Everything We Learned on the Set of 'The Punisher' Season 2

New villains, new locations, and more.

A lot has changed for the Marvel Universe since Inverse paid a visit to the New York set of The Punisher Season 2 last June. At the time, there were five Marvel shows on Netflix. Now, there’s two. At the time, the events of Avengers: Infinity War were fresh in everyone’s minds. Now, we’ve glimpsed Avengers: Endgame, the finale to an exhausting ten years of storytelling.

It’s within this period of uncertainty in Marvel that Frank Castle, the war veteran turned gun-toting vigilante, makes his return to Netflix. And in his anticipated second season premiering in January 2019, Frank Castle hits the road to see America.

In conversations with showrunner Steven Lightfoot and actors Jon Bernthal, Ben Barnes, Giorgia Whigham, and Josh Stewart, we learned what’s in store for The Punisher Season 2. While everyone involved refrained from giving away too much — those Marvel snipers once again loomed in the shadows — we can say that Season 2 doubles down on what makes The Punisher an anomaly in a time of superhero domination.

Warning: Light spoilers ahead for The Punisher Season 2.

Set a year after Season, Frank Castle, aka “The Punisher,” leaves New York to roam America in a beat-up trailer gifted to him by his friend Curtis (Jason R. Moore). But it isn’t long until he’s roped into helping a troubled teenage girl, Amy (Giorgia Whigham), fend off two very different and very dangerous threats that only the Punisher can stop.

Jon Bernthal The Punisher Season 2
Jon Bernthal returns as Frank Castle, AKA "The Punisher," in Season 2 of the Netflix series.

“We find Frank trying to fulfill the promise he made at the end of Season 1,” says showrunner Steven Lightfoot. “He ended that [season] saying ‘I no longer have a war to fight.’ He’s spent time trying to get by and wander America, having a look at the country that he fought for but not really seen.”

But Season 2 isn’t a road trip story. It begins towards the end of Frank’s walkabout before exploring how Frank formally adopts the name “The Punisher” to become the anti-superhero superhero we all know.

“Season 1 was about coming to terms with the death of his family, as much one can,” says Lightfoot. “The theme of Season 2, it’s about him adopting the mantle of The Punisher and to the threats he faces.”

This includes Frank putting on that spray-painted bulletproof vest, his “cape,” once again.

“I’m really rigorous with the writers,” says Bernthal, who returns in his critically-acclaimed role as Frank Castle. “If he’s gonna wear it, there’s gotta be a tactical reason. He’s not a flashy guy. He spent Season 2 of Daredevil laughing like, ‘What the fuck is that costume?’ So we gotta make that work. When he puts it on, they figured out a very intelligent, very tactical reason, psychologically tactical reason to wear it. It makes a lot of sense.”

Josh Stewart John Pilgrim The Punisher Season 2
Josh Stewart as John Pilgrim in 'The Punisher' Season 2.

Tribe, a 2016 book that explores the history and psychology of tribal societies, played a profound influence on the series for both its showrunner and its star.

“To me, it’s a special book,” says Bernthal. “When you suffer trauma, to be on mission, to have direction, and have an enemy that you know of and be in it with likeminded people provides some quiet from the storm. The monsters start to come in the quiet when you have nothing to fight for and no direction. That’s what this season is about for Frank. He keeps getting drawn into this fight over who is the real Frank Castle, and if there is any peace.”

Bernthal says there is a military term for people like Frank Castle: “Shit magnet.”

“Frank finds himself being that,” he says, “and everybody close to him starts getting hurt. He has to deal with the fact that it’s when he’s not on mission, when he’s not going after the worst of the worst, that’s when innocent people start to die.”

The Punisher Season 2 Jigsaw
Ben Barnes (center) as "Billy Russo" in 'The Punisher' Season 2. Billy's face is mildly disfigured, but he's left a psychological mess in the aftermath of his battle with Frank from Season 1.

Lightfoot says Frank is “trying to be a guy who can fit in and leave all the violence behind,” but violence is “integral” to his character.

“It doesn’t take him long in episode one to find a new fight to get involved in,” he says. “I always say, the point where Frank retires and opens a bar, there’s no show. We always have to find him a new fight to have.”

Frank’s “fight” in Season 2 manifests on two fronts. First, there’s his old pal Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), Frank’s best war buddy turned sworn enemy. Known in the comics as the disfigured serial killer “Jigsaw,” Billy began his transformation at the end of Season 1 when Frank ruined Billy’s face — an act that will have dramatic consequences for both characters in Season 2.

