The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang says AMC Networks is taking "an abundance of caution in every way" as production gets underway on the six new Season 10 episodes designed for safe filming amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, the Georgia-shot Walking Dead pushed its planned shooting start on a new season by three to four weeks; seven months later, the zombie drama is stirring back to life. Armed with a team of epidemiologists, an infectious disease specialist turned on-set health and safety supervisor, and smaller-scale scripts produced with social distancing in mind, the Walking Dead cast and crew are back to work on bonus episodes extending the tenth season into early next year.
"It basically was a months-long process for the production and for AMC to get everything up and running and safe," Kang said during a Walking Dead panel at virtual New York Comic Con, adding various unions came together in consultation with expert epidemiologists to proceed carefully. "So when everybody comes back to set to film, it's going to be a completely different situation."
In addition to thrice-weekly COVID testing, the set's newly outfitted health protection protocols make for safe-as-possible shooting as cast and crew return to the (mostly outdoors) zombie apocalypse.
"Everybody will have masks and face shields, they've done the trailers differently, there are sanitation stations everywhere. There are UV lights and air scrubbers and things on the stages," Kang said. "There's a former military infectious diseases specialist who is our health and safety supervisor. So it's an abundance of caution in every way."
The coronavirus has also impacted how the Walking Dead writers' room developed these six new episodes, which bridge the eleventh and final season scheduled for release later in 2021. Now a 24-episode season spanning two years, The Walking Dead Season 11 would have reached AMC this month were it not for the prolonged shutdown.
From a creative standpoint, Kang explained, "We've had to think a lot about how we tell the stories so that they're satisfying and dive into character and give a little bit of adventure, but being really creative about how many people we can have in a scene. How can you show things while keeping people a little bit distant whenever we can?"
That means holding off on hordes of zombie extras done up in Greg Nicotero's special effects makeup, but such limitations have "forced us to really think outside of the box because we've had a box around us in terms of how to do it safely," Kang said. "But I think that's been good for us creatively."
When Negan actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan praised AMC for doing a "really good job" in terms of safety, Kang added, "I think our line producer and everybody on the crew of producers and the studio have been amazing. Every question has been, 'Okay, what problem has happened here, how do we solve it?' They've taken it so seriously."
The scripts have already drawn praise from the cast. Lauren Cohan, who returned as Maggie Rhee in the original season finale that aired October 4, is on record praising these next installments as the "best episodes that [she's] ever read."
"It's more character-driven, because of COVID, it's kind of changed the dynamic a little bit. Also, I think after such an epic battle at the end of this season I think you need some breathing room," Daryl Dixon actor Norman Reedus said in a previous interview, referring to the blockbuster finish to the Whisperer War. "I think people need to exhale and take a look around them, and I think that's what's happening now. I'm sure it'll ramp back up again but right now it's kind of an introspective exhale sort of a feel, which is nice. It's a nice tone."
Reedus, Cohan, Morgan, and Carol actress Melissa McBride are among the Walking Dead stars reporting back to set for these new episodes expected to air early in 2021 on AMC. For all things TWD, follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter.