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Melissa McBride said she “blacked out” when she heard the show was ending.
“I had a blackout,” McBride told Insider over Zoom alongside cast member Norman Reedus of her reaction to hearing that season 11 would be the last for the show. “I completely blacked out.”
McBride has played Carol Peletier, one of the show’s few remaining original cast members, since season one.
“I was outside sitting on the deck and I heard and I think I was just stunned,” McBride said. “Stunned.”
Norman Reedus said he was the first cast member to learn the show was ending.
“I was sitting in the backyard under an orange tree sitting in the dirt with my daughter, peeling an orange and got the call,” Reedus recently told Insider over Zoom of where he was when he learned “TWD” was ending.
“I was like, ‘What are you talking about?'” Reedus continued. “And they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, this is happening. And that’s happening. And this is happening.’ And I was like, ‘What did everybody else say?’ They said, ‘We haven’t called anybody else yet.”
Reedus has played Daryl Dixon, an original character separate from “TWD” comics, since the show’s first season. Since the show’s main star Andrew Lincoln departed the series in late 2018, Reedus has become one of the show’s primary leads.
Reedus said he was instructed to not tell anyone else that the show was ending. That didn’t last long.
“I think I immediately called Melissa [McBride],” Reedus said.
Reedus said he immediately had a bunch of questions after learning the news.
“I was more thinking like, ‘How does it end? Do we all die in slow motion? Do we find a cure? Do they just nuke us from space? Like what happens?'” Reedus said of wondering how they’ll wrap up the series.
Showrunner Angela Kang said it was bittersweet to learn the show was ending.
“It’s really bittersweet for me and everybody on the show, too,” Kang told Insider shortly after the news was announced last fall. “We have not known forever. We obviously knew it a bit in advance of it being announced.”
Kang took over as showrunner on season nine as its star Andrew Lincoln was getting ready to depart. After losing its way a bit, she helped turn the show around with two great seasons and unexpected twists from the comic to keep the series fresh.
“This has been such a big part of my life and the lives of everybody that’s been working on the show for many years,” said Kang, who has been with the series since season two. “Our hearts are so in this show and in the family of cast and crew and even executives and everybody that [has] been been along this journey. For the writers, for my team, they basically found out kind of the same time as others.”
At the time, Kang said they were readjusting to figure out how to “tell a fantastic story that brings the series to a close in a way that hopefully feels satisfying and true to this series.”
“It’s definitely a bittersweet time and just lots of focus on going forward into the future,” Kang added.
Khary Payton thought he was receiving a call to find out his character was getting killed off the show.
“I remember I was getting a call from both Angela Kang and Scott Gimple, and half the time when you’re getting a phone call from just one of your two showrunners, it’s about the demise of your character,” Payton, who has played Ezekiel since season seven, told Insider over the phone in August.
“Both of them needing to be on the phone to talk to me about something… I was sure that there was a demise of some kind coming,” Payton continued. “I just didn’t realize that it would be of the show itself, which was shocking.”
The pandemic threw off the shooting schedule for the series, which, in theory, should have premiered its 11th season last fall. Typically, seasons run 16 episodes. Last fall, AMC announced the final season will have an extended 24 episodes in addition to adding six bonus episodes to season 10.
At the time, Kang told Insider the 30 final episodes would more or less play as two final seasons of the show.
“Having to wait an entire year to even get started was kind of crazy,” Payton said. “To have kind of a super-sized season made it a little less bitter, because we knew that we were going to be here for a while.”
“Normally we would be starting to edge toward the end of our season at about this time of the year and we are nowhere near the end of the season,” Payton added. “We’ve still got most of our season left to shoot.”
In April, Kang told Insider season 11 would likely film through March 2022.
“I’m kind of putting off the sadness and the tears and trying to remain kind of a student of the moment and enjoy the story that we’re telling here now,” Payton said.
Josh McDermitt thought he was having a pretty normal phone call with Kang until she said she was patching in Gimple.
“I was at home and Scott Gimple and Angela Kang called me and gave me a heads up and I was bummed and they were bummed,” McDermitt, who has played Eugene since season four, told Insider over a Zoom call in August.
Unlike Payton, Josh McDermitt didn’t think he was getting a call that he may be killed off. He said he speaks with both Gimple and Kang “frequently enough” that it didn’t catch him off guard to receive a call.
“I think it was Angela who actually called,” McDermitt said of the moment he found out about the show ending. “Then she said, ‘Hey, I’m going to loop in Scott.’ That moment, I was like, ‘Oh, that doesn’t happen often.'”
“I didn’t think they were going to announce that it was the final season,” McDermitt said, adding that he didn’t know what they were calling for. “Sometimes it’s, ‘Hey, we have this idea.’ Scott calls me all the time, too. He called me the other day to tell me about some George Lucas museum that was opening up. So it’s not even always ‘Walking Dead’ related when we have a conversation.”
“Angela and I, she loves bread and I’ve been baking bread lately,” McDermitt added of making bread for the showrunner. “We’re all friends. We don’t just always talk about the show. So, I don’t think it caught me off guard too much until [Kang] said, I’m looping in Scott. I was like, ‘Oh, what’s this? This is interesting.”
Of the show ending, McDermitt said he looks at how Michael Cudlitz, who played his pal Abraham on the show, has gone on to other projects and hopes “The Walking Dead” will be one role in a list of projects he gets the opportunity to work on after it’s over.
“I’ve been on the show for eight years. I can’t ignore the fact that this is a big part of my career. I’m excited for what’s next, and, at the same time, I’m just sad,” McDermitt said.
After learning the news, he, like many others, checked in on his castmates.
“I wanted to know how everyone else was feeling about it,” McDermitt said. “Everyone certainly has different feelings about it.”
“It’s not easy to hear that you’re losing your job even if you’re ready to move on,” McDermitt said with a laugh, clarifying, “I’m not saying, ‘Hey, I’m ready and I want out of here,’ I’m just saying, ‘OK, I’ve processed this, let’s go do something else.’ It’s still not easy to go, ‘Oh, I have a home in Georgia [where ‘TWD’ is filmed] that I have to pack up.'”
Paola Lázaro was in New York when she learned the news.
“I cried a little bit and I checked in with my castmates because some of them have been on this for many years, so it’s very deep for them,” Lázaro, who plays fan-favorite Princess, told Insider in March of when she first learned the show would be ending.
“We’re ready and we’re excited that we get one more year to really put the best that we can out there,” Lázaro added, saying they’re saving the farewells for down the road. “We’re mostly just excited. We love what we do and we’ll deal with saying our goodbye later.”