Warning: This interview for “The Damned” episode of The Walking Dead contains spoilers.
First, let’s confirm it: that baby, baby Gracie, that Rick found in the crib at the Saviors outpost is very much alive. It was traumatic for Rick and for the audience to see that sweet little bundle in the midst of such violence, so the first thing we wanted to know from The Walking Dead co-executive producer Denise Huth was that Gracie was all right. Physically speaking, anyway… her father was just brutally killed by Rick, a fact that most definitely rattled Mr. Grimes.
Rick’s other shocking moment this week: coming face-to-face with his old pal Morales, the fellow Atlanta survivor who parted ways with Rick’s group all the way back in Season 1’s “Wildfire.” There is still much to find out about Morales, but, we do know that he appears to be aligned with the Saviors, and that he’s pointing a gun at Rick.
Huth talked to Yahoo Entertainment about why Morales is re-entering the scene now, and assures us that there is much more to come from the surprising reunion. She also discusses Morgan’s meltdown during his squad’s attack of the Saviors’ satellite station outpost, why Negan’s lieutenant Mara went from super confident to super freaked out during the resistance team’s attack, and how Carol has come around to seeing the method in King Ezekiel’s theatrical leadership.
Congratulations on the new season, with now back-to-back episodes that feel like they’re both a half-hour long because they’re so action- and story-packed.
Yeah, they all just feed into each other, starting with the premiere, and then this episode. I feel like every episode ends with you wanting [more]: “When is the next one starting?!” Because it’s such a strong, continuous story. It doesn’t have the built-in pauses that we oftentimes have. This season is war, so it’s just non-stop action. We always leave it wanting to get to that next piece of the story.
I have to start with Rick and the baby. That’s a new story for us to see, this baby in the middle of the war. Rick is very traumatized when he walks into that room and sees it’s a nursery. The baby looks like she’s sleeping. There are no obvious marks of trauma around her. Is she okay? Is she really just sleeping?
Yes, she’s definitely really sleeping. It’s a peaceful little baby there in her room, and I absolutely love that moment in this episode. Again, we’ve had so much action, such non-stop action and excitement, gunfire, and Rick has this brutal hand-to-hand fight with this man who he doesn’t know. And they’re fighting to the death. Rick’s face — he’s fighting so hard because he thinks the guns that they’re looking for are going to be in this locked room, and then he opens the door and discovers a baby. It’s absolutely the last thing he expected.
I love it because it shows that Rick and the Saviors in general — and that Savior in particular — are not really that different. They both have their own lives, and Rick has a little girl at home, too. This perfectly innocent, beautiful little creature who has no idea what just happened to her life, that her whole life just changed because her dad just died, that suggests what could happen to Judith at any time. It is traumatic for Rick. It puts a little bit of humanity in the face of this war. We’re very much in this place of just action and fighting and we have to win, and it’s one of those beautiful little moments where we just get to take a tiny pause and say, “Okay, what are we really fighting for, and what do we really stand to lose?” It’s a lovely little moment of quiet in the midst of this insane episode.
All the little details, too — that her name, Gracie, is painted on the wall, animals painted on the walls, the cute mobile with hand-drawn animals. Rick looking at himself in the mirror, as you said, you can tell he’s thinking all of these things, that this could be him, his child. This happens a lot in this episode. There are several characters who are confronted with their humanity in the heat of battle. You can imagine how crazy that is for them, on top of what they’re trying to do, that they could be shot any minute. To add these bigger-picture moments is intense.
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. We see it also with Morgan certainly, and Tara, and Jesus, and all these amazing moments that are happening of, what is the cost of war? And what is it costing them as they move through this process? They had to kill a lot of people in this episode. There’s a lot of death, and yet, when Tara is faced with somebody with his hands up, she’s prepared to shoot him, and Jesus is not. And it’s something we’ll definitely see play out this season, because it is a factor of war. It’s easy to say we’re going to go in and we’re going to kill them because we have to win, but when you’re actually faced with the task of doing it and ruining another life, it is a big deal, and it should be a big deal.
With Morgan, he’s sort of slipping a little bit back into “Clear” mode. He’s always been conflicted about his philosophy after meeting Eastman and what may be necessary to do going forward, but I think the most crushing thing about it with Morgan is that he is very aware that he’s vulnerable to, as he puts it, not being able to stop killing once he starts.
