- Warning: There are major spoilers ahead for season nine, episode 15 of “The Walking Dead,” “The Calm Before.”
- Sunday’s episode brought a huge moment from the comics to life when 10 characters, big and small, were killed and placed along a row of pikes for Daryl, Carol, and more to find.
- Episode director Laura Belsey broke down what went into making that harrowing scene with INSIDER and how she utilised the comics to bring the issue to life.
- Belsey also said the flashback scene isn’t just a story Siddiq came up with. That’s what actually happened before the characters were killed. Showrunner Angela Kang also confirmed this to INSIDER.
King Ezekiel’s fair took a dark turn on Sunday’s episode of “The Walking Dead” when Alpha (played by Samantha Morton) infiltrated the festivities to snatch up 10 members of different communities.
By the episode’s end, the heads of characters both big and small were displayed on a border of pikes as a warning for Daryl, Michonne, Carol, and the communities to stay away from the Whisperers.
INSIDER spoke with episode director Laura Belsey (“Arrow,” “The Flash”) about how she wasn’t expecting to get the opportunity to direct such an iconic moment from the comics, capturing the essence of comic issue No. 144, binge-watching nine seasons of the AMC series, and whether or not Alpha is actually evil.
You may also want to give the end of the episode another watch. Belsey says the final flashback of Tara, Enid, Henry, and more wasn’t a dreamlike sequence of Siddiq’s imagination. It was really some of the final moments for those survivors before they were killed.
Laura Belsey binge-watched the entire show to prep for tonight’s episode. She didn’t know she was originally directing the iconic pike death scene from the comics.
Acuna: How did you get involved with Sunday’s The Walking Dead? Are you a long-time fan of the show, or the comics, or both?
Belsey: I wouldn’t describe myself as a long-time fan, but I am a huge fan. Preparing for the show, I rewatched the entire nine seasons.
Acuna: Oh my goodness. How long did that take you?
Belsey: It took me quite a bit. But I was so excited to be doing “The Walking Dead.” [It’s] such an honour, such a privilege, that I just wanted to be as ready as I could be. The show is wonderful. I mean, if you’re going to binge-watch a show, there’s no show like The Walking Dead.
Acuna: I rewatch it every year as soon as a finale ends, so I know it takes a long time. And I think it shows [that you watched it all], because there are a lot of callbacks to a lot of prior episodes in this one. A lot of people and fans have been waiting to see whether or not the show would deliver the comics’ iconic pike scene, and here we are. Did you know all along that you were going to be directing one of the biggest episodes of the season, and of the show?
Belsey: I didn’t, so I was rather thrilled. When I got the script, it was kind of mind-blowing. And, yeah, it’s an iconic scene, and it’s such a great scene in the comics. I really wanted to honour the visual language of the comics. It’s so inspiring. We really tried to echo some of the imagery because it’s just so unforgettable.
Approaching the iconic pike scene from the comics: Everyone thought it through
Acuna: I wanted to ask how you approached this episode, because I saw it very much like a play in three acts – fun being the fair, fear with Beta and Alpha, and then tragedy with episode’s end.
Belsey: That’s a great analysis. Great point. I mean, there’s an undercurrent, because you know it’s “The Walking Dead,” so people can’t be happy for too long. But the fair was so extraordinary and festive and big and joyful. But still, there’s a dark cloud because there’s always a dark cloud in “The Walking Dead.” We needed that contrast for that ending that’s so utterly tragic to have its full impact.
Acuna: I wanted to ask you a bit about that. I wasn’t expecting to maybe see the pikes happen, if they were going to happen at all, maybe until the finale. Was that something that you and [showrunner] Angela [Kang] discussed at all, making such a big reveal and a big statement in the penultimate episode of the season?
Belsey: I’m not involved in the writing, so honestly, I just got this script, and I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe that this is the script I got.” It is such an iconic turning point, and it is so momentous. All I could say was, just let me just bring this to life the best I can. It’s an honour to have that moment in my episode. I’m really interested in both epic and intimate, and I think that’s why The Walking Dead is just so fabulous. For me, it’s being able to capture the epic scale of the events, and even the epic scale of the fair, but at the same time, it’s very much an intimate story about very human emotions.
Acuna: Now, when you read the script, did that go through any changes at all? I was surprised by some of the people who were selected to be killed off.
Belsey: It didn’t change in the script. I think those decisions were made way before I came onboard. Those are ginormous decisions that are discussed way in advance of the show.
Kirsten: What was the feeling on set directing that whole moment of them coming up the hill and slowly revealing all of the heads one by one?
Belsey: We purposely designed it so when they first come up the hill, you see these little dots on the horizon. You don’t really know what they are, and just kind of milking that. It was really important for us that we had this feeling of them coming closer and closer. And then the sequence of whose head is on the pike was really thought out by all. We all thought it through.
