Spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched The Walking Dead's latest episode, 'The Key.'
Every once in a while, The Walking Dead pulls off some left-field introductions that alter the narrative's path in delightfully intriguing ways. For the high-intensity episode "The Key," that miracle took the form of surprise guest star Jayne Atkinson (of House of Cards fame), who arrived on the scene as the benevolently mysterious Georgie. (Whose surname I half-seriously assume is Ex-Machina.) With chummy enforcers Hilda and Midge in tow, Georgie appeared with a big offer and some very promising wares.
The perfectly splendid Jayne Atkinson spoke with CinemaBlend ahead of the episode, and we obviously talked a lot about her Delphic new character. We hope you guys are as suspiciously enchanted with Georgie as we were, because here's everything we know about her.
1. Georgie's Backstory
As far as we know, Georgie's approach to contacting communities starts with inciting a bartering scenario, in which food and musical phonographs are traded for a civilization-building manifesto of sorts -- absolutely no spoken word records, though. Georgie was dressed well enough, and in clean clothes, and five seconds into her introduction, it was clear she is unlike almost every other late-stage survivor we've met over the years. So where did she come from? Here's what Jayne Atkinson told me about how Georgie's background was approached.
With very broad brushstrokes. I talked with Scott Gimple -- that's where she comes from: his head and his imagination -- and he keeps things very close to the chest. I think what was written on the page gave me a lot of clues. But he sort of plumped that up with the idea that she's somebody who has spent a lot of time in research, studying history, that she almost seems professorial, and very wise. [She] is passionate about civilization. So, one could imagine she might have been a teacher at a university. One could imagine that she has, from a very young girl, studied and been passionate about civilization. And that she is not afraid; for wherever she comes from, she's not afraid. He didn't really go into much more detail than that, but he did really infuse me with the sense that she has a lot of knowledge, and that she has some power, because she's not afraid.
Indeed, Georgie comes across very much like someone used to standing in front of large groups of people and convincing them that what she's saying needs to be heard. And if her own profession was within education, then perhaps her hobbies included engineering and construction, or maybe one or both of her parents were involved in city planning and infrastructure. Not that windmills and watermills are super-modern ways of assisting society, but knowing someone within her then-local government would possibly allow her access to those kinds of plans and schematics. Whatever Georgie's past actually is, Atkinson formed her own further assumptions about the character's history in order to bring her to life.
What I wanted to bring, what I wanted to emanate, was a very confident, robust and gentle human being. Does that make sense? Somebody who, if you're with her long enough, you're gonna break down and want to know what she's about, and move out of fear, and into curiosity. That's what I wanted to communicate. So I made decisions that wherever she's from, she is not surviving, she's thriving. She has created a world where she's from where she's safe, and she has knowledge. So that was a lot of fun for me. I hope the creators are happy with her. [laughs]
Georgie, Hilda and Midge are a lot more calm than most people would be in this kind of a situation. They were the ones who initiated communication, so they're obviously confident about their tactics' combined success rate. There's always the chance that Georgie is just full of shit, of course, and is attempting to trick Maggie in some way. But she's a little too trusting and pragmatic for us to automatically suspect ulterior motives.
2. Georgie's Main Purposes
Okay, so if we can assume that Georgie might have been a teacher in her pre-apocalypse life, then are we to assume that her end goal in reaching out to Maggie is for the same kind of educational reasons? In some ways, yes. As Jayne Atkinson put it, Georgie is not there only to disperse practical and technical knowledge, but to impart a distilled and seemingly untarnished vision of hope. In her words:
I call her an inoculation of hope. She brings into, certainly Hilltop and to Maggie, a sense of purpose and hope. She tells Maggie, like a mother in a way, 'I expect great things from you.' I loved that line. You know, think of the people who have influenced your life, and maybe changed the course of your life because they raised the bar for you. Because I think there is a metaphor in this apocalyptic world for the human experience, and we go down different roads and we can be on the dark side of our souls for quite a long time, but what brings us out? Sometimes you don't survive it. We have friends and people who don't survive. But the people who do come back to tell the story and impart hope and possibility to those that need it. And I think that's the human experience. If thousands of people are watching this show, it's a wonderful message.
