Walking Dead Stars Tease Commonwealth Twists, Comic-Con Footage That Will 'Blow People's Minds' (Exclusive)

Eleanor Matsuura opens up about THAT shot of her in a guard’s uniform, while Khary Payton teases Ezekiel’s “roller coaster” ride of a season.

The beginning of the end is here.

Next month, “The Walking Dead” will kick off Part 1 of its final season — but before that, the first real trailer for it will drop this weekend at [email protected]

Until now, eagle-eyed fans have only seen quick glimpses of footage and new photos from the new episodes in a number of tantalizing teasers shared by the show’s social media pages. And the speculation over what’s in them has already blown up online in recent weeks.

Ahead of this weekend’s Comic-Con panel and trailer drop, TooFab caught up with stars Khary Payton (Ezekiel) and Eleanor Matsuura (Yumiko), who spilled on getting back to work during the pandemic, their characters’ meaty arcs in Season 11 and how (or if) they’re preparing for the show’s end. While the two were careful to try not to reveal too much, they still teased what to expect from Saturday’s event and touched on some fan speculation about their characters’ fates as the show starts to explore the Commonwealth community from the comics.

What kind of reveals should fans be hyped for from [email protected] this year — and how do you think they’re going to respond to what is released this weekend?

Khary: Oh, I think they’re gonna love it. They always come out with a little shebang for Comic-Con weekend and this weekend’s gonna be no different … I think everybody’s gonna be really excited, I was excited with what they’ve showed me so far. Hopefully, what they showed me is what they’ll show you. We’re still keeping it close to the vest. We’ve been working through a pandemic trying to continue to tell this story and in just the right way and I definitely don’t want to spoil the fun of having it play out. Believe me, this is gonna this is gonna be one heck of a party. It’s not just a banana party it’s not just an apple party. We’re gonna have fruits of all kinds in this thing.

Eleanor: A fruit salad!

Khary: A fruit salad kind of a party.

Eleanor: I think, just in terms of the trailer that everyone will get to see tomorrow, I know that everyone’s so good with that pause button, so they’re gonna get all the shots! Not only are we shooting through a pandemic, but we’re only roughly about halfway through now. So everything you’re seeing in this — and there is so much packed in there — I think it will blow people’s minds just how many stories, how many characters, how many different dramas and things are being achieved, and we’re only sort of a third or half of the way through. Plus, that we managed to do that in a pandemic, I think it’s going to kind of blow people’s minds.

After filming the additional episodes for season 10, just how different was it coming back for season 11? The groups are still separated on the show, but on the set, you were kind of able to start seeing more costars again and what was that like for you both?

Eleanor: In terms of the direct comparisons to the COVID episode, I couldn’t even make it back to Georgia to film my Covid episode because we were so deep into the lockdown at that point. So, for me, getting over here to finally start filming the final season was so emotional. I was so scared that wasn’t gonna happen so it made me all the more grateful to be able to be there with people in person and everyone just being so respectful and safe doing all the right things to make sure we can make the show happen. I’ll be honest — when did we come back, January? — there’s still some people I haven’t seen in person. Stupid Rona, still keeping us apart, that is strange.

Khary: This pandemic just won’t quite go away. And so we’re still keeping up our protocols. The nice thing is our production took it very seriously from the very beginning and we haven’t had the shutdowns that other productions have had. It’s been tough to see your friends from across base camp and you can’t really get to them and there’s some faces that I still haven’t seen. These are people that I’ve been working with in production for years now and I haven’t seen them for years and still haven’t seen their face in all of this. It’s been tough and it’s been difficult and we’re still working towards that normalcy. Thankfully, we’re doing a really extra long season and we’re going to be shooting well into 2022, so hopefully that means that we will eventually get back to normal and I’ll be able to get uncomfortably close to everybody again.

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The show has released some teases for the new season and, as Eleanor mentioned, the fans are quick on that pause button. In one of the promos, we see Yumiko in a Commonwealth guard uniform. Can you talk a little bit about putting on the armor and possibly tease what’s going on there?

Eleanor: I’m so glad you asked that because I really need to tell you how uncomfortable that armor is. I feel like it’s my duty as a citizen and a human being. Like, we’ve all had a tough 2020, we’ve come out of it and now this? It’s a whole situation where it’s all done in pieces, which you’ve attached yourself like LEGOS. You have this kind of like all black body sock on underneath, and then you stick on all these different plastic compartments and the helmet, it’s a whole situation and it is very difficult to sit down. It’s also very difficult to see. I remember we were shooting one scene, and it was so cold, the goggles, steamed up, and I fully just walked into the wall.

Khary: And despite all of that, she did it with such elegance. It pisses you off sometimes. I would not be surprised that just Eleanor putting on the uniform, there wouldn’t be some kind of Charlie’s Angels-esque montage of her like getting in this thing and walking down the halls, you know, like she’s walking the runway. I get so tired of it.