The gut-wrenching moment between Carol and Daryl and how it echoes the same emotions in the Sophia reveal on season two.
Acuna: I want to talk for a moment about the scene between Carol and Daryl when she notices that Henry is on the final pike that’s revealed. Daryl holds her back. Enid’s death really got to me, too, but that was the scene, that was the moment that got me to really tear up, seeing Carol and Daryl’s reactions to Henry. How many times did you need to film that scene? I think that moment is going to gut fans.
Belsey: Yeah. I know, I just got goosebumps re-thinking about that moment. I got teary just thinking about it. Shooting that scene was so intense and powerful, and these actors, they’re just the best. They’re so wonderful, and they delivered from the very first take on. I didn’t do a ton of takes, because I needed to do a bunch of different angles, but they were so there, right there. Just being there with the pikes, experiencing that, just felt so real in a way, that everybody just was at a hundred per cent right out the gate.
Acuna: Well, that moment, because you said you rewatched the whole show, that feels like a direct mirror to season two when we learn that Carol’s daughter Sophia is dead and Daryl holds Carol back. I was getting serious –
Belsey: Exactly. Exactly. That’s one of my favourite episodes of all time [season two, episode seven]. I remember when I saw that, I just bawled my eyes out. So, yes, that is a direct echo from that moment. That cemented this really special bond that Daryl and Carol have. They have such a great, interesting, wonderful bond, and it started with the whole Sophia story and how much he cared.
Belsey: There was also the other season where the other little girls died, and it’s like, “Oh, Carol and children.” It never ends well. How much can she take? But yeah, [Carol and Daryl] have that special bond, and so it was really important in terms of the staging.
How the episode misdirects the audience to make them believe Rosita and King Ezekiel would get killed and receive their comic deaths.
Acuna: One of the things I thought this episode did really well was misdirect the audience. I was so convinced you may kill off Ezekiel and Rosita. Alpha literally chats with Ezekiel, and then right before Tara was shown on the pike, I was convinced it was Rosita because we see Eugene and Gabriel speaking. How much did you guys discuss doing some of those misdirects. Did you have fun with that?
Belsey: Oh, a lot. That was very much by design. That’s part of the fun of “The Walking Dead” is there’s the comic, which is this kind of slightly parallel universe to the TV show, and we know that we have the comic fans. The comic fans knows whose head’s on the pike in the comic, so how do you toy with them just enough without tipping? It was really fun, just playing with all those scenes and all the characters so that they’re given a good goodbye without it being obvious that they were going to go next, and have a few misdirects, like Rosita and Gabriel.
Belsey: We purposely built up a creepiness, this underlying creepiness, so that you’re kind of on edge. We just didn’t want to be too obvious, like, this is Tara’s last scene as a leader. No, give her a heroic moment. I think that was the balance that we all strive for in the writing, the performances, the direction, in all levels. How do we give them the heroic exit that they deserve, but not tip it?
So, Enid, she walks away, and she turns her head back and laughs, we needed that. And just seeing her alive, it was also really important, noting when the last time is that we see each person alive.
That flashback scene at the episode’s end wasn’t Siddiq offering his own version of events to honour Alpha’s victims. Belsey says Enid, Tara, Henry, and the others really did fight the Whisperers until they met their tragic ends.
Belsey: That flashback where they’re fighting, and each person is very heroic, that is also super important just in terms of showing how they fought to the very end. And it’s like, OK, this is the last time we see this character alive.
Acuna: I liked that addition. That flashback sequence, when Siddiq tells that story at the very end, is that what really happened? I figured that was just his version of the story that he wants everyone to hear.
Belsey: I think it’s really what happened. We believe it was all what happened.
Acuna: OK. I think that’s an important distinction to make, because then that makes that moment more powerful. I thought he was just being nice and telling everyone this story that he wanted them to hear.
Belsey: No, it’s real, and I think that’s where his emotion came from, because his emotion is genuine. I think that whole last scene was so powerful because it was real. That did actually happen. We leave it kind of, you know, it’s impressionistic. We wanted it to feel not all the details are there. We don’t really know exactly how Henry was killed. We just see that last walk in the end when she appears, when Alpha appears, over the curtain spread, and she walks through, and you’re like, “Oh, sh–.”
We let our imaginations fill up the gaps. You don’t really know exactly what happened. It’s more about the emotional experience of their last moments than exactly how they each died.*
Acuna: OK. Well, I need to go back and watch that again, because that gives me a little bit of a different perspective now.
What was it like directing Samantha Morton as she infiltrated the fair in disguise?
