The Walking Dead used the absence of Lauren Cohan's Maggie to make a drastic change to her comic book love interest Dante, played in Season 10 by series newcomer Juan Javier Cardenas. In the comics, Dante is a smart-mouthed but heroic member of the Hilltop colony who becomes Maggie's sole love interest following the death of husband Glenn. Because Cohan stepped away midway through Season 9 to film ABC spy action-comedy Whiskey Cavalier, showrunner Angela Kang decided to introduce Dante with a twist: episode 10x07 revealed Dante as a Whisperer spy when he murdered Siddiq (Avi Nash), one of the show's biggest changes from the comic books.
“It came about in a funny way,” Kang told The Hollywood Reporter. “We talked about introducing Dante as a character a few times over the years. It never happened. It never felt like the exact right time. Why bring in Dante now? What's he doing for the story?”
She continued, “Then when Lauren was out for a while, it was like, well, we weren't going to do that version of Dante. He was on the backburner for us for a bit. Then we started working on the story of the conflict of the Whisperers in a way that feels new and refreshing, and plays into a cold war feel that we wanted to experiment with. So how can we tell a story about espionage?”
Episode 10x08 revealed Dante was sent by Whisperer leader Alpha (Samantha Morton) to infiltrate Alexandria and sabotage the community from the inside. His medical knowledge — another alteration from his comic book counterpart — made the character more trustworthy to the Alexandrians, who were shown welcoming Dante and other survivors into the community in a flashback set between Seasons 9 and 10.
“Our people are so smart and are so on alert. We got to talking about how people want to inherently trust doctors and people who are educated, even though there are so many sociopaths among high-achieving people,” Kang explained. “We started from that place, and then we thought people would be ahead of us. It's a new character, the audience is going to be ahead of us. But what if we bring in Dante here? In the comic, sometimes he's a charming rogue, or you can see him as an annoying asshole. [Laughs] I had that reaction to him at various times while reading the comic.
“So let's play with what that's like, to have someone with boundary issues. There's part of him that's likable and charming and interesting — and yet, is there something darker underneath, this pushing of people's buttons, going a little further than they need to in a situation? We felt it was really interesting to work with. It gave us an opportunity to write someone from the comic but still have a new take on it.”