For Walking Dead viewers who have felt suffocated by Negan and the Saviors' never-ending deluge of ego-driven tyranny, Georgie might be just what the doctor ordered. (Someone ask Siddiq if he ordered this.) She's not providing a direct solution to defeating villains, which is likely what Rick is after, but she's showing Maggie and others that the future doesn't need to only be one life-threatening worry after another. In that way, Georgie seems to be laying the groundwork for the reconstruction that went down during the comic book's big time jump, and we're definitely wondering if she will be the key element to how the TV show adapts that evolution-spawning leap forward.
3. What Georgie Knows Of Negan
If Georgie, Hilda and Midge are familiar enough with the Hilltop Colony's current situation to reach out to Maggie, then they have to know about the other groups in the area, right? She confirmed they came across different groups in the past, but says it's been quite a while since the last one, and few are like the Hilltop's population. (Post-Gregory, hopefully.) As far as we know, this wandering trio hasn't touched base with Alexandria or the Kingdom, and the easiest assumption to make about Georgie's relationship with Negan is that it's nonexistent. Of course, I couldn't just assume that, so I asked Jayne Atkinson if, to her knowledge, Georgie had ever come across Negan or his Saviors.
No, I don't think so. I think she stayed far away from him. His group is not one of the ones she's giving the key to the kingdom to. . . . You know, if you go from what's written on the page, Enid says, 'Have you done this a lot?' And she says, 'We've gone around, but there aren't many like you.' So my sense is that she has been scouting things out, and looking in to see where to bring this seed of hope. That's my sense. Nobody's told me that, but that's my sense from what's written on the page.
That particular span of dialogue opened up a wealth of speculation territory for Walking Dead fans, since it provided further proof of other communities out there beyond the ones we've already come across, including the ones we'll end up seeing on Fear the Walking Dead Season 4. So now it'll be interesting to see if any of those other groups get teased in any big ways, or if Georgie could follow Morgan as a crossover character between the two zombified dramas. And considering the previous episode introduced the radio set-up that may or may not lead to the comic's New World Order storyline, could we possibly expect to learn that Georgie is responsible for inspiring whatever the live-action version of that game-changing storyline is?
4. Why Georgie Asks For Phonographs
Asking for food in The Walking Dead-verse is hardly weird, as hunger can't be conquered by gunfights and threats. But asking for phonographs is something else altogether, since music is not often heard within the show's reality. Georgie is wearing rose-tinted glasses in assuming that people have continued saving their vinyls in the midst of the walker infestation, though she's apparently always correct in her assumptions, considering her collection I told Jayne Atkinson I'd wished Georgie had pulled out a gramophone and started jamming, and she went deeper into what the phonographs stand for.
The records! And have everybody dance! These records to me...I'm just beginning to understand what these records are. I had a friend say, 'If there was an apocalyptic world, my records would come with me, and my stereo.' And you know, in this world, you're being shown what has value, which is human creativity. It's a value, and in those artists are great lyrics, are poetry, are inspiration. And clearly, she values them. She values books, and learning, and she wants to preserve and have survived human creativity and inspiration. I love your idea, though. I wish she had done that. That would have been fun.
Jadis knows a thing or two about human creativity, having refurbished that junkyard as her own artistic eden. (She knows more than Georgie does about kidnapping Negan, too.) And for the most part, until Rick and Negan invaded that smelly space, Jadis' group was a fairly chill faction. Now think back to the Season 8 premiere, which started off with "Weird" Al Yankovic's "Another One Rides the Bus" playing in the Old Rick flash-forward that ended up being Carl's deathbed utopia. That almost had to have been a record playing in the fantasy sequence, so through her collection, Georgie has made a noteworthy connection between Carl's future-vision and the real world. And Jayne Atkinson spoke a bit more about why music is so important to the show's universe.
When the music ends, when you have no artistry, when you dampen or try to imprison creativity and imagination, you end up in an Orwellian type of world. And there's no love. So you know, I just think that's what the records would possibly symbolize. That, or the creators just love albums. [laughs] Just like, 'Well, that's what I would have in the van.' The stereo was very specific. The kind of stereo that Craig wanted in the van was very specific. The prop people told me, 'Do you want to see your van?' They were so excited about my van. [laughs]
It definitely would have been nice to get inside the van and see everything they had in there, from food to music to trinkets and clothes. Judging from the work put into decorating the van, as well as Atkinson just recently grasping the truer meaning behind the phonographs, one might think we'll be seeing her again in the near future. (Find more on that here.) And for what it's worth, when I asked the actress what she thought Georgie's favorite kind of music would be, Atkinson told me she thinks the character would really like Cat Stevens and Janis Joplin a lot. So now we need to hear Joplin's "Intruder" at some point before Season 8 is over.
