The Walking Dead Producers Talk Zombies
Want to know what’s in store for season 2 of The Walking Dead? By the sounds of it you’re in for a real treat!
Fear Net caught up with the producers of the show, Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, and Glen Mazzara, to find out more about the upcoming second season.
There seemed to be complaints among fans that the first season moved too slowly. In season two, are there more “event” episodes?
Robert Kirkman: It wasn’t a conscious thing. I think season two is jam-packed - it’s a bigger season. There is a lot going on. I don’t know if I would necessarily agree with the season one criticism. We shoot a child at the start of every season.
What impressions have you gotten from social media? What do audiences want more of? What do they want less of?
RK: I think in general, people were very happy with the fact that we really focused on character.
Is it interesting to do your own “alternate reality” of your own comic?
RK: I think if we were to follow the comic exactly - and I think the comic is very good - it would bore me to watch the show as a fan, and know exactly what was going to happen. [I am paraphrasing so as not to give away any spoilers] Even if something happens in the comic book and the series, it might not happen in the same way. Even if you are a die-hard fan of the comic book, you aren’t expecting it. That is, I think, the best of both worlds. It has the same flavor and tone of the comic book series, so fans definitely respond to the television series, but we’re still able to pull the rug out from under them. I think one of the most appealing factors of the comic book series is that it is completely shocking, and you never know what is going to happen next.
The gore this season seems to be bigger and badder. Was it ever a fight with the network? Have they asked you to tone it down?
RK: No. I think the fight for me is always to find something they won’t let us do. We haven’t found that yet.
Glen Mazzara: With a show like this, it’s a balance. It’s a horror show, so there is a particular element that is fun to write, fun to film. But there is also a point where it becomes gratuitous. So you have to be careful. The audience does have a line. I don’t think we are pulling back; I think the gore makes sense here. We want to keep the show grounded. I don’t think it will ever become a splatterfest. That’s not what we are about.
It seems that this season, the zombies had a little more personality. Is that true? Am I just projecting?
GM: It depends on who plays the zombie that week. That has actually led to a lot of conversations. Zombies should not have personalities.
RK: We do like to play around with the idea of what zombies do when people aren’t around. I’ve always liked to think that they either just sit around, or they wander somewhere, not knowing where they are going.
Gale Anne Hurd: If there is no reason to move around, then generally, they won’t.
RK: I based the zombies on myself to a large extent. If I don’t need to get up, I won’t.
Darryl has become a fan-favorite and he wasn’t ever in the books. Was it planned out that he would be around this long?
RK: He’s a great character, and there is a wealth of story potential in him. We are really just having fun with him.
When you are casting actors to play characters that have appeared in the comic, how much are you looking for actors who look like those characters?
RK: It’s really just the best actor for the job. The fact that a lot of the actors look like the comic book characters they play is largely coincidence. A very strange coincidence that we are constantly talking about.
Can you talk about the different energy that Glen brings to the show?
GAH: He’s very open. He has a great grounding in television. He’s very funny. Glen keeps us all calm. Filming a show like this, there is always a crisis. Whether it is weather or ticks or whatever, he has the ability to keep everyone calm and things running well. He’s a great storyteller, and he is very character-oriented. This season, with 13 episodes, we really have the opportunity to delve into character
Is it true you haven’t read the comic books?
GM: I did not read the comics until this year, so when I wrote episode five last year, I was winging it - which offended [Robert]. When we were coming up with ideas for season two, he turned to me and said, “You haven’t read this comic, have you?” It was then that I realized I had better read the comic. I love comics, but I sort of wanted to get my own handle on the material. I was worried that reading the comics would give me something to shoot for, rather than listening to the show.
Will we find out what happened to Merle?
RK: We are very mindful of the various cliffhangers that we have put out there. It’s not something we are going to be ignoring.
Will the new Walking Dead novel inform the show in any way?
RK: No, that is based in the comic book continuity. The novel is basically a precursor to what happens in the comics.
Is there anything you would like to address regarding the change in command?
