The Walking Dead lived up to its reputation once more in the show's mid-season 10 finale on Sunday night. The series which recently saw a major twist claiming the life of Avi Nash's Siddiq in the penultimate episode of 2019 (which you can get more intel about in ComicBook.com's uncut interview with Nash) went full steam ahead to close out the year. Sunday night's Episode 10x08 which was titled "The World Before" saw another character being killed off before the back half of the series began airing, though this one might hurt just a little less than week's. ComicBook.com caught up with the actor following their final episode.
Warning! Spoilers for The Walking Dead Episode 10x08 follow. Major spoilers!
After killing Siddiq and being caught by Rosita, Dante's role in Alexandria was an undercover Whisperer was revealed and the character was tossed into a jail cell. Before the council was given an opportunity to debate what they should do with the mole and murderer, Father Gabriel took matters into his own hands and brutally stabbed Dante to death in the jail cell. It's another sign of the quick pacing of showrunner Angela Kang's writing style and yet another fatality before the series takes its mid-season break. For Dante actor Juan Javier Cardenas, the death comes as quite a surprise.
"With a series like The Walking Dead, you really should expect the unexpected," Cardenas says. "What it turned out to be is that it turned out to be a wonderful exercise of an actor because what I got to do was to be extremely open to how things would change from episode to episode and see how many layers were revealed as the story went on."
Of course, the slaying of Dante by Father Gabriel marks a major change in the once timid character, something Cardenas picked up on as a longtime fan of the series. "What was amazing for me is that I had worked a couple of days with Seth [Gilliam] before," Cardenas said. "Seeing him in his interpretation of Father Gabriel, seeing this person inhabit this character that is all about kind of controlling of our animalistic urges and trying to establish the possibility to have a world of civility and care for the other. And that, the barbarity of the world is outside the walls of Alexandria. Inside, we do things differently. You know, we're not animals back there. We're people and we can forget that."
Check out th full, uncut interview with Juan Javier Cardenas below!
ComicBook.: First of all, let's just start with, when you took this role, did you know that this is where this would end all along?
Juan Cardenas: Nope, not at all. So, going through the experience and kind of what it showed me is that, with a series like The Walking Dead, you really should expect the unexpected. And, you should really kind of embrace the ride as far seeing where your character is interpreted in a scene and seeing where the story goes. What it turned out to be is that it turned out to be a wonderful exercise of an actor because what I got to do was to be extremely open to how things would change from episode to episode and see how many layers were revealed as the story went on. And, you know, it was absolutely the opposite of being a negative experience. It was so much hiding as a performer because as the audience follows along on that story arc and if they're surprise at every turn, I promise you, the actors are feeling that same kind of excitement when the script comes in and by each episode.
CB: That's awesome. Avi told me that he knew your character was going to kill his character pretty early on and you're the only person he told. As a result, you two became friends with a secret. Talk to me about kind of that that bond you guys developed over knowing that, at some point in the season, you were going to have to kill Siddiq.
JC: Avi was fantastic. Avi was the first person from the entire production that prior to even my arrival in Georgia, like a week out, I received an email from him introducing himself saying, "Hey, what's up? Hey, man, my name is Avi. We're going to be working a lot to get through the season. I just wanted to throw that out there and say that if you have any questions about Georgia, if you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to call me. I'm looking forward to working with you and let's have some fun."
That's a very uncommon thing to get for a scene partner or somebody that you're working with typically on a job as an actor. You typically meet everybody once you get there. So, Avi from the get go was always a constant positive presence on set. It was always exciting to work with Avi and always fun. It got to the point that we were having such a good time with each other that once it was revealed to me that I would be the cause of his undoing, I remember walking on set and just kind of solemnly nodding my head, patting him on the shoulder, and go like, "Well, I think I owe you a drink, man."
I've been there. I've been in the same situation as him on series. And, the best thing I think you can do as a scene partner in that situation is understand that it's such a critical poignant moment for his character's arc. You know, sometimes the most important part of a book is the ending, right? So, whatever story we're trying to encapsulate and what we're trying to tell at the death of Siddiq, we need to honor that and play it absolutely right and take it so seriously so that there is such an emotional kind of payoff and a weight to it, a thematic weight to it, you know? So, that just made me step myself up, step myself up to the plate, and want to do right by the material and really serve the material and serve the character.
CB: Especially for comic fans, it was even more emphatic twist. I'm curious, were you familiar with the comics? And, if you were, did that set any kind of expectation based on this character of who Dante was in the comics and did that then emphasize your reaction to this twist where he's an undercover Whisperer?
JC: Yeah, I was familiar with the comic. I grew up reading comics. So, I was familiar with Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead, back when it first came out on Image, back then. When I got the role of Dante, I went back to the source material and I absolutely read from Dante's first appearance all the way to the end of this story. I felt that I was, yes, quite, quite familiar with the character of Dante.