Acuna: What was it like directing Samantha Morton in this episode, because she’s just fantastically scary in every scene she’s in, whether she’s Debbie or Alpha.
Belsey: Oh, she’s so great, and Debbie is so creepy. She’s just wonderful. She’s just such a fantastic actress. And she gets so deeply into her character, it’s quite wonderful.
Acuna: Yeah. I love that there’s this big change that’s made. In the comic, she’s bald when she visits the fair, but I always thought she was going to get caught in the comics, because she looked very distinguished. Were there ever discussions on whether or not to have her with that bald look, or was the plan to always go with the wig?
Belsey: Oh, it was always going to be the wig that she scalps from the woman from Hilltop, Hilde. It was always going to be that. We discussed the hair a lot.
Acuna: Later in the episode, after Alpha lets Daryl go, we see her cry and show a little bit of emotion, but she wants to do it in silence. Then she captures someone sneak a glance of her. It’s not clear exactly if they see her cry or not, but regardless, she calls them over and instantly kills them. I’m guessing she just doesn’t want to be seen as weak by anyone. Is that what we should take away from that?
Belsey: That’s part of what Alpha’s all about. And that scene comes straight from the comic. In some of the shots, I was very inspired by the comic, and don’t want say listened to them, but really did a homage to the comic in some of the shots.
Acuna: I could tell.
Belsey: That scene is a very, it’s a really powerful moment in the comic, too. Because she can’t show weakness. She thinks that’s the worst of the worst.
Acuna: Right. This episode follows very closely to Issue 144. A lot of the dialog between Daryl and Alpha is what’s between Alpha and Rick. There’s one moment that was kept out from the comics, so this is why I was questioning that scene a little bit. We see Alpha cry, probably over her daughter, Lydia. But in the comics, we actually see her put down this façade for a moment and go to Rick and pull him in and say, “You’ve got to go take care of my daughter. I want something better for her.” So I was wondering if Alpha on the show, is she putting on this same act or is she straight-up evil? We see her have that similar emotional moment on her own and she doesn’t kill her daughter.
Belsey: No, she really loves her daughter. That’s the thing. The truth is, Alpha really loves her daughter and in a weird way, I think that she wants her daughter to be safe. And I think that in a weird way, that’s why she doesn’t kill Daryl. She senses that he’s somebody who could protect Lydia in the end. I think that is really important to her, ultimately, despite her saying she doesn’t care and all that. She’s a mother, first and foremost. And she wants her daughter to survive and live and be OK.
The legacy this episode will leave behind
Acuna: What do you hope people take away from this episode? Now that you just binge-watched all nine seasons, what do you want its legacy to be in the “Walking Dead” universe?
Belsey: That’s a big question. I’m just honored to be a part of that universe. I do think that the pikes are pretty iconic and pretty significant, just from its very nature. So, that was a big responsibility to do that with as much punch and power and grace, and sensitivity and emotion as we can. So I hope that people, just that scene will haunt them.
Belsey: You know, I direct a lot of TV shows. This was particularly special to me. And I couldn’t shake that scene. I sat in the editing room. You spend hours and hours and usually by the time I walk away from the editing room, I walk away. But I’d be walking down the street and I’d be thinking about the scene all the time. So, hopefully that will have the same effect on other people. I couldn’t shake that scene for weeks after I was done with the show. The faces there, you know, how all of them would react. I was haunted by it. And hopefully it will haunt other people too.
Acuna: I think it will. The Carol and Daryl scene especially. I watched it side-by-side with that season two moment with Sophia as well. Laura, is there anything else you wish to add about what you really enjoyed about working on this episode?
Belsey: Again, the writers are so awesome. Angela’s just amazing. It was just such a joy. So I feel very fortunate. I feel like I won the lottery with this one. It’s just such a great episode to do. And being such a fan of the show, I just feel honored.
*In an email, showrunner Angela Kang confirmed to INSIDER the flashback sequence at the episode’s end really happened. It was not just a story Siddiq told to placate the rest of the survivors. Enid, Tara, Tammy Rose, and everyone else did fight until they were killed and put on pikes.
What did you think of Sunday’s episode of “The Walking Dead”? You can follow along with all of our show coverage here.
- Read more:
- 10 details you may have missed on Sunday’s “The Walking Dead”
- ‘Everyone wants to see this’: ‘The Walking Dead’ star hopes we’ll get an Alpha and Carol showdown
- ‘The Walking Dead’s’ Katelyn Nacon was ‘bummed out’ her character was pushed into another love interest role
- ‘The Walking Dead’ star Katelyn Nacon was surprised Sunday’s big moment from the comics didn’t include iconic characters
- Sunday’s episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ mirrored an iconic Carol and Daryl moment from season 2
- The most shocking deaths on ‘The Walking Dead’ ranked
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