Yeah. I just love Morgan’s story. It’s so heartbreaking, because we’ve seen the full cycle with him. We saw him in “Clear” and how bad he was doing. He was really not well, and then Eastman really saved him, and he knew that this whole philosophy he took on of “all life is precious” was saving him. And when he was sort of forced out of that at the end of last season with Richard and with everything that happened with Benjamin — it’s getting harder and harder for him to hang on. He knows it’s happening; it’s not like he’s unaware of it. He definitely knows it’s happening, and he doesn’t know how to stop it. Now that he’s opened the door to killing again, it’s a slippery slope for him, and you see that struggle with it and kind of overtaking his idea of where is he in this world and what is his role in this world.
And just his whole line of saying, “I don’t die” — it’s not a thing of “Oh, I don’t die because I’m bulletproof.” It’s almost a curse. It’s almost, “I’m not going to die. My fate is I see everybody else die.” That’s absolute torture for him. It is especially crushing because we’ve seen him at peace. We’ve seen him figure out how to live in this world where he doesn’t feel that curse, and now that curse is back, and it’s just heartbreaking.
There is a little moment with Morgan, when he’s confronted by Jared, the nasty Savior who killed Benjamin. Morgan is ready to shoot Jared, but he stops. He allows Jesus to talk him out of killing Jared. Is that Morgan’s rational side peeking back through? Does he snap back to a point where he sees that if he killed Jared it would only be out of revenge, not out of an immediate danger from Jared?
Yeah. It’s an amazing thing that Jesus is there to stop him, and I think that’s the only thing that’s kind of holding him back from completely unleashing. I love their exchange there, where [Jesus says], “This is not what we do.” “Well, then what do we do?” Morgan doesn’t know how to exist unless he’s on this killing spree, this path he’s gone down again. Fortunately, he has these people around him, and Jesus is the one in that moment who can stop him and pull him back a little bit. I just love that we get to see that struggle within Morgan, that he can’t quite do it himself, but he’s still in a place where others can pull him back. He is fighting it, but he knows where he’s been before. We saw a glimpse of it in “Clear,” but Morgan knows where he’s been, and how hard it was for him to get out of it.
Savior outpost leader Mara… She’s pretty confident, pretty sure of herself and her ability and her people’s ability to hold off this resistance when the attack begins. But the minute she’s confronted by a walker, she falls apart and it costs her her life. Are we seeing that Negan has left some of his people vulnerable to that? Her reaction to that walker was in such contrast to how she reacted to other humans. Maybe that’s a vulnerability for a lot of the Saviors, that they are fine killing and defending themselves against humans, but maybe not so much with the walkers?
I think really the whole thing going on there was, the Saviors are extremely confident. They have managed to crush every group of people they’ve come up against and get them in line and make them work for them. So when the attack first starts and our group rolls up with these guns blazing and fighting the Saviors, that is something Mara is prepared for, and she thinks she has it under control. She says earlier, “Oh, they’re [too scared] to move in on us,” and she thinks they’re just hanging back and firing, and it’s in that moment before she gets attacked by the walker that she sees somebody start to turn. And that’s when it clicks for her, what our group’s plan actually was, which was that they were never intending to move in on them. They never intended it to become a hand-to-hand fight. It was all about killing as many as they can from a distance, and waiting for them to turn so that they, themselves, become the weapon.
It shows that sometimes the Saviors can be overconfident, and they underestimate who they’re dealing with when they’re dealing with Rick’s group. It was a smart plan. It was like, keep them trapped in there as long as you can until their people start turning. And she definitely did not anticipate that at all.
Eric’s in this battle, and we find out towards the end that he’s been shot. I didn’t see it happen. It seems like it may have happened and either we didn’t recognize it, or he was shot maybe early on and was just continuing to fight through with a gunshot wound.
It happened in the course of battle, and he just kept going. There’s injuries, so we’ll have to see what happens with Eric. But, you can’t have a gunfight without people getting shot on both sides, and it definitely was inevitable in this situation.
Ezekiel and Carol… I love Ezekiel’s line, “Fake it ’til you make it, baby,” and Khary Payton’s delivery. He told Carol who he was when they first met, but did she really not understand how far he takes that and how much his people rely on his theatrical leadership role to make them feel confident and safe? She doesn’t roll her eyes, but there are a couple of moments where you can tell she wants to. She kind of shakes her head a little bit, but it appears that she really finally now understands just how important this is to what he’s built with the Kingdom, and how he maintains it.
