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Showrunner Al Gough Discusses The Controversial Into The Badlands Season Finale

Showrunner Al Gough Discusses The Controversial Into The Badlands Season Finale

Republished with permission from Just Add Color

Last Sunday was the season finale of Into the Badlands, and many fans came away less than impressed because of what happened at the very end of the episode–the love of Sunny’s life, Veil, killing herself to take Quinn with her. It was the ultimate sacrifice for Veil to save her family, but it was also a sacrifice that many fans felt was a bridge too far, especially in light of other shows that have done the same to black female characters, including the often-talked-about (and now canceled) Sleepy Hollow.

After mulling it over, I also felt a little disturbed by Veil’s death, leading me to write my review of the final episode for Black Girl Nerds. In my review, I go over why Veil’s death rubbed many fans the wrong way. An excerpt:

[I]t isn’t right that Veil, like too many Black women characters before her in other shows, was once again the sacrifice for the better good. It’s doubly painful in a show like Into the Badlands, which has been praised for its focus on diversity and inclusive writing. Adding insult to injury is part of the origin of Sunny and Veil’s relationship itself—Daniel Wu’s urge to rewrite Romeo Must Die into something that respected both Black women and Asian men as desirable romantic leads. To be fair, it wasn’t as if Wu wrote this episode—it was writer Matt Lambert and showrunners Al Gough and Miles Millar who did—but still, doesn’t an ending like this undercut that original intent behind the characters? Doesn’t it still paint the picture that 1) POC interracial relationships can’t work out because they aren’t seen as “normal” and 2) Black women can’t be the damsel in their narrative? I mean, Wu might not be a writer, but he’s still an executive producer. I’m sure there’s something he could have said, right? I mean, Wu’s my dude, but I’ve got to be real and called stuff how I see it.

Daniel Wu as Sunny, Madeleine Mantock as Veil – Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Episode 10 – Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

At the end of the day, I don’t see why it was Veil’s duty to be the one to take Quinn out. Sunny’s the master marksman; couldn’t have lobbed off Quinn’s head while holding Henry? Or better yet, couldn’t he have beheaded Quinn when he was laid out on the floor? Such a rookie mistake for someone with 444 or so kills on his back. But somehow, fans were treated to shades of Abbie Mills when Veil sacrificed herself to save her family. Does this always have to be the narrative for Black women on television? Haven’t Black characters suffered enough? Didn’t Veil suffer enough from Season 1, after Quinn killed her parents? Of all of the characters, she deserved her happiness with her man and her son. But it seems like out of all of the women who have suffered hardship on this show; Veil is the only one that has to die to find some relief. Meanwhile, Jade, Tilda, and Lydia are out in the wilderness somewhere finding themselves and living life. Not fair.

It seemed like my review reached all the corners of the internet, so much so that one of the people I called out in the above excerpt, showrunner Al Gough, reached out to me to ask if we could talk.

During our interview later that week, Gough jumped right into how he felt about what I’ll call throughout the rest of this article “Veil-gate.” In short, it seems like he knows how to take his lumps and learn from them.

“I will start by saying the job of a storyteller is never to start a story where at the end of it, people are like, ‘I’m out, I’m never watching it again!'” he said. “I knew…there would be some backlash, and there would be some Twitter hate; frankly, I was surprised by how much. But delving into it, I understand. …[W]e did Smallville at the very beginning of the internet with television, and it was…message boards and things like that. You’d get feedback, and you’d look, but it wasn’t Twitter. This is, frankly, the first show we’ve done in the Twitter era, which is both fascinating and scary and obviously, it’s been very positive, and people have really embraced the show, and it’s a fan show.”

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to reach out to you because I read the review, and I thought…you made all the points, you know what I mean?” he said. “…And obviously, people can watch the show and feel how they want to feel, that’s what we do, so I don’t begrudge anybody their feelings, but it certainly wasn’t our intention to piss off a large swath of our audience with our finale.”

Gough admitted that the television trope of killing black women characters was one that had escaped him.

