At this weekend’s Comic-Con, the cast of AMC’s The Walking Dead gathered with series creator Robert Kirkman, director and co-creator Frank Darabont, and producer Gale Anne Hurd to present fans with a look at the upcoming season of the new smash series. With an order for more than double the previous season’s episodes, and a rabid and expanding fan base, the team of survivors and the crew steering the ship have quite an undertaking ahead of them. Check out what they had to say about making the new season after the jump, but beware some 1st season spoilers…
When we last left the group of survivors, Rick and Shane were struggling for control of the expedition, Lori refused to acknowledge her infidelity (in spite of Shane becoming increasingly unhinged), Andrea was devastated by the loss of her sister until Dale professed his love for her, and Darrell’s deranged brother Merele was still on the loose. So what could possibly go wrong from there?! Comic and series creator Robert Kirkman was guarded about revealing plot specifics, but spoke a little bit about what we can expect this season.
Kirkman: ”The group is going to be pulling apart in different ways, different people are going coming into conflict, and it’s just going to be an overall sense of the ordeal that they’re all surviving through together. It’s going to affect them all in different ways, and we’re going to see people reach their breaking points this season.”
Kirkman: ”The setting of the first season was largely metropolitan…and we’re moving out of the city centers this season. We’re in the woods, with people getting ticks all over them. There are a lot of dire situations with bad consequences, they’ve got no food, no supplies, danger lurks around every corner. It’ll be more intense.”
Jon Bernal, who plays Shane, expanded on the subject a little bit more.
Bernal: “One of the big themes that comes up in season to is, ‘is it worth it, this desire to survive.’ We’ve lost everything, so how do you branch out in that world? How do you prepare children when there’s nothing else? The idea of Shane and his guilt– what we’re starting to see now is that some of these characters are starting to find out that trying to be human in this new world doesn’t really work. That love, and shame really have no place. It’s just survival.”
Similar to AMC’s other hit show, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead’s first season was only six episodes long, but the network more than doubled their order when they renewed the followup season. Creator Robert Kirkman, who oversees the writers room, had this to say:
Kirkman: [With only] 6 episodes, we came in and we told a story. But to go to a 13 episode structure, and already having your characters and their relationships established in that first season, we’re just able to build. There’s going to be so many more twists and turns, so many more shocking moments, and it’s going to be a huge great season. There’s a lot of pressure on us, because the first season was so successful and well received. But I think that that’s made everyone involved work that much harder to make this season even better.”
When asked about whether or not they had gotten any flak from the network with regard to the show’s brutal violence, producer Gale Ann Hurd said,
Hurd: “We really haven’t had to fight for anything…We were all on the same page going in, and it’s really nice when the standards and practices guy gives us notes like, ‘that was a really cool zombie kill!’ as opposed to, ‘you can’t show that on television.’”
The show did take some heat, however, from fans of the comic book series who were upset by some of the divergences from the ink and paper version of the story (for example the medical explanation of the zombie “virus”). Kirkman and Darabont both spoke on this subject:
Kirkman: “I wholeheartedly accept the fact that the TV show and the comic series are completely different things, just because I like to have two products that people can enjoy that can generate profits.”
Darabont: “You want to take the best stuff, and have the comic book be your guide. You want to get locked into it, but you can’t. It’s a much more complex art form-not putting down comics, at all! It’s just a much simpler version of what the storytelling is doing. We’re constantly asking, ‘what’s memorable, and a cornerstone for our storytelling, and what are the branches from that in our core narrative…There are probably lines we won’t cross. Not because we’re pussies or anything…but it’s just that Robert writes for his audience, and we’re worrying about a broader audience. There are certain things I won’t embrace from the comic that as a viewer I wouldn’t want to go there, so as a storyteller, why would I want to go there?”
Stephen Yuen, who plays Glenn, chimed in to add:
Yuen: “I think as a group, we collectively realized that even though has it follows the same name and same story, it serves it’s own purpose, it’s a different entity. So to inform yourself ahead of time would be to do yourself a disservice. But it’s always in mind, but we never try to meld the two.”