“The repercussions of the fight at the end of the first season are very much marked on his face,” says Barnes. “They don’t want it to be a horror show. It’s internal. We don’t refer to the character as ‘Jigsaw,’ but he very much has a jigsaw puzzle in his brain. It’s not about his face, it’s about the psychological. Even more so than last season, it’s about what’s in his head.”

“Everything he fought so hard for, and betrayed his brother to get, things that filled this hole were taken away,” says Lightfoot on the new Billy Russo. “He now carries the horrible scars and there’s this physical representation of what Frank took away. So much of how he defined himself was in his looks. Rightly or wrongly, Billy is the one who thinks he’s aggrieved.”

The Punisher Season 2
Behind the scenes of 'The Punisher' Season 2.

While Billy works with a psychiatrist, Krista (played by Floriana Lima), there’s another foe for Frank: John Pilgrim, played by Josh Stewart. Don’t bother diving into your longboxes or Marvel encyclopedias for spoilers. John Pilgrim is a new character introduced for the series, and he’s an antagonist unlike anything seen in any Marvel production.

Described by Stewart as a “fairly quiet” and “still” person, John Pilgrim is a Christian fundamentalist “who has a rage, violent side” that’s buried deep within him.

“The heart of the character is a guy who, in a way, is a mirror of Frank,” Lightfoot says. “He’s a guy who has a propensity for violence. He’s an honorable, trustworthy guy you’d want him on your side, but the people he’s chosen to believe in weren’t the best choice. He’s put his loyalties in the wrong place. Unfortunately Frank is on the other side of that.”

“I think where this is all headed, that side of him is going to resurface,” Stewart hints. “He pays attention to the fundamentals. He plays by the book. It’s not something he can half-ass. It’s kind of like addiction. You can’t kind of want to be sober and kind of not. It’s all or nothing with him.”

There isn’t a lot else we know about John Pilgrim. Especially when it comes to his archetype as a religious fundamentalist who crosses swords (or guns) with a notorious anti-hero like the Punisher. But we do know that even in the Marvel Universe, a continuity packed with super geniuses and alien gods, Pilgrim is steadfast in his beliefs.

“He only believes there is one empowered individual,” Stewart says, and it’s not Frank Castle.

Caught between Pilgrim and the Punisher is Amy, a 16-year-old grifter played by Giorgia Whigham. It’s unknown where Amy fits into the puzzle of the show, but we do know her story is wrapped up in Pilgrim’s and that she seeks Frank’s help to get her out of dodge.

“When we meet her she’s got herself in some trouble and is way over her head,” says the showrunner. “There are people coming after her and Frank, he can’t stand by and watch someone be mean to a kid.”

Netflix Punisher Season 2
Giorgia Whigham plays "Amy," a teenaged runaway who teams up with Frank Castle in 'The Punisher' Season 2.

“She’s a free spirit, she wants to see the world,” says Whigham about her character. “She gets caught up in something she shouldn’t have gotten tied into. She realizes she’s only 16 and she can’t do it on her own. As tough as she is, she’s a kid. And Frank is Frank Castle. She realizes he can help her. I form a bond with him through that.”

While all the characters in The Punisher bring out something in Frank Castle, Lightfoot says that it’s Frank’s relationship with Amy that takes on a profound, personal meaning that reminds Frank of who he was before the darkness engulfed him.

“She’s within a year of how old his daughter would have been now,” Lightfoot. says “We get to play with a lot of things about fatherhood, and the fatherhood taken away from him.”

Article continues after this related video.

Related video: Watch the premiere date announcement of 'The Punisher' Season 2.

Between the return of Billy Russo and protecting Amy from people like John Pilgrim, Season 2 of The Punisher is all about Frank Castle’s evolution into “The Punisher.” Frank Castle has a mission to do, the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Netflix be damned.

“The heart of Frank is a guy who fears he’s just like the monsters,” Lightfoot says. “That character for me is in the long tradition of American cinema. My approach to the show has always been, you can’t tell the story of the Punisher without violence, but I never want the violence to be glib or fun.”

After three seasons across two different shows, Bernthal has a clearer idea of what a character like Frank Castle could be in the best of circumstances.

“For so long, we’ve gone through this thing in this country where a certain element has a stronghold or monopoly on what it means to be strong or tough, or masculine, or patriotic for that matter,” he says. “The mark of someone who is strong, patriotic, tough, is someone who has an open mind.”

But unfortunately, that’s not Frank Castle’s destiny.

“I don’t think he’s ever been a guy who’s concerned with finding peace of mind, or harmony, or finding love,” Bernthal says. “I think he’s sadly at home in the blackness and in the darkness.”

Marvel’s The Punisher begins streaming on Netflix on January 18, 2019.

Media via Netflix