“I think as TV tropes go, I was very keenly aware of the “killing the lesbian” trope because [writer] Justine Gilmer, who worked on the first season of Badlands and [writer] Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who’s actually a friend of mine, were both on The 100,” he said. “What’s interesting is that–and this is probably just me being naive–I don’t think I was as aware of a pattern that had been going with killing African American women on shows. I actually don’t watch Sleepy Hollow; I don’t watch Person of Interest…I think people thought that Flash had killed [Iris] on that show. I don’t watch The Flash…and [the audience found out] she wasn’t dead. I don’t think I was aware that this was a pattern in shows because the shows that it’s happened on I don’t watch, so that was one [trope] I was probably less aware of.”

“…What’s interesting about our show is that…there’s diversity in the show because it’s the future because of your race and gender and sexual orientation, in some senses in this world, those are not the things people judge you for…It’s either you can fight or you can’t. Martial arts, as I’ve said before, is the great equalizer regarding an art form because men and women can do it with equal skill and deadly aim,” he said. “Also, I think too; it’s not like Veil is going to be the last African American woman you’re ever going to see on this show. We’ve lost a lot of characters this year with Quinn and Ryder and Jade’s no longer there and obviously Veil. So there will be new characters that are being introduced and…we plan to introduce new African American female characters too. It’s not like Veil will be the only one. I said to somebody, “I feel like Veil died and all of a sudden we have only white people on our show!” I was like, “Uh-oh!”

“It’s a show that we continue to make where diversity, frankly, is a priority with the show and in the world, but I also understand the optics of you’re watching a show and you’ve fallen in love with a character and a couple and that person is snatched away and then the optics [of] she’s the only lead,” he said. “Obviously we have other African American cast members, but she’s the lead. So part of that I do understand, and that’s when I saw [the backlash], I reached out to Keith Chow [of Nerds of Color]…who I know, and who I’ve talked with over the course of the show, and when I saw your review, which I thought was good and I know that you guys have been big supporters, I wanted to reach out to you as well.”

I brought up how the consternation and hurt fans have been feeling came from the fact that, as he said, how committed the show has been to diversity and steering clear of many other tropes on television.

“I certainly noticed that from some of the Twitter response and other things. I think that people felt a betrayal, and I was like, ‘Uh-oh, that’s not the goal!'” said Gough. “I thought [in] your review…you’d clearly thought about it and thought about all of the permutations and, frankly, you covered a lot of the thinking and arguments that went on in the writers’ room because when you’re killing off a character or make that decision, you never do it lightly and you never do it without debate. There are good reasons on both sides, and you have to ultimately do what you think is best on the show and move the story forward…[Veil’s death] was not done callously, it was not done as an afterthought, it was done with a lot of discussions and weighing the pluses and minuses in the writers’ room, and that was something we debated until very late in the season.”

“I will say the Quinn death was something that was always going to happen,” he said. “That we kind of knew before we started the season, and Marton [Csokas] came to us separately and said, ‘I sort of feel like Quinn’s got one more season in him and that’s probably it for the character’…That was something we thought about, but certainly, with Veil and some of these other characters, you think long and hard about it, and that’s where we came out regarding where we wanted to go in the longer story.”

Marton Csokas as Quinn – Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Episode 10 – Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

The major thing Gough wanted to stress was that he realizes how important it is to stay connected to Into the Badlands‘ fanbase and understand how the fandom reacts to decisions, both good and bad.

'Swagger' Returns for a Second Season

“It’s hard to make a television show, and then it’s hard to make a television show that then gets a fanbase. The reason the shows renewed is because people watched. I don’t think you can ever take that out of the equation,” he said. “…When you’re doing a television show, you are engaging in a conversation with the audience. Because they go on for weeks and months and you hope, God willing, years, you want to keep your finger on that pulse and really see what’s working and what’s not working. But [a show] is a conversation with an audience, and I think that’s what distinguishes them from movies.”

