters for those reasons.”
The writing team also indulged in playing with comic book readers’ expectations by teasing the death of Carol’s husband, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), who along with a pregnant Rosita is included in the comic book version of the pikes. In the show, Ezekiel unknowingly strolled with a disguised Alpha, who infiltrated the Kingdom’s fair by posing as “Debbie” from Alexandria.
“I mean, that’s a little bit of the fun of the show,” Kang said. “Obviously, doing this show, sometimes we’re very directly adapting from the comic, but we also deviate, and everybody knows that that’s kind of part of the deal with the show. We want to pay homage to the comic and we want to kind of put in those little Easter eggs for the comic book fans. For regular viewers, they might go like, “Oh, maybe Ezekiel’s gonna die or not.” But for a comic fan, it means something different, and so it gives them a little moment to speculate as they’re watching the show, which we think is kind of fun.”
“There’s so much behind the decisions of who goes and who doesn’t go,” Nicotero shared with THR.
“Even at the beginning of the season, when we knew the sequence was coming, everybody was always saying to Christian [Serratos, who plays Rosita] and Khary: ‘Heads on spikes are coming! Here it comes!’ But it’s always about what these moments and these deaths do to other characters that catapults them forward.”
That includes Carol and Ezekiel, who are devastated by the loss of their adopted son Henry.
“In regards to Henry and his relationship to Carol, Daryl and Ezekiel… there’s a very specific reason to lose him,” Nicotero said.
“In terms of other characters? Tara stepped up as a leader once Jesus (Tom Payne) died. She was showing some real authority and leadership at Hilltop. Ultimately, it’s an organic decision, the way it evolves, like the relationship between Enid and Alden (Callan McAuliffe). You see a budding relationship and a budding romance, where people are rising to what makes them the best person they can be, like Tara. In many instances, some people find those realizations. In other instances, it’s brutally torn from them.”
The Walking Dead next airs its Season Nine finale Sunday, March 31 at 9/8c on AMC.