There’s never been a season of The Walking Dead quite like this one. With six additional episodes added on as an epilogue to its original finale, season 10 will go down as the longest season in the show’s history. This, of course, wasn’t the plan, but when the Covid-19 pandemic forced productions to grind to a halt last March, AMC had to figure out how to shoot its popular zombie drama safely, while also considering what kind of material it could realistically film when crowded hordes of walkers in enclosed spaces are no longer an option.
The first step was actually completing post-production on “A Certain Doom,” the season’s originally planned finale, an action-packed final battle between the heroes and the Whisperers that featured thousands of walkers on screen. The crew was still tinkering with the episode when the lockdown began, which meant AMC couldn’t realistically air the episode last April. “A Certain Doom” finally hit in October, on what would’ve been the traditional start date for a new season of the show.
Since then, showrunner Angela Kang and her team have been hard at work on six “extra” episodes (as described by AMC) meant to bridge the gap between season 10 and a 24-episode final season that will bring the show to a close but also lead into several spinoffs, including one starring Norman Reedus (Daryl) and Melissa McBride (Carol). Kang tells us ahead of the premiere of “Home Sweet Home,” the unprecedented 17th episode of season 10, that work has already began on season 11.
“I think we were one of the earlier shows to start filming again. And so there was a lot that had to happen behind the scenes to really figure out how to do this safely. Luckily, we’re not the only production that had to figure this all out. So I think there was really this kind of great industry-wide effort to try to protect our actors and our crew,” Kang says.
But how did filming in the middle of a pandemic affect what you’ll see on screen when the show returns on Sunday? Well, for one thing, episodes 17 to 22 will feel much more intimate, with smaller stories that focus in on just a few characters at a time. A big theme of these six episodes is the past and how certain characters come to terms with where they’ve been. Maggie reckons with why she left the Hilltop in the first place in “Home Sweet Home,” while Daryl revisits the years he spent searching for Rick in “Find Me.” Season 10 will close with “Here’s Negan,” an origin story for the villain that is set to introduce the real Lucille.
“For these particular six, we really had a lot of specific restrictions in terms of the number of people involved in any one of these episodes,” Kang says. “We had to film everything basically on our studio lot or on the backlot which has a lot of woods and fields. And I think we used one outside location that’s down the street from the studio.”
The first two episodes of the new bunch do indeed feature a lot of walking through the woods, although the show finds ways to make things interesting. “Home Sweet Home” introduces a new threat that will likely linger for the next few episodes, while “Find Me” puts a spotlight on Dog, a sure-fire way of keeping our attention. Seriously, fans of Daryl’s very good boy aren’t ready for all the cute Dog content.
This is how filming all of this stuff works during a pandemic, according to Kang: “Everybody is there in masks and face shields and goggles. They stay distant. The actors, they’re the ones who have to take their masks off to be on camera. So everything becomes about how do we create just this bubble of safety around our actors? For our production, we got a mobile lab so we could process tests really quickly and all of that.
“It takes longer to film an episode of a piece now. It’s shorter hours each day, which I think crews tend to really like. But we’ve got more days to do everything so that nobody feels like really rushed. Everybody’s getting plenty of rest.”
While the wheels are turning a bit slower than usual because of the added restrictions and safety protocols, Kang is glad the industry is rethinking how it can best protect the wellbeing of both the cast and crew.
“I actually think there are some safety and hygiene things that I hope frankly stick in our industry.”
As per what’s next on the show’s production schedule now that season 10 has truly wrapped, Kang says everyone is now focused on the final season.
“It’s definitely been a huge learning experience all around, but now we’re back to filming a really big season premiere for season 11 so it’s rolling along. It’s like we were able to apply those lessons from this into something that feels more like our regular content.”
The Walking Dead season 10 returns to AMC on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 9 pm ET.