“Movies, to me, are like loud statements that come and go really quickly nowadays…they don’t have a lot of cultural gravitas anymore. Rarely are the movies the things we are all talking about,” he said. “I’m looking at the old reviews for Star Wars which [turned] 40 [Thursday] and I was nine when that movie came out. I remember it, and I remember it resonating through the culture for years. Nowadays, it’s only television shows that do those kinds of things, like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, the big hits. I think…that social media does give you that feedback and that platform to interact with fans and when the show’s on, I look at the Twitter feed and sometimes if I’m not in front of the TV, I can tell where we are in the show by looking at the Twitter feed, which I always find fascinating.”

“I think that’s something that, in a world where there are 500 television shows, you have a fanbase [and] you want to be respectful of that fanbase and even if you make decisions they don’t like, you want them to at least know that you’re listening, this is why you made it, you hope they come back,” he said laughing. “I’ve seen a lot those ‘I’m out!’ [messages]. We used to get that on Smallville, but this one felt a little more [like] “Uh oh!” …It’s so hard to get people to watch a television show; there are so many options and people’s time is valuable that you always want them to know that you’re making the best show you can make to be entertaining because the last thing you want to do is waste somebody’s time.”

“…I think this is a show that people have really championed and gotten behind and you can feel the groundswell from the fans Miles, and I feel it, Daniel [Wu] feels it, the cast feels it, the writers feel it,” he said. “I think that’s something too–when you have that kind of relationship with the fanbase, you want to honor it as well.”

Because Veil is dead, with the assumption that she’ll not be back in any form, I asked how Veil’s death will affect Sunny going forward, particularly Sunny’s journey towards redemption.


“Ironically, even though the show is about ‘Into the Badlands,’ it’s about a man going on this spiritual and emotional journey to be good. So I think that at a point, Sunny will find his redemption,” said Gough. “Obviously, in Season 3, Sunny is a single father dealing with a baby and obviously people [are] still coming after him. In a way, his world has gotten a lot harder, but you’ll also start to see doors and paths to that redemptive journey. He’s a guy who wants to change.”

“The first season was kind of like Sunny waking up. He’s been a product of this environment and a product of the Barony and of Quinn’s teachings. It’s a combination of Veil and M.K. waking up a guy. He was a pretty big part of a system; when you’re the Regent, you’re pretty high up. Then everything’s stripped away from him in Season 2, and it’s his journey back to Veil,” he said. “He was warned all season that the price would come. Moon and his fever dreams and other things and obviously, he did pay that terrible price. But I also think that this is a journey to redemption…it’s not about Sunny always losing or never getting a win or things like that.”

“It’s definitely a journey of redemption, and it’s definitely a journey of redemption for the Badlands, too, because if you looked at it when it started, it was a brutal system. We called it a ‘brutal order.’ You have these five barons in a world that are hard to live in but, obviously, when you go to the outlying territories, it’s better than that,” he said. “It’s like you have freedom, but you have marauders, you’re completely on your own. So, there’s a brutal order to the Barony which now The Widow has destabilized and is now in the midst of a war with Chau. Where does Sunny fit into this bigger world? What [are the] questions about his past [such as] where did he get that compass? Waldo gave him an Azra pendant at the end of Season 1 and said that he found this on him, but we’ve never seen Sunny display the Gift. So what is Sunny’s connection to that bigger, mythological journey as well? Especially with 16 episodes, we’ll start to get more of those answers in the coming season.”

Daniel Wu as Sunny – Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Episode 10 – Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

I also asked how Veil’s death will reverberate throughout the upcoming season.

“I think for Sunny, he was left with her last words, which were [to] teach Henry to be good. I think that goes to his larger journey of how is he going to engage in the world? How is he going to make the world around him better and better for his son,” he said. “He does have something to live for; it is his connection to her. He was part of the problem in this world, and how is this going to propel him to be part of the solution? He had that connection; he had love, they had a baby. He’s taken life, and now he’s created life and what [is he] going to do now as a parent in a very dangerous world?”

“It is that kind of thing [where] killing and fighting are things that come easy to him, but now you have this child and what is the world you want to bring him up in?” he said. Those are some of the ways that Veil’s death and the effect she had on him will push him forward.”

I also asked if Veil-gate will have an effect on the writers’ room conversations going forward.

