‘Walking Dead’ Star on That Shocking Garbage People Scene

[This story contains spoilers for season eight, episode 10 of AMC’s The Walking Dead, “The Lost and the Plunderers.”]

For everyone who spent the past 16 episodes of Walking Dead complaining about the Garbage People, and wishing they would go away as soon as possible? Well, your wish is the show’s command — and there’s a good chance that you probably feel at least a little bit awful about it.

In the latest episode of the AMC zombie drama, Simon (Steven Ogg) and several Saviors are tasked with putting the fear of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) back into Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and her fellow members of the garbage brigade. Negan instructs Simon to deliver the “standard message,” also known as killing one person to instill fear in the rest of the group. Instead, a clearly unhinged Simon does the exact opposite: he kills every single last one of the Heapsters, with the sole exception of Jadis, who he leaves behind to wallow in this existential agony.

Some time after the brutal slaughtering, a grieving Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) check in on the junkyard, only to find Jadis surrounded by zombified versions of her own people. For the first time since her introduction, Jadis completely breaks away from the strange Garbage People dialect, speaking in perfect English as she explains more about the community’s origins as artists who wanted to build something new in the post-apocalyptic world. Despite her desperate emotional state, Rick not only refuses to help Jadis, he actively endangers her, shooting a warning shot over her head that lures the zombies in her direction.

After Rick’s departure, Jadis takes matters into her own hands, and takes out the trash (sorry) in brilliant but stunningly brutal fashion: luring her dead friends into a garbage compactor that rips them apart and turns them into pâté. It’s one of the most gruesome images in recent Walking Dead memory, both physically and emotionally visceral, leading to what’s quite easily Pollyanna McIntosh’s best moment as Jadis in the entire series to date. She caps it off with a quiet moment of indulgence, eating a can of apple sauce all to herself. Well earned, that.

For more on the brutal scene, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with McIntosh about Jadis’ great tragedy, where she comes from, and where she’s going next.

This is such a grim episode for Jadis, and it must have been challenging for you as well. Not only is she losing all of the people she loves, you’re losing the actors you’ve worked with most closely in your time on the series.

I know. I have absolutely loved working with Sabrina Gennarino (who played Tamiel) and Thomas Francis Murphy (who played Brion), and knowing they were going to go? Not just for my loss of them, but for each other. They loved working on the show and working with each other. It’s always such a shame to lose people. But it’s also part of what makes the show so fascinating to watch, and so exciting to watch, and so dynamic. We all knew this was going to be a quite heartbreaking episode, so there was joy in that, too. It was actually very sweet. It wasn’t hard watching all of those guys come toward me [in the trash compactor scene]. The way they looked, and the way they acted… every extra walking toward me, I completely believed they were walkers. It was so tragic, because I could see who they were before. It was very special.

What was your first reaction when you learned about this story?

I was so shocked. I was so, so shocked. Obviously there’s part of you that goes, “Oh, no. That’s awful.” And then another part of you goes, “What a great story twist. What a wonderfully unexpected twist!” I was excited to see I would be working with Steven Ogg. He’s a great friend. I thought it was a very dynamic scene. I was partly grieving and partly I couldn’t wait to get to shoot it. You know you’re going to these hideous emotional places, which is both exciting and saddening.

Steven Ogg is very intense as Simon in this episode. What are your memories of working on this scene together?

Steven and I are great friends. We hung out and ran dialogue together. He’s a real eye-to-eye actor. He’s a scene-stealer. Not in a negative way; he’s so compelling to watch. We were very playful with each other: “I’m going to get you! I’m not going to break!” In a “who’s going to be tougher” kind of way. He had so much dialogue in the scene, and he was so well-prepared, which was such a joy. I never had to feel at any moment that this wasn’t completely real. I despised him as much as I could in those moments. Steven was gone. Simon was there, for sure. I had all of these feelings: “He’s such an asshole, he’s so gross, he’s so pathetic,” and then he does this awful thing to me. It was all very real, and then we were smiling and laughing between every take, because we knew it was working and we had loads of fun. I did hit him in the face at one point, though. Sorry, Steven. (Laughs.) It was just a quick pop to the face. It wasn’t too hard! 

Simon is sent to make an example, which ends up with him killing everyone except for Jadis. In your interpretation, was it Jadis not being “remorseful” that set Simon off, or was it something else?