At last year’s comic-con, many of the actors spoke about how the darkness and horror of the show was difficult for them to shake at the end of the day. When asked about whether or not it was easier to get back to these places, or the higher stakes pushed them to worse places, everyone in the cast had something to say.
Laurie Holden (Andrea): “In terms of the emotional journey, there’s a passing of the baton. It’s a difficult show. It’s hot, and it’s high stakes. But I held the baton last year with the death of Amy, and I pass it off this year, without giving anything away. Everyone has their moment of loss, and things that challenge them more than others. That’s what’s so wonderful about an ensemble, is that, now it’s their turn, and you see their heartbreak, but in a beautiful storytelling way. But we can’t always be on the floor, we’ve got to fight to survive. This is a survival show.”
Jon Bernal (Shane): “Andy [Lincoln] and I did some work a few weeks ago, and afterwards we walked out to the end of the road, and we were talking to each other, and we were just weeping like two insane maniacs. We’re in such a good groove with the writers, and the crew, and each other. So it’s not about pumping ourselves up, it’s just about staying in [that mindset] all day, which is hard in a completely different way. It’s exhausting to be in that world, but it’s unbelievably rewarding.”
Norman Reedus (Daryl): “I remember last season just laying in bed, and I couldn’t lift my head. You feel it in this one, and I think it helps. Georgia is as much a character of this show as anything else; that sort of deep south heat, and sweat, and noise. It works for us, and we’re kind of fighting for our lives just like that. But it’s definitely a feel, the way you put on certain shoes and you walk a certain way.”
Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori): “There are some beautiful, beautiful scenes of redemption, and hope, and peace, that come from very unexpected places. There are some scenes that are just lovely. And that’s the great balance that Frank brings as a writer. So much of what he’s written is profoundly redemptive, and he isn’t afraid of moments of real beauty and generosity, and love that really help offset the rest of it.”
The Walking Dead is among the best ensemble writing on television, which is why fans were shocked to hear rumors that the entire first season writing staff had been fired and replaced by freelancers. The show’s producers were quick to put these stories to bed.
Kirkman: “We’ve got 3 staff writers, and we’ve got a freelance guy. Scott Gimple, Evan Riley, and Angela Kang on staff, we’ve got David Leslie Johnson who’s coming in and writing a couple freelance episodes this season. We’ve got Glen Mazzarra as the head writer, and Frank and I are also writing episodes too. It’s a full writing staff, I don’t know how this freelance rumor started. It’s just one of those rumors that gets out and no one really knows [the truth].”
Frank Darabont went on to explain that he couldn’t possibly do the work by all himself, as the rumors suggested. In fact, it’s difficult enough with an entire team of writers. He explained,
“It’s grueling to do what we do, period. The sheer hours, and lack of weekends. Most people get to work a 9 hour day, and that’s just when we’re getting started really…it’s not easy, writing 16 hours a day. [And with twice as many episodes to write], You just set your mind to a different space, and it’s more like a marathon.”
What they DIDN’T address, however, was that none of the names they mentioned are from the previous season’s writing staff. Writers/producers Charles H. Elgee, Adam Fiero, and Greg Nicotero (formerly writers and producers on F/X’s The Shield) were credited several times over the last season, but appear to be absent from this one. I wouldn’t worry too much, though, because the big creative forces behind this show are all still present, bringing their unique and distinct visions to the project.
Finally, it was pointed out to Darabont that the comic book series is ongoing and has been for over five years now with absolutely no sign of stopping. However, TV series tend to have a much shorter lifespan, which is almost always decided on by the network rather than the creators. When asked about whether or not they had any idea how to conclude this story if they had to, Darabont responded:
Darabont: “I say let’s go on forever! A good zombie just keeps walking! Hopefully we won’t just decay in our tracks. But that’s a good question, sure, we could come up with something. Give me two days with my writers, and I’m sure we could come up with something if we had to end it tomorrow. I’m sure it would involve some sort of leftover nuclear device. That would be my first suggestion.”
It’s this good natured enthusiasm and genuine excitement that make him the perfect director to head up this show. Combined with terrific source material, and an honest desire to make something that will stand apart from the rest of cable television, this show is one of the strongest on TV. Watch out, HBO, AMC and The Walking Dead are hot on your tail…