EW – Executive producer Jared Padalecki moderates a conversation with the Walker Independence cast.
It all started before Walker even aired its first episode on the CW in January of 2021. As the writers’ room planned out the arc of season 1 — following Cordell Walker (Jared Padalecki) as he returns from a long stint undercover and is forced to face his own grief over losing his wife — one writer, Seamus Kevin Fahey, started thinking about another story entirely, one that took place many years before.
“We kept saying things like ‘fifth-generation Walkers,’ so it felt like an opportunity,” Fahey tells EW in an Around the Table moderated by none other than Padalecki. “Who were the first-generation Walkers?”
That question got Fahey thinking. And then his own remorse over the killing of Cordell’s bestie Hoyt (Matt Barr) really lit the match: What if he told a story about the first generation of Walkers set in the 1800s and starring, well, Matt Barr as (a much older) Hoyt Rawlins?
A little less than two years later, Walker is heading into its third season, and Walker Independence is ready to air its first. The story follows Abby Walker (Katherine McNamara), a Bostonian making her way to Independence, Texas, where her husband is set to become sheriff. But when her husband is murdered in front of her, she meets Calian (Justin Johnson Cortez), an Apache tracker who helps her make her way to Independence on her own. She’s looking for answers and she gets them when she realizes that the very man who shot her husband is now the acting sheriff of town.
“She’s not your typical woman in the West, she has so much more agency than a lot of women in the 1870s,” Katherine McNamara says. “Rather than succumbing to [being] a victim, she chooses her own destiny and moves forward and finds all of these lovely folks.”
In addition to Calian, the lovely folks who will play a part in Abby’s journey include burlesque dancer Kate (Katie Findlay), who seems to know a lot about the workings in town; deputy sheriff Augustus (Philemon Chambers), who could be a very useful ally; Chinese immigrant Kai (Lawrence Kao), who runs a local laundry and takes an immediate liking to Abby; and of course, Hoyt Rawlins (Barr), whose devil-may-care attitude — and day drinking — puts him at odds with Abby… until it doesn’t.
“The modern day Hoyt, to me, he was all talk in a way,” says Matt Barr. “This version of Hoyt I see more as a man of action.”
But as much as this show is about Abby’s story, there’s a reason there’s such a deep roster of characters on the drama. After all, why be part of the reinvention of Westerns if you can’t find a new way in? “There’s a chance to revisit this through a different lens,” Fahey says. “You can do a Western in a way we all love, but what’s the new take?”
Fahey’s take is all about telling the untold stories, not just the story of the white protagonist. “[Coming from] a minority standpoint being Black in that time of the 1800s, that story hasn’t really been told,” Philemon Chambers says. “There was racism, there was prejudice, and I really wanted to touch on that.”
Justin Johnson Cortez admits he went back and forth on whether he wanted to join the show at all. “I had a lot of reservations about doing a period piece, about playing a Native at this time because we’ve seen it so many times and it’s kind of always been the same,” he says. “I grew up watching Westerns wanting to be a cowboy because they had so much fun. I never really wanted to be the Indian.”
It wasn’t until Cortez met with the producers that he says he felt “safe” to tell this story. And with the help of an Apache translator, he’s focused on bringing a “truthful” story to the screen. “I wanted to do it in a way that really respected especially the Apache culture,” he says. “We’re not always gonna get it 100 percent right. We’re going to be trying our best.”
But when it comes to diversity in the West, there are even more stories to be told. “Gender roles in the West and on the frontier were not as cut and dry as people think they were,” Katie Findlay says. “There were queer people in the West, there were trans people in the West, there were all kinds of social and romantic partnerships. It was just a big endless frontier world of people figuring each other out in the midst of racism, sexism, homophobia. One of the things I love the most about the show is there is room for exploration of gender role and queerness.”
As Fahey puts it, “It was a chance to go back and revisit an era and look for those untold stories, look for actual true-to-life characters who never had their day in the sun.”
However, when the show isn’t putting its own spin on what a Western is, it’s reveling in all the traditional things a Western can be, like say, exciting gunfights and horse chases. Yes, the cast got to attend what they call “cowboy camp” before shooting. And yes, McNamara did learn how to ride a horse backward. (It’s a skill that was not ultimately used in the pilot and one that Fahey swears will be put to use at some point.)
“There’s such a nostalgia to Westerns,” McNamara says. “There’s an adventure aspect to Westerns. There’s a romanticism to them that’s familiar to so many folks.”
In Walker Independence, which McNamara lovingly calls “not your mama’s Western,” there will be romance and showdowns, and above all, drama. “I think the stakes are higher just dramatically sometimes [in Westerns],” Fahey notes.
And with someone as determined as Abby Walker leading the way, things are only going to get more complicated. “She’s a woman who has, not only everything else women have to deal with, but also the obstacle of society,” McNamara says. “Being a woman who doesn’t fit can present its own challenges, but also, having the opportunity to subvert the ingénue in a way is a lot of fun.”
But the show isn’t just about the people of Independence. It’s also about a time in Texas history. “I’m obsessed with turning points,” Fahey says. “Right around this time was a massive turning point, not only in the nation’s history but Texas history, and so it became something where if you could have all these characters about to make certain choices that made them all collide at the same time while you’re reinventing what Texas was at this time, it just seemed like a nice collision course.”
And when push comes to shove, what does Fahey say this show is ultimately about? Identity. “Westerns I think are defined by a changing world, a changing landscape. How are people going to adapt?” he says.
It’s unclear just how Abby Walker will adapt, and how her new friends (and foes) will face their own turning points. But one thing is very clear: McNamara manifested this.
“We get asked the question all the time: What’s your dream project? My pat answer was always: Put me in a corset and a hoop skirt and I’m a happy girl. I’d love to do a period piece,” McNamara says. “And I guess manifestation is a thing because here I am.”
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