I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in Simon’s mind, because of the hints I’ve already picked up in the script. I have a pretty good sense of what’s going on with him. However, for me, his mind wasn’t necessarily made up upon going there, if he was indeed going to do what Negan asked to do, or if he was going to go rogue. That decision, for me, felt like it was made in the moment. It felt to me like he wanted a reason to make that decision and go rogue. Jadis has a habit of making people maybe not feel super respected all of the time! That’s Simon’s achilles heel at the moment, and she bore the brunt of that. It’s partly the decision she made in that moment that causes it to happen.

The scene in which Jadis leads her zombified people to the compactor is so visceral on an emotional and physical level. Can you talk through the process of filming this scene?

It was so fun to have that staff in my hand. Everything practical they do, down to the chain coming off… it was all really there. It was cool to see what they had set up in the machine. Of course, those gears were under a board, and the whole thing was switched off. It had a metallic lid that was closed underneath it, and on top of that, they had a green screen felt, so the actors were stepping down onto it, and were struggling on a flat solid metal with felt on top of it so they can bring in the incredible effects guys and girls in to make it work. I did get to watch these people come forward and drop to some degree. There’s a bit of suspension of disbelief going on, but it was very visceral, because they are eye to eye with me. They’re really walking and really doing a great job of it and going to that place and writhing around, sneaking off to the left. It’s a funny game we play. It feels very real, and yet you can see what’s in front of you is not what you’re reacting to. But there’s enough reality there and enough imagination involved that it felt very visceral to me.

It’s jarring to see Jadis returning to her pre-apocalypse self. Did it line up with who you imagined Jadis was before we met her on The Walking Dead?

Certainly, it did. I knew my history. I knew it was an artistic community, and I knew she was an artist. I knew these people were important to her and that we had a shared history. Even know, it’s not something people know all about. I had not been told in emotional terms… what’s the word when you have an organization with a mantra, a bill of rights, a constitution, a dogma? I’m thinking of all the words except the right one. (Laughs.) I knew somewhat of what her worldview was, and how it had changed when the change happened in the world. There’s more that I know that isn’t yet on screen. It was stuff I could use in doing that scene. I had no idea this was going to come to pass, but it wasn’t difficult for me to engage emotionally with what the possibilities of that community were.

Rick and Michonne show up, and Jadis pleads to join them. And then they abandon her. What do you think Jadis is thinking in that moment? Is she furious, vengeful, or too swallowed up in the world of what’s happened to her?

Yeah, it’s what’s happened. Also, her survival is kicking in. It’s not necessarily judgment time, or time to take it personally, or anything that’s extra. It’s not a time to be thinking about how you feel about these people. It’s time to think about how you can get what you need. Her grief is so strong and the shock is still there, I don’t think she’s going to be going, “That was mean!” (Laughs.) There’s definitely shock when he shoots over her and leaves. She’s surprised. She thought she had a pretty good handle on who this guy was. She did not expect they would react in that way. Maybe she did with Michonne, because she did physically and brutally felt Jadis’ choice when she was beaten up at Alexandria [in the season seven finale] and the scars are still there. With Rick, Jadis has seen that he does what’s most useful to him, and she feels she’s useful to him. So she’s shocked. She’s shocked he doesn’t have any care for her, either. He seems to be someone who had a moral center and had managed to hold onto it, which is one of the interesting things about him for her. She doesn’t know his son’s just been killed. That’s another wonderful place where we as an audience know more than the characters on screen. But I don’t think her first point of vengeance would be Rick, necessarily. The places she would be going would be more about Simon.

The Garbage People have been controversial within the Walking Dead fandom. Do you think this episode will force the detractors to reevaluate these characters?

That’s really up to them. If people have enjoyed hating Jadis, they certainly now have an eye into a different part of her. I think you can’t help but have some human empathetic experience at some point in this episode, which I think is really interesting. But hey, if they were detractors of the “Garbage Pail Kids,” as some people call them? They’re all gone now, except for her. Maybe they’ll be happy! Or maybe they’ll think, “Damn it. I would have wanted to see a bit more of them and learn more about them.” I think it’s going to be an interesting and different experience for everybody, but I think you can’t help but feel some humanity toward Jadis here if you didn’t feel it before.

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