Eleanor: You’re being kind, but no one wants to see me put on that armor. There were a lot of expletives that came out of my mouth trying to get the armor on the thing.

You’re pulling it off in the quick glimpses we have seen.

Khary: Pulling it off is exactly what she was excited to do!

In that same glimpse of Miko, it seems like she’s looking at the Wall of the Lost, something which sets of a pivotal arc for another character in the comments. We’ll keep things vague here, but do you feel you were given a bit more meat this season as Miko because of what may or may not be coming?

Eleanor: I love how you phrased that. The short answer to that is yeah, absolutely. I’m really, really excited and kind of humbled by the journey Miko goes on this season, it’s so unexpected … because even though people make certain guesses, it’s still not all that it’s going to be cracked up to be as — as so often, the show takes pieces from the comics and kind of twists it into its own thing. So you know there might be some similarities and there might be some differences, but I definitely do have a very huge kind of journey, like a real turnaround from where I was to where I am now. All the characters go through their ups and downs, of course they do, but this is a very sharp 180 I would say and we see a kind of transformation for Miko that is super surprising, very cool, but very very weird.

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With every new community that’s introduced on this show, we’re sure the Commonwealth comes with its own pros and cons. For Ezekiel, who is continuing to battle cancer, there might be a possibility for treatment. But in this world, nothing comes for free. What might be you able to tease in terms of his journey?

Khary: Nothing, nothing! You sound like you know quite a bit. I feel like you’ve done all the research that’s necessary. Tune in Sundays at nine, to see what happens!

Ezekiel is, like you said, there’s nothing quite like the Commonwealth and we’re going to see that there’s something kind of lovely about the Commonwealth, there’s something very clean about it — yet we all know that dirt’s got to get washed off, it runs off somewhere. It doesn’t disappear. There’s a pile of s— somewhere, you’ve just got to follow that smell. I’m sure we’ll be looking behind — I think of those old Westerns that have the storefronts — there’s those facades and then there’s what’s really happening just on the other side. We’re going to we’re going to be exploring that situation and it’s definitely going to be a roller coaster for Ezekiel. It’s gonna be a ride that I’m excited to be taking and continuing to take.

You mentioned you’re only halfway done with the season now, but how are you mentally preparing for those final episodes — and, knowing that there are these spin off shows and movies in the pipeline, should your characters survive, would you be down to return in any of those as well?

Khary: Oh gosh, I don’t want to think about the end in that way. I’ve always prepared myself that nothing’s promised, especially on this show. You could get that call at any time. And so the idea that it’s actually coming to an end is somewhat comforting, in that you at least know that you’re already near the finish line. There have been years of my life that it was like, “Any minute now, that call is coming around the corner and you can be gone.” Now you know that, even if the call comes, you’re like, “I just about made it to the end and that’s a pretty awesome thing.” In this industry, to have worked on a show as long as, I have and I’ve only been on it for half as long as it’s been around …

Eleanor: I’ve only been around for a third of that time! I feel so honored to have made it to this final season and I feel in some ways like I’ve just arrived and I just started. I can only imagine what Khary must be feeling. I can only imagine what Melissa and Norman must be feeling. It’s really been such a huge proportion of people’s lives, year in and year out doing it. I am already so invested, my entire family, we live in Georgia and this is what I do. So, with the end, I’m definitely tuned in to the sort of sadness and the poignant to be around every moment. It’s gonna be emotional for a lot of people and I think so much also particularly about the crew, because the crew works so hard and they are so excellent at their job and some of them have been there since the beginning. This really is a family. That word gets handed around a lot, but it is and I’m thinking about them loads. I think I can understand Khary, what you’re saying, that’s kind of where we’re at at the moment. We have to finish this thing, so it’s hard to talk about beyond that, spin-offs and movies because this right now still feels so huge.

Khary: Yeah, we’ve got such a long way to go just in finishing this story that I haven’t … maybe when we get into next year, I’ll start to peek a little more at the end, but that’s gonna be a lot of emotion. We were having a conversation, Jeffrey and I, and I think Christian started crying talking about the end of it — and we were like, “We can’t do this for a year.” I think I’m emotionally putting it in a box to be opened at a later date. It’s gonna be a lot to when that box actually gets open. Pandora’s gonna beat the hell out of me!

Eleanor: What I really hope is that we finish up season 11, and we’ll just sort of go, “Hey, it’s not goodbye, we’ll just see you later.” And that later is all of our cast at Comic-Con in person next year. That is truly my dream.

While we hope to see that happen in 2022, The Walking Dead’s panel for [email protected] 2021 kicks off Saturday, July 24 at 3pm PT.

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