GM: I came over to the show to be Frank’s #2. I think Frank is a talented individual, a great guy, and I love working with him. We all did a lot of work plotting this season under Frank. I think a lot of the reason we have had such a smooth transition is that it is a fully articulated world. I think there has been a lot of concern that I’m going to fuck up the show, but really, we’re just trying to get it done. I think this is consistent to the material we did last year. Like any second season, you work out the bugs, you try to improve, and what you are seeing is the usual growth of any TV show. There is no plan to deviate from what we worked out; there is no different vision of the show. It’s just, “Let’s make the greatest show we can.”
Can you talk a little bit about the “why” of Frank’s departure? From a fan’s perspective, it seemed very sudden.
GM: I don’t want to talk about Frank’s situation. Frank is still an executive producer on the show, but it would be inappropriate of me to comment. I can talk about my experience, how much I care about the show.
A lot of the actors have talked about how influential Frank is to them, and how important he is to them. How is his departure affecting them?
GM: Frank is the big daddy figure. They care about him. They are just going on auditions, then suddenly the great Frank Darabont picks them to be on this great show. There is an emotional connection that they have with Frank that they will never have to another producer. I’m in the situation where I have to fill Frank’s shoes, and that’s a dangerous situation. I spoke to them honestly. Everything has been conceived under Frank’s direction, but not everything has been written. There are going to be scripts that are going to feel different. I went in asking for their support. Then I had to go talk to the crew. The cast asked that I not do that until they can be there, and stand behind me. That was really a win. They are such professionals, care so much about the work, so dedicated to making sure that the show does well. Honestly, the show could collapse. I don’t think it will. But when they stood behind me, I really felt like they were invested. They were saying, “Okay, this is confusing, but we’re going to try to make this work. We’re all in this together.” That has been the case. I speak to them all the time. They have questions, and we are working through it. The material continues to be good. It may not have the Frank Darabont feel, but I believe in it, and I believe that we will execute it the best we can. I think they have really risen to the challenge. It was a hard punch to take, and I think we are moving on.
GAH: It wasn’t like a palace revolt. It wasn’t like someone was brought in from the outside who wasn’t invested in the show. The other thing that was incredibly helpful was that Frank blessed Glen as show runner. He made that clear to the cast and crew. So I think that assuaged everyone’s concerns about whether or not this was something to be okay with. “Am I being disloyal?” is a very human response. But Frank was very clear that Glen had his blessing.
GM: I have a great relationship with Frank. He really responded to the script I wrote in season one. We worked one-on-one on it. We talked about what it takes to get a show up and running, so when he asked if I would want to come over and be the #2, I jumped at the chance. The cast knew that, so it wasn’t like I was an outsider who didn’t understand the show, who came in saying, “There’s a new sheriff in town.” That is not the case.
Have there been changes in the week-to-budget that fans will notice?
Any updates on the video game?
RK: It is definitely underway. The video game is based off the comic book series, and is not related to the television series at all. It should be debuting in early 2012. I think it is going to be on PC, XBox Live, and PlayStation Network.
There is a lot of talk about taking stuff from the comic and putting it into the show. Is there anything you would like to take from the show and put in the comic?
RK: That’s a very strange thing for me. I’d certainly like to - I think there are things from the show that would work well in the comic. But I have things planned so far in advance in the comic series, and I am years ahead of where the show is chronologically. Like most of the characters are dead, it’s almost an entirely new cast [in the comic]… it’s just hard to do any type of translation. It’s great for me because I am writing the comic and television show concurrently, so there is never any risk of me wanting to save something for the comic.
Has there been talk about taking the TV storyline and turning that into a comic?
RK: Not until now! I like to sell things so… if anyone else has any ideas or suggestions….
It seems like the zombies this season are moving faster than last season.
GAH: Our biggest concern [last season] was that they were moving too slowly. We had some scenes where it was like they were on Thorazine. The litmus is always that zombie in the cemetery in Night of the Living Dead - who ambles pretty fast.
RK: It’s also a sliding scale. We try to pay attention to how decomposed they are, how riled up they are, so it kind of fluctuates how fast they can go. They’re never going to be Olympic sprinters, but they can hobble along pretty quickly. We have a list of “zombie rules” I will look at every now and again.
The Walking Dead season 2 premieres on FX this October!