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Mild spoilers for The Walking Dead's Season 9 finale are below, so be sure to watch before reading on.
It took nearly nine full TV seasons, and even more in-narrative years, but The Walking Dead finally got around to giving its characters a winter wonderland to close out Season 9. Well, I guess it wasn't a true "wonderland," considering everyone was in constant danger the whole time. Showrunner Angela Kang spoke with CinemaBlend ahead of the finale, and she talked about how long she has been trying to bring snow to The Walking Dead.
In Season 9, nearly all of the various Walking Dead characters have dealt with one serious hardship or another, and the majority involved deaths, personal relationships and/or memories from the past. In other words, they could all be sourced back to humanity-related situations, as opposed to any non-winnable battles against Mother Nature. As much as Alpha would love to act like she is one with the world around her, there's nothing natural about beheading ten people and displaying their heads on spikes.
Alpha and the Whisperers were mostly absent from "The Storm," though, having migrated to somewhere warmer and dryer. As such, Michonne, Daryl, Carol and the rest were left to fend for themselves against the heavy snow and all of the deadly walkers trapped below. Thankfully, the undead element wasn't too debilitating for the mourning heroes, and they led to some of the episode's best effects and genre moments. (Daryl stabbing that walker with that eye-cicle was a hoot.)
Considering "The Calm Before" featured one of the darkest and deadliest endings of any Walking Dead episode, I wondered if the creative team chose to set the snow-filled frolics for the finale to close the season out on a palette-cleanser of sorts. When I asked Angela Kang that question, here's what she told me.
Granted, if The Walking Dead sticks to the comics in Season 10, viewers are indeed going to watch a war between the protagonists and the Whisperers (and tons of walkers). However, no one had immediate inspirations to take the battle to the enemies, at least not in the way Rick did when trying to overthrow the Saviors. It's an easy bet to guess that Daryl and Carol are starving for revenge, but they also know the gigantic risks that likely come with provoking the Whisperers.
So for at least one episode, the main group wasn't tasked with going on the offensive in an unprepared and ill-advised manner. They just had to worry about simple things like packing up an entire community and traveling to another one in a whiteout blizzard with potential killers lurking in every shadow. NBD, all in a day's work.
Everything appeared to be completely thawed off by the end of the episode, when Alpha was having Beta strike her arm. So it's unlikely we'll be witnessing any weather-related aftermath in Season 10, which is unfortunate for anyone who desperately wanted to see Alpha get pelted in the face with icy snowballs. (Maybe if a Walking Dead Kids spinoff ever happened, one of the big battles could be a snowball war.)
For all the viewers who were impressed with how well The Walking Dead's snow looked during "The Storm," Angela Kang told me the effects team used only minimal digital trickery and a whole lot of physical product.
These kinds of practical snow effects used to be the norm in Hollywood where snow isn't exactly a year-round occurrence. However, once CGI tech got to a point where manageable winter effects became cheaper than doing anything physically tangible, that approach took off, though it is usually painfully obvious whenever digital snowflakes are being used.
One can only hope that The Walking Dead franchise is gearing up to bring more oft-requested episodes like these in the future. Fear the Walking Dead kind of broke the mold by already delivering a hurricane-tornado episode in Season 4. No sign of any weather disasters in the Season 5 trailer, but they might have something along those lines in store. I'd also be interested to see a giant tidal wave demolishing a walker-strewn beach community, in case anyone is taking notes.
The Walking Dead is gearing up to go into production on the first half of Season 10 soon, and it'll likely hit AMC this October. Be sure to keep current with our informational Season 10 rundown, and you can also check out what Angela Kang told us about how Carol and Daryl's relationship with continue evolving in the future.