The most nerve-shredding thing about AMC’s new hit zombie show The Walking Dead is that you never know when somebody is going to get killed by a zombie. That being said, in the first three episodes no one actually did get killed by a zombie (well, if we don’t count the billions who were presumably felled by undead fiends while Andrew Lincoln’s hero-cop Rick Grimes was in a coma. And we don’t!).
All that changed in last night’s show, “Vatos,” as a campfire fish dinner suddenly turned into chow time for the undead, who feasted upon both sweet Amy (Emma Bell) and the much more sour Ed (Adam Minarovich). The episode’s other major plot line followed Grimes and a handful of other survivors as they searched for Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) in Atlanta and came across a gang who weren’t quite what they seemed (after of course, coming across Merle’s severed hand).
“Vatos” was also the first episode written by Robert Kirkman, who pens the ongoing Walking Dead comic book and is an executive producer on the show. After the jump, Kirkman talks about last night’s show and why killing people onscreen is a lot harder than offing them in a comic book.
Be warned: the Q&A features a photo of one ugly-looking zombie.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It seems appropriate that the honor of writing the first deaths-by-zombie went to the guy who created this whole Walking Dead shebang in the first place.
ROBERT KIRKMAN: I was pretty happy that the first death in the show was in an episode that I got to write. That was kind of cool.
What exactly does it mean that you “wrote” last night’s show? Because there is a writers’ room on The Walking Dead, right?
Yeah, it’s not like comic books. When you read comic books and it’s like, “Written by Robert Kirkman,” I totally wrote that comic. But most of the people that are listed as executive producers — guys like Jack LoGiudice and Chick Eglee — those are the guys in our writers’ room. Then [Shawshank Redemption director] Frank Darabont did a lot of polish on all of the scripts for this season, as the main executive producer-creative director. There’s a lot of things that I did in the script while I was typing it and stuff. But for the most part, everything is a team effort and I think that’s a really cool thing. That was the strangest part of writing a television show. It was like writing with a safety net. I think it makes the writing that much stronger and it’s a really fun process.
Rick’s return to Atlanta Rick wasn’t in the comic, certainly not in the form we saw in “Vatos.” Was it fun to go back and essentially add another chapter to the Walking Dead mythology?
It was very exciting. I got to write the attack at the end of the episode — which was very much something that happened in the comic book series — so I knew I would be revisiting something I had already written. But as we were in the writers’ room, when things started shifting which led to all this new stuff that wasn’t in the comic book series, I thought that was great because it wasn’t me writing the same-old same-old or rewriting something I had already done and trying to make it interesting for myself. It was really an entirely new story: getting the gang members in there and getting to write Daryl — played my Norman Reedus — which is one of my favorite characters on the show, despite the fact that he’s not in the comic book. It was a blast.
Daryl is a fascinating character and, as Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Hurd says, he’s the kind of guy you want around in a zombie apocalypse. But you feel guilty for even slightly liking him, because both Daryl and his brother Merle seem to be flat-out racists.
Well, if you do your job right, you find some kind of sympathetic thing to every character. He’s definitely not the best of guys. But as far as entertainment goes, everybody likes a villain, and I guess there are good aspects of his character. But he is a racist, which is not a good thing. So I guess people feel guilty for liking him. I can understand that.
It is worth pointing out that Steven Yeun’s character Glenn has just gotten endlessly crapped on so far in this show.
[Deadpan] That’s because everyone hates Steven Yeun.
It was the point when Daryl put Merle’s severed hand into his back pack that I thought, “Come on, leave the guy alone!”
[Laughs] I think that it’s a testament to his ability as an actor that there’s just this little glance that Steven gives when that hand is placed in his backpack. It’s obvious that he is not wanting to do this. But at the same time you can see his dedication to their survival. There’s a lot going on there without him saying anything and I think it’s remarkable.
I’m usually pretty good at working out plot twists before they happen. But I did not see the switcheroo with the gang coming at all.