Yeah, absolutely. I think she did understand it. I think her concern really was him perhaps not understanding the reality of what they were going up against. This isn’t just about keeping people insulated inside of the walls and convincing them and letting them believe that everything can be okay. This is an assault that they’re going on, and odds are that people are going to get hurt. People are going to die. And Carol wants to make sure he understands that reality, which I think he does. But it’s also the things he’s saying throughout the episode, when he’s like, “It’s going to work out. We’re going to get there. Fake it ’til you make it,” and they catch breaks along the way of this episode. So, they are able to catch [the Saviors lookout guy]. They are able to continue with the plan to get to the outpost that they need to hit as well.
I think Carol comes around a little bit, just saying, “You know what? He’s right,” and if you stay positive, and keep that motivation going, it does inspire the people who are following them to take on things that are impossible. And [Ezekiel’s] confidence and his positivity really is a great asset. It is a great tool for that group of dreamers who are out there. It’s not unrealistic. I don’t think Ezekiel is naïve. I think he’s aware that things could happen, but he’s not going into it planning for loss. He’s going into it planning for victory, and that’s the only way he can approach it.
We have to talk about Morales.
Morales! Such a shocker for Rick, obviously, to find him at the outpost, and for the audience. And it’s such a great reward for viewers who’ve been watching since the beginning, to find out Morales has survived, too. It’s a hopeful thing, but then immediately you have to assume, given where he is at this moment, that some traumatic things have happened to him during that time. When did you decide to bring him back? Why now? Why at this point in the storyline?
[Showrunner] Scott [Gimple] always has these ideas kicking around in his head, and I think he made this decision pretty early on in the writing process of this season, that if there is a way we can bring Morales back and find out what’s going on with him, he wanted to do that. Morales is one of the few characters where we don’t know what happened to him. Most of our characters don’t just go off the show. They almost always die [if they leave]. To have somebody like him from Season 1, who just left with his family, and there’s that question mark always of, “I wonder what happened to that guy…” I think to bring him back now, where Rick is and where Rick is in this massive fight, and he’s up against the biggest opponent of his life, it’s really, really interesting to bring back somebody who knew him as he was in the very beginning. And obviously Morales has been through a lot. The fact that he’s there at one of Negan’s outposts says a lot, and it was really a sad thing to see these two characters who spent this little bit of time together at the very beginning, and we know the whole journey Rick has been on. We don’t yet know the whole journey Morales has been on, but they’re obviously in no way the same two men they were back when they knew each other.
I think it’s a good mirror to put in front of Rick, to be like, “Okay, dude, here’s your past. Your past is right in front of you,” and see how much you’ve changed, and see how much he’s changed. When I first heard of it, I was so excited, because it’s always fun to bring back elements from the story from way back in the beginning.
And when they last knew each other, they very much thought of each other as good men. That was the last impression they had of each other.
And now I think their definition of what a good man is is probably very, very different than what it was back then.
When Rick picks up that picture he’s looking at when Morales comes up behind him, did he recognize Morales in the photo?
Yeah. It’s a pretty subtle moment, and the photograph was very blurry, but it is a photo of Morales and his wife. There is that click of recognition. There’s a little bit of an audible from Rick in there, recognizing that he knows who this person is, and yet, how can that possibly be? It was so long ago. It was in such a different place. He does have a click of recognition before Morales appears with the gun.
Is that gun that he’s holding on Rick the same gun that Rick gave him when Morales and his family were leaving to go to Birmingham in “Wildfire”?
Oh, wow. You know, I don’t remember if we did that or not. I don’t think so, but I honestly don’t remember.
Did Morales know that Rick was part of the resistance against the Saviors? Did he know who he was approaching when he came up behind Rick?
I believe when he saw Rick there in the room, he knew it was Rick, but I don’t think prior to that he knew this person who was going up against Negan was the Rick that he knew. I think it’s a surprise to him to discover him there, but when he walked into the room, he knew who it was.
So, safe to assume that we’ll find out more about where Mr. Morales has been all this time?
I think we’ll definitely find out more about Morales, yes.
Is there anything else you can tease about next week’s episode, “Monsters”?
You know, it’s another epic episode. It picks up the action, with all these different storylines we’ve been going into, and continues them. It’s more action-packed and [there are] more surprises, and it just keeps building. The whole season, I feel like, every episode sort of layers on top of each other and builds the tension and builds what is at stake, and [“Monsters”] certainly continues that.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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