“I think we’ll continue to have the same discussions [we have had] in the writers’ room. It’s not like we ever take these situations, whether it’s taking a character off the board or killing them, lightly,” said Gough. “Like I said, we’ve always had a commitment to having a diverse world in the show, a diverse cast, and that will continue, even in the light of the Veil death, which, like I said, we didn’t take lightly, to begin with. …The discussions about characters and diversity are always something that we talk about in the writer’s room, and we’ll continue to do that.”

“Frankly, going forward, it’s to be more mindful of these tropes that get played with on these shows, it’s about looking at how this show fits in the greater pantheon of trends on television as well,” said Gough. “Like I said…we were much more keenly aware of sci-fi shows killing lesbian characters than I was with the trend of these shows are killing off African-American female characters. I’m not using that as an excuse–I didn’t [know]. Once it was pointed out, I was like, “Okay.” I can also see why, in the greater optics of the television landscape why people would react to this show negatively, the fans that did. ”

I made sure to ask one question that had been on my mind since Veil-gate popped off–what did Madeleine Mantock, the actress playing Veil, think about Veil’s death? Gough said Mantock was in on the discussions about Veil’s death.

“…[W]hen we started having these discussions, she understood. She thought it was the right emotional conclusion to her character, but we wanted to make sure Veil went out [well], that’s why she ultimately made the sacrifice. We wanted her to go out in a strong way, so it was something that we definitely wanted to do, and at the time that we were starting to seriously consider this idea, we brought her into that conversation,” he said. “It’s not something like I called her two days before the script came out and said, ‘This is what’s happening.’ We had the discussion, and we talked about it. I think she…knew that it was coming and she was aware of it, and we made her a part of that discussion in terms of how Veil would end on the show and should we do it [so] that it would be her sacrifice? Because…you want her to get the final death blow on Quinn, even in this case, if it meant taking herself out as well. She was aware of it, and we didn’t just drop it on her like a bomb with the script.”

So now that the dust is settling on Veil-gate, what message does Gough have for the fans, particularly those fans who have sworn not to come back for Season 3?

“I would say that we appreciate your fandom. Certainly, people are allowed to feel however they want to feel about the season finale, so that’s certainly fair. Our commitment to a diverse cast and creating a diverse world on our show continues, and that includes adding new, strong African-American female characters,” said Gough. “I would say that this commitment hasn’t changed. For those who have said that they’ve checked out, [I ask] that they give the third season a look before they make that final decision.”

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  • Will u still support Into The Badlands next season? I’m still salty over Veil death but I will continue to support the show. They are going to have to work really really hard to gain the trust of fans back. I’m not really sure it will be called colormebadlands next season. I feel like they are going to cast a lot of African American women to make up for Veil death. People are then going to compare to The Walking Dead. Because they are famous for killing black men and replacing the another black man. They have their work cut out for them. To save them now is for Madeleine Mantock a.k.a to have a twin sister or something. Because killing her has case a dartk cloud over the show. That is not good at all.

  • He had me until he said his show is diverse. Diversity doesn’t stop at race and sexuality. I mean having a non-disabled actor play a wheelchair user I figured the show was run by ableds who don’t give a shit about disability. But to completely ignore it, I guess my decision to ditch this show was right.

  • I want to support the show. I want to give them a chance to get better. I said the same things about Sleepy Hollow. I’m tired of getting burnt. Someone in the writer’s room discussion should have seen this coming. If you watch ANY tv you kinda know how this or that character is going to be portrayed. Is it ignorance or sloppy writing? Just don’t do the same old things.

  • it seems to blow their mind that black women are in short supply on shows on like this, so black women and fans who appreciate diversity tend to flock to them. then if she gets treated as a plot device (dying so sunny could be a single parent? like they couldn’t be separated another way?) instead of a founding character who gets to grow and change throughout the series, the show feels like it’s no longer a place for these fans. dark matter appears to have killed off their only black woman as well, though at least in her case she outlived the white guy who started with her.

  • Even if he wasn’t aware of the specific trend of killing off Black women leads, the fridge trope, where a woman is killed as a plot device to motivate a male character, is well established. Not to mention the almost groundbreaking idea of an Asian man/Black woman couple on TV (which, BTW, is not going to be fixed just by adding more Black women to the show) was part of what made the fan base so strong.