When I was made aware of where the diversions in the story, where they were going to come from and how this interpretation of Dante was going to be different, it was exciting to me as a performer. It's exciting and amazing because what that is, is that it gives you, as a performer, a little bit of ownership. Like we're creating something kind of new here. So, that that can be nerve wracking, but it can also be very exciting if you embrace it in the right way, which I did.
But it was also very bitter sweet because I would talk to my brother, who was big into the comics and I would have to hold my tongue on those conversations. He was so excited and he'd tell me, "Oh, this is going to be great. Dante's such an upstanding character. He's this great kind of lieutenant at the Hilltop and he's such an upstanding character. Brandon, I just kind of just hold my tongue, you know, 'Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. Yeah, I bet he's something, okay.'
CB: Did it then make you a little bit nervous about the fan reaction at all when they find out? I know this is a passionate fan base, you know?
JC: It is. It is. All the experiences that I've had from what I've read from fan reactions to things like that have basically been overwhelmingly positive. But I think the fan base of both the show and the comic is primarily a very intelligent fan base and they understand that these are pieces of art that are open to interpretation of that. I think that they really get a kick out of the way that The Walking Dead, as a series, has really grown in to its own kind of unique piece of art form that pays hommage and has ties to the original sourced material but honors it in the right way but also goes its own way into kind of building its own kind of uniqueness.
And so, I think most people are down for that kind of ride. You know? I was familiar with the comic and everything that the series has done in their own way, I think it's always been exciting. I think in the world of comic literature we've been open to characters evolving over time, anyway, that I don't think it's a huge psychological jump as other people might think.
CB: You have a pair of intense scenes in Episode 10x08, one starting right out of the fallout of Siddiq's death with Rosita and Christian Serratos. What was it like to kind of pair up with Christian for such an intense sequence like that?
JC: Oh, it was awesome. It was awesome working with Christian. I've done a lot of onscreen violence in the past, in previous work, and the most important thing is, of course, establishing trust with each other. Trust in each other to be there for the other performer, to tell the story, to go through the choreography of all the violence, but also always caring for the other person and making it safe, right? If you can establish that within like the first minute with the person that you're working with, it's golden. It's fun. If you can concentrate on what actually, what the story we're trying to tell with the violence, as opposed to like, okay, what's the choreography? Bang your head against the wall. I'll kick you in the shin, et cetera, et cetera.
And Christian, like Avi, was such a consummate professional and such a good and open person and willing to go 100% and to really, really live in all that violence, that it was great working with her. It was fantastic. It was fun. Both Avi and her character, they're smaller than me but they're wily and they're strong, and they give as much as, as good as they get in those kinds of things.
It was fantastic.
CB: And then, you have your scene with Seth Gilliam and Father Gabriel, which is awesome because it shows how much that character has changed. Father Gabriel, years ago, wouldn't have done what he did. So, what was it like and was that the last thing you shot on the series?
JC: You know, sometimes in television or film, things aren't shot exactly in sequence. So, I don't remember what my last day of work was, but it might've been a small pickup shot or something. But I do think that, yeah, that was the last major scene that I think I filmed. I believe. I could be wrong.
As far as what that means for the character, I said the same thing to somebody else, that all the deaths in The Walking Dead, or when we lose a character, nothing is arbitrary. Everything is telling the story. It's trying to reveal something about the world in the show or about that character in that specific moment. How is it kind of pushing the story further, you know? Or what more layers to the character are we expressing or exploring with these death moments or these murders.
With Seth's character, I think you nailed it right on the head, what was amazing for me is that I had worked a couple of days with Seth before. Seeing him in his interpretation of Father Gabriel, seeing this person inhabit this character that is all about kind of controlling of our animalistic urges and trying to establish the possibility to have a world of civility and care for the other. And that, the barbarity of the world is outside the walls of Alexandria. Inside, we do things differently. You know, we're not animals back there. We're people and we can forget that.
So, when you see the Father Gabriel character pushed to such a point, just reach like a boiling point that's due to my actions, due to Dante's actions, has soured any semblance of trust and confidence in the safety of the walls inside of Alexandria, spreading mistrust, and literal contingent amongst its inhabitants, destroying multiple lives around them, you know, in circling around him. When you see Gabriel let loose, that kind of animalistic rage, you see that in this world, someone as controlled as him has a breaking point. And that's the ultimate danger of the world of The Walking Dead is when are you going to break?
For a full recap of the mid-season finale, click here. What did you think of the shocking death in The Walking Dead's mid-season 10 finale? Share your thoughts in the comment section or send them my way on Instagram and Twitter.
The Walking Dead will return for the back half of its tenth season in February of 2020.