Well good, we gotcha! That scene was really to illustrate that nothing is what it seems in the Walking Dead. In order to survive, people do what they have to do and sometimes people who are gangbangers and very violent individuals become protectors. It’s kind of a cool thing to see all these different role reversals and people growing and changing over time. I’m excited that we’ll get to see more of that in the show. I think that it’s a really good indication of what we may end up doing with Daryl. He starts out as a very rough, dangerous character, much like his brother, but even in episode four we kind of start to see him calming down a little bit and becoming more helpful and kind of integrating into the group better. It’s fun to see that evolution.
The gang leader was called Guillermo. I appreciate that’s a common Hispanic name, but was it a nod to Guillermo del Toro?
If it was, it was from Frank. Because Frank is the one that came up with that name.
I read an old news story which said that at one point Guillermo del Toro was in the frame to direct the show.
There was a point where Guillermo wanted to be involved but it just didn’t work out.
Moving on to the campfire massacre at the end of the show, I know there aren’t supposed to be many zombies up where the characters are staying, but I would have posted sentries of some sort.
[Laughs] They had cans hanging from ropes, alright?
And I’ll tell you one thing I would never do in a zombie apocalypse: weep over a fresh corpse, as Andrea (Laurie Holden) does over her sister, Amy.
[With mock outrage] Oh, stop it! You don’t know what you would do if you were ever forced to deal with something like that. You have no sympathy for these fictional characters! And how dare you — how dare you — question the actions of a fake character who is dealing with the death of another fake character. I mean, come on!
There must be a big difference for you between killing someone in a comic book and killing someone on TV, because you’re essentially ending an actor’s involvement with the show. Is that a tough thing to do?
Screw those people! No, in all seriousness, it’s something that’s very difficult for me. Because it is lines on paper when I do it in the comic book series. It’s like, “Oh, okay, Charlie [Adlard, Walking Dead illustrator] doesn’t have to draw that arrangement of lines anymore, that person is dead.” But it’s very uncomfortable for me to be on set, because I see these actors that are there and, in the source material, I have killed all but two of them. I walk through the set and I’m like, “Yep, killed that one, killed that one, killed that one.” And it is firing those people. I feel really bad for Emma Bell, just because she was great and I would have liked to have had her in the show. But, you know, this is the Walking Dead, characters have got to die. Thankfully, Emma was brought onto the show with the understanding that she was only going to be in a certain number of episodes and she knew that she was going to die from the very beginning. But it doesn’t really make it any easier. When they were shooting those scenes, I had to fly to Comic-Con and so I wasn’t actually there for when she died. But it was very emotional on set and I know that she was very upset about having to leave the crew and the actors. You kind of become a family when you’re doing a TV show and it’s a little upsetting to have to get rid of somebody.
Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) gave a big shout-out to William Faulkner on the show. You’re a fan?
I don’t know why you’re laughing. That’s a perfectly reasonable question!
Well, that’s one of those lines where, you know, Dale says that, and I’m watching it and I’m going, “Yeah, my friends are going to know that line’s not from me.” That’s why I’m laughing.
I Googled Johan Renck, who directed the episode, and discovered that he was once in
’80s ’90s Swedish pop act Stakka Bo.
I did not know that about Johan. But having met him and spent some time with him, that does not surprise me.
Are you familiar with the musical act of which I speak?
I have no clue what you are talking about. But I will definitely look that up.
Okay, I think we’re pretty much done. If you can just tell me who’s to die in episodes five and six, then we can wrap this thing up
Well, Andrew Lincoln got a little lippy on the fourth episode and so I think there’s going to be some surprises in store for episode five. I hope everyone learns to like Shane because he’s now the lead of the show. I mean, whatever…
Just to be clear, we’re (99%) sure Kirkman was joshing at the end. But what think you of last night’s show? Did you see the gang switcheroo coming? Were you sad about Amy’s demise (or even to see the end of Ed)? Any guesses as to the whereabouts of Merle? And does anyone else out there remember Stakka Bo? I’ve embedded their hit “Here We Go” below, as a memory jogger.
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