5. How Georgie Informs Maggie's Leadership
Since Glenn's death, Maggie has ascended to the kind of leadership where not all of her actions come across as wholly virtuous. (See: that Savior she sent back to Negan inside a casket.) And so upon discovering Georgie's crate and note, Maggie became around 99% skeptical of what surfaced on the other end of that bartering ploy. To the point where she, Michonne and Enid took Georgie's group quasi-hostage to determine whether the HIlltop's food shortage justified stealing other seemingly innocent group's food. Not exactly hero-worthy behavior, right? When I asked Jayne Atkinson about Georgie's presence shining a villainous light on Maggie's squad, here's what she told me.
That's very interesting. And Georgie just lets her have her little tantrum and doesn't [interrupt]. Now, she comes flanked with guards who have guns, so she's not stupid. But my sense is they would use their weapons only in the event that [Maggie & Co.] would try to kill her; but even then, they take the weapons, and she's like, 'Okay, whatever. Whatever you need to do. I'm gonna sit here until you come around.' And Michonne, who is sort of the one who has this deep intuition about things, which I love, [she] says, 'You know, the last time I followed my gut, it turned out well. And I think we should take her deal.' But it just goes to show you that a leader doesn't lead alone, and needs good people around them. Because everybody's going to have a bad day.
Through this whole exchange, Maggie experienced a smaller jolt of the peaceful ideals that Rick inherited when Carl died. It's not surprising that Georgie's unflustered spark immediately made an impact on Michonne, and nor were we shocked by Enid's rebellious reaction. But there was legitimate tension where Maggie's decision was concerned, even though we all knew deep down in our hearts that she wouldn't really bring harm to anyone who hadn't done damage to her community. (Mr. Hot Stuff Savior has no such guaranteed safety, though.) So even beyond the Key's metaphorical blueprint to a sustainable future within Hilltop and the other communities, Georgie provided Maggie some leadership perspective, reminding her there is a larger and more empathetic world out there beyond the war zone and Negan's death grip. Let's just hope Maggie sticks around long enough to see it through.
Head to the next page to see a few more things we learned from Jayne Atkinson.
6. How Jayne Atkinson Feels About Playing Georgie
Joining The Walking Dead is obviously a huge gig for any actor, from a series regular to a minor guest role. Jayne Atkinson's Georgie is far more important than Unnamed Hilltop Farmer, since the character is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside a snappy blazer. Atkinson told me she latched onto that element after joining the show.
That's what was so exciting for me as an actress, when I read it. Because I know the show -- it's our son's favorite show -- so I've had it in our household for years. So I have sat and watched a few episodes, but mostly through fingers and one eye, you know? [laughs] It's very hard for me. I'm not a horror aficionado, and I have a lot of friends who are, but I'm such a baby about it. I can't handle it. So when I got the part, I was so excited to be this person in this world. I felt really honored and happy.
When I brought up how Walking Dead fans will likely hold Georgie up on a distinct pedestal after watching her introduction, Atkinson said she heard that sentiment several times when she was on the set. At first, she wasn't aware of the full extent of how lovingly obsessive people can be, but she's now fully invested in embracing the fandom. (She compared her son's Walking Dead parties to the 24 parties fans would have in that show's heyday.) As it was previously hinted at, there may be longevity to the role that wasn't directly expressed in the episode, and our first clue came when Georgie wasn't killed off. After I expressed my delight in her survival, Jayne Atkinson laughed and mentioned how the lack of traditional Walking Dead action in Georgie's scenes informed her decision to take the role.
I know! One of the reasons, honestly, that I took the part, is I didn't have to deal with zombies, and I didn't have to shoot a gun or chop someone's head off. I didn't have to do all that, and I was very glad.
Just because they made it through one episode free from fatal injuries, however, doesn't mean Georgie, Hilda and Midge are destined to make it to the end of the series' run. But the more we can learn about them in the meantime, the better. It would be a shame for a talent like Jayne Atkinson to only get utilized in limited portions, and it sounds to me like the actress is down to blaze Georgie's path for however long the show will have her.
How far will Georgie's influence travel? What will Maggie's next move be, and will Enid want to team up with Tara to just start offing people? The Walking Dead may or may not answers those questions each Sunday night on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET. While waiting to learn more, head to our midseason premiere schedule and mark down all the new and exciting shows hitting primetime soon.