    Not only was Veil’s death a disappointing trope, the whole idea she would leave Henry is nonsensical given what she had just been through. After a whole season of being surrounded by nothing but killers, it would have made more sense that she wouldn’t trust Sunny with Henry either. Remember that guard she killed also seemed like a nice guy until it came down to her trying to escape, and Sunny stood by while Quinn slaughtered her parents, so Veil had every reason not to trust any clipper.

    Like Sunny was discovering about himself, that he can’t escape being a killer, I feel like Veil would have realized that too. She wouldn’t want Henry growing up in that world, so why would she sacrifice herself and leave Henry alone with Sunny? She also should have trusted Sunny would have killed Quinn rather than let Quinn get away with Henry, so it’s not like she had no choice. I thought, once they were safe, Veil would tell Sunny he couldn’t be around them, and she and Henry would go off on their own. We’d still lose Veil, and Sunny would still be left devastated and trying to find himself, but it wouldn’t have been yet another variation of the fridged trope, and would have fit Veil’s character and experiences.

  • It’s a hard balance even as a fan about the media you support. You want to support shows that have better intentions of not doing the same tired tropes, of not insulting their audience, but for those types of shows, it’s a process. They’re trying to break new(er) ground, so they’re not going to get everything right and they’ll make a lot of mistakes along the way.

    When you drop your support, what’s going to be the takeaway? The overwhelming narrative that will be drawn from the show’s drop in viewers? Is it that shows/media need to learn faster, do better? Or is the lesson going to be that media/shows that work towards diversity and try to tell less conventional stories don’t have any support? That people aren’t actually interested? That no one wants these stories? At the end of the day, they’re looking at the ratings, the shitty numbers, they’re not doing investigative journalism about the success or lack of success of a show.

    It’s a lot of faith that needs to be put in a show that they hear the complaints, that they know that they screwed up, that they reward you for not abandoning them. I think that’s why the article is so important, and the dialogue that came from it helps, that the response from the showrunners helps. It still remains to be seen though if it will actually result in something, I’m hopeful.

  • Pls don’t take my comments as disrespecting your perception but I have a different narrative to add.
    From the very first I couldn’t take to Veil. The only thing I could relate with her was that we’re both Heathcare professionals, other than that nothing she did or said commended her to me in S1. Before the season ended I was forwarding her scenes.
    I don’t ship Sunny/Veil and I don’t see the chemistry. But I had this inkling in S1 with Veil introduced as Sunny’s romantic connection that this character wasn’t going to survive long. Simply by the way I judged Sunny’s character. He was never written to be the peaceful farmer with a family. He may be a character that craves that life but his destiny is written to bare a life greater than the common man. Yes a writer who thinks outside the sphere could have given Veil the same great destiny as Widow or Tilda. But the moment she came as Sunny’s secret love and pregnant with his child. Sorry that was it for any personal arc for this character. They write Sunny to have a single-minded obsession to reach Veil and his child. But he is not a character that can carry a great destiny and be a part time husband and father. I often liken Sunny to Jon Snow. Born with a considerable lineage and dragged through it all grudgingly. Same with Veil. She was written to ‘wait’ for Sunny, though she outsmarted her prisoners a few times. If Sunny and Veil reunited and carried that to S3, all I envision is Veil sitting, nursing on the sidelines, either open or in hiding with the odd medical assistance. But the majority of the storyline would belong to the ‘powerfully agressive’ characters of the show. Veil is not that.
    If I was writing this season I would have lessoned Sunny’s obsession with reaching Veil, even make him question his attachment to her. With Veil, and cute as he is, I’d have her lose her son during birth due to her confinements. With no attachments to Sunny. It would have motivated her to fight, politically using her wit and charm to have others sword fight for her, to mark her place between other Barons. A romance between Sunny and Veil could have come after they both got a break to dig into other plot lines independently. Sunny has, Veil hasn’t. It wouldn’t have made shippers happy but at least her character would have got some growth outside of being a lover and mother. But how Veil was written, I guessed in 201/2 that Veil was going to die in the finale. Yes she did deserve more but I’m just glad she got to plunge that knife into her abusers chest. She got the last word.
    I don’t believe the writers were ‘playing’ with the shippers like a certain show did nor disrespecting BW community. I just think the writers had pencilled this in for Veil from the beginning and if the show had been given a S2. This was just a slow-burn to fill 10 episodes. I don’t believe Veil was used to further Sunny’s destiny as such. Only to leave him with a part of herself that kept his humanity grounded. Sunny already has a destiny calling him regardless and he hasn’t realised yet but I bet when it comes to S3, he will have found a small measure of peace and happiness in his son.
    I’m sorry for all who wanted Sunny/Veil’s happy reunion to last forever, but this is the Badlands. No character gets a happily ever after. They are all still searching for something to forefill them.
    You mentioned ‘Romeo must Die’ the only points related to that movie being an interracial relationship between an Asian man and a Black women. Other than that Han Sing’s focus was to avenge his brother, not so much to romance Trish. Is there another significance I didn’t see?
    I’m looking forward to S3, I think we’ll be introduced to more characters as well as lose some old ones. I don’t believe there will be a romantic subplot for Sunny in S3, not unless they do a noteable timejump. Maybe in S4…. I lost 2 favourites out of 5, Ryder and Quinn but I’m coming back because these writers have intrigued me with the Azra plot and the possibility of expanding the Badlands universe.
    Again I mean no disrespect with my different views ????

