The producers and cast of “The Walking Dead” met the Television Critics Association for the first time in the show’s history this weekend. AMC presented a panel for the 250+ press organization, and some select intimate roundtable interviews for genre. Robert Kirkman, Glen Mazzara, Gale Anne Hurd, Greg Nicotero, Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride spoke with us about the second half of the second season.
But first we addressed what some consider to be a decline in the show’s quality since original show runner Frank Darabont was unceremoniously let go. In his absence, the story has lingered on a search for missing girl Sophia, with search headquarters at Hershel Greene’s farm… “I think if they didn’t have that moment of calm where we got to know our characters a little bit better and we kind of got a sense that things were looking pretty good for them, this farm was a great place for them to be,” Kirkman said. “You have to build up what they have before you can take it away. That’s really what makes the story more interesting.”
Certainly the payoff of the walkers in the barn, and the final reveal of Sophia’s fate ended the half season with a bang. “We will resolve these storylines,” Hurd promised. “Certainly people earned that resolution, earned that reveal. The farm has allowed us to develop the characters because it’s not a constant threat. They’re not always on the run. The dynamics among the members of the group are beginning to fester and beginning to build to a climax.”
Mazzara actually threw it back at me, and I welcome that. Let’s really get into this because we’re all passionate about the show. “I think that there might be some folks who would love for the show to be more of a video game and just have it – -“
I actually interrupted him there to defend the audience. We’re not that simple. We’re not looking for an action gorefest. If we have issues with the search for Sophia, they were dramatic concerns. Mazzara considered that point.
“If there were episodes that felt as if they were stalling or if it felt that they weren’t under threat, that perhaps the farm felt too safe and the threats were outside off the farm, a lot of that changes in the back part of the season,” Mazarra said. “I think that things pick up. I think it just becomes more, I don’t know what the word is, accelerated. The stakes are higher, more action packed, more interesting.”
That’s promising, but we also hope the producer know we’ll watch character drama as long as they’re not just talking in circles. Kirkman suggested that they are listening. “All we would ask is that we recognize this criticism and it is valid but we are working on a 13 piece puzzle that as a whole should be seen in a different light,” Kirkman said, “We’re hoping that when it’s all put together, people will see that it all came together in a good way.”
Now moving on to exciting new developments, Hurd teased some of the new conflicts that will face the survivors in the post Hershel world. “I’m excited that we’re going to begin to expand beyond Hershel’s farm,” Hurd said. “We’re going to encounter new survivors and what does that mean to the group? In addition to the conflict over the leadership of Team Rick vs. Team Shame and the triangle between Lori, Rick and Shane. We’re going to encounter people who are survivors that are they a new threat? Can they offer some sort of salvation?”
You will meet two of these new characters at the end of the first new episode, Kirkman promised. “I don’t want to reveal too much but I would say that it would be fairly unusual for those two people to be out there alone,” Kirkman said. “Anyone who’s familiar with the comic book series knows that while the zombies are threatening and terrifying and do represent a tremendous amount of danger for our characters, nothing compares to the danger that humans hold for each other. That’s a big theme that we deal with in the comic book series and that’s something that we’re moving towards in the show as well. The capacity for humans to hurt each other is just infinite. As we explore this world in a broader sense and kind of open things up outside the farm in these episodes coming up, we’re going to see that there are some tremendous threats out there and they’re human in nature, not zombie.”
Mazzara added, “Now that we have our characters established and we have our world established, now we want to break it down. Now we want to mess it up, make it complicated, give our characters as many obstacles and they become obstacles to each other. They have to deal with the outside world, the farm is no longer safe, there’s nowhere to go and we just keep piling on problem after problem like that.”
Nicotero had a metaphor to explain the shakeups that are coming after the Hershel barn massacre. “We’re picking up the pieces and you may not necessarily put the same piece back where it was pre-Sophia reveal,” Nicotero said.” It sets into motion the entire second season.”
Specifically, characters like Daryl (Reedus) will open up, said Hurd. “You’ve got Darryl’s character, someone who is the most well equipped to survive,” she said. “How is he going to respond now that he’s put so much effort into trying to find Sophia? He almost got killed. Everyone’s going to be affects by how we left things in 207.”
Reedus himself revealed that Daryl will get closer to Carol (McBride). “It’s like damaged people gravitate towards damaged people,” Reedus said. “She and I, our characters are a lot alike in that we were abused and put down for so long. Now that those elements, whether we wanted them to or not, have left us, there’s something kindred that we see in each other. We look after each other.”
It’ll be nice to see poor Carol have SOMEONE treat her nicely. McBride said it won’t be that easy. “There is a little division that comes between the two of them too because of what’s happened,” McBride said. “Carol, her reaction to it is to remember Sophia the way she was and move forward. In her heart, she’s come to terms with the fact that she’s not going to see Sophia again. Whether they found her or she was never found, we don’t know but it’s different for him. So he kind of pulls away a little bit I think to do what he needs to do and I just don’t want him to go far. I’m concerned with him and I’m looking out for him now, which you know Carol. She can’t drive by a stray she doesn’t pick up. Yeah, we look after each other a little bit. Everyone’s having love affairs, impregnating each other. What else are we going to do?”
Fan favorite Morgan Jones (Lennie James) is still out there surviving in the world. Kirkman said our main characters aren’t ready to encounter Jones again. “Only when it makes sense for the story,” Kirkman said. “That character is out there. That’s a plot point that we don’t want to leave dangling too long but it’s got to make sense for the story for that to come back. That’s something we’re going to be working towards.”
Also out of respect to James, they’re only going to bring him back if he has something juicy to do. “Right, if we do bring him back, it would be in a significant way,” Mazzara said. “We’re interested when we introduce characters that they really affect our existing characters, that they come in in a big significant way. We don’t want to just bring people in and just give ‘em one or two lines. We do have a great ensemble and we want to make sure that everybody has a significant storyline and that includes any new characters we would want to introduce.”
AMC has already announced a third season of “The Walking Dead”, which will have 16 episodes. Hurd is excited for more work, and it won’t even cut into her holiday time. “Yeah, we get to start earlier and we still end right before Thanksgiving,” Hurd said.
So far the seasons have grown from 6 to 13 to 16. That’s probably the cap though. There won’t be a 22 hour season four. “Not in cable,” Hurd said. “I think that the cable world, 16 is actually quite a lot.”
“The Walking Dead” returns Feb 12 on AMC.