The Walking Dead Showrunner Explains "Variant" Walkers

"I've heard stories of walkers that can climb walls and open doors. I was never sure if they were just stories," said Aaron (Ross Marquand) in the full-length trailer for The Walking Dead's last episodes. The footage that debuted during San Diego Comic-Con showed glimpses of seemingly "smart" zombies similar to those in the show's first season, where the Atlanta group survived more brainy walkers. These stronger and faster "variant cohorts," as CDC virologist Dr. Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich) referred to them, may have been born in the French lab seen in the post-credits epilogue of The Walking Dead: World Beyond.

In Part 3 of The Walking Dead Season 11, returning October 2 on AMC, these variant walkers will up the stakes as the survivors make their last stand in the fight for the Commonwealth.

"In some way, it is a throwback to some of the walkers we saw back in the very, very first season of The Walking Dead. But not everybody ever encountered those walkers," executive producer and showrunner Angela Kang said during a Comic-Con press conference. "It's almost like it was a variant that just was regional. And anytime there is a change to the rules, that means that people just need to be that much on their game because they're realizing that the methods that they used to survive don't quite work the same way."

Kang added: "Our survivors need to be very, very smart and try to adjust to that, and that is one of the many conflicts that they will be dealing with in the final block of episodes."

Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Morgan Jones (Lennie James) may have encountered these variants in the show's first season. In the pilot, a little girl walker picked up a teddy bear, and Morgan's reanimated wife tried opening a door; in another episode that same season, walkers were able to scale a fence and smash a department store window with a rock.

But Scott Gimple, the co-creator of World Beyond and chief content officer of AMC's Walking Dead Universe, noted that the variants aren't "smart." 

"World Beyond-wise, I just would say, I wouldn't co-sign on the word 'smart' for the walkers," Gimple teased, adding, "There's something going on there." 

Gimple previously revealed these variant cohorts are part of a "big story" set within the Walking Dead Universe, which will continue to expand with multiple spinoff series. They include the untitled Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) solo show set in Europe; Isle of the Dead, which follows Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) into post-apocalyptic New York City; and the just-announced spinoff reuniting Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira). 

"The coda after World Beyond had everything to do with the past and future of The Walking Dead Universe," Gimple said in a statement aired on Talking Dead in December. "There is another big story that will be told relating to that scene, and we can't wait to start showing it to the world."

The Walking Dead: The Last Episodes begin airing Sunday, October 2 on AMC and AMC+.

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