  • Veil’s “sacrifice” rang hallow to me because Quinn should have died from the TWO times Sunny stabbed him. I’m not buying this at all.

  • It’s too bad the show won’t budge with bringing Madeleine Mantock back. And that’s also part of the problem.

    While I can appreciate Al Gough’s explanation, if it were me, I’d be frantically re-writing Veil back into the show. But that’s not gonna happen, because just like the show was set on killing her off, they appear to be set on not bringing her back, no matter if she’s a fave of a diverse pool of viewers and this is a “fantasy” world.

    And yes, I get that the writers feel as though Veil went out like a hero. But the trope of having a person of color sacrifice themselves is as old as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Gunga Din. It’s way past tiresome and frankly, insulting.

    Add in the dumbing down of Sunny’s fighting skills (even while using Moon’s blade), it bordered on comical when Quinn kept popping back up while facing the ultimate badlands fighter. Which leads me to believe that Veil’s death is a symptom of a bigger problem with ITB, not the cure. The show spent two seasons building all this up only to tear it down in the final few minutes of the finale, now they’re asking the fans to trust them once again while they introduce new characters. Okay, I like Sunny (Daniel Wu) and the fighting women (though they could at least get some females larger than a size 6). But really, I watched for the Sunny and Veil’s romance in addition to the fight scenes. Now that they dismissed that story line, I’m not really feeling how next season may be going into “Lost” territory, and especially not the three men an a baby angle (Sunny, MK, Bajie, and little Henry). Heaping more anguish on Sunny, who’s already Mister mopey, ah . . . who knows, maybe some viewers will love it. Only I have to agree with other posters. Veil’s story was cut much too soon. She had a good character backstory, and in a lawless land, she had a skill set that could’ve been very interesting. Veil could’ve ended up cunning as hell with all the knowledge she had of poisons and anatomy. Sunny was the brawn, but Veil was the brains. And she was one of the only literate characters on the show. Not everyone has to be a fighter in order to survive.

    ITB not only killed off a promising character, but a story line that would have continued to give the show some type of moral compass. Oh wait, what am I thinking? ITB handed over the “moral compass” to Tilda.

  • Glad you had the chance to address this in person. I admit, I’m cheating a bit because I watched the first episode of the show, met Veil, fell for her as a character and for her and Sunny as a couple and thought, immediately, “She’s going to die.” So I stopped watching after that ep. As compelling as the show as a whole was, I didn’t want to sign on for that eventual heartbreak. Your review and interaction with the producer had proved me correct. Which is a pity because I would have loved so much to be proven wrong.

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