KABOOM!!! Yes, undead fans, the latest episode of AMC’s record-breakingly popular, post-apocalyptic, zombie show The Walking Dead concluded tonight with a shot that was heard all around the world — or at least all around a cow pasture somewhere in Georgia.
Did the show end with Michael Zegen’s Randall being executed by our band of survivors? No! In another bait-and-switch by the show’s writers the victim was the Jeffrey DeMunn’s Dale, the man who had spent most of episode trying to save Randall’s life only to have his own zombie-ravaged body be put out of its misery by Norman Reedus’ Daryl.
Below, Walking Dead comic writer — and TV show executive producer — Robert Kirkman talks about the episode, pays tribute to DeMunn, and kicks himself for not having the sense to steal Dale’s hat.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, it’s rest In peace, Dale.
ROBERT KIRKMAN: Indeed.
Would you care to say a few words about the dearly departed?
I think it’s a monumental death for the series. Dale’s character has been the heart and soul of the show. He’s definitely the moral compass. He’s the guy that, more so than anyone, has been warning people to be careful how you let this world change you and monitoring what lengths people are going to survive. His loss is going to mean a great deal for all the characters in the show and is definitely going to represent a turn to a darker space. His death means a lot.
It’s heartbreaking to lose Jeffrey DeMunn. He’s really given us a lot, these last two seasons on the show. It’s been amazing to work with him and get to know him and he’s an awesome dude and we’re definitely going to miss him.
Why did you decide to pull the trigger on Dale?
It’s really just about how it affects the other characters. That’s the main thing that goes into a decision to kill a character: “What does this get us?” Having an amazing ending to the episode and really showing the viewer that this is a dangerous world and anyone can go at any minute and getting the shock value of that is great. But, at the end of the day, it’s “How does this affect things six episodes down the road? How does this affect things ten episodes down the road?” That’s really the question. Once we started working that out in the writing room and seeing how Dale’s death affects Shane and Dale’s death affects Rick and Daryl and Lori and Andrea and all the way down the list — that’s really what helped us along in this decision.
In retrospect, the episode almost seems like a eulogy to the character, albeit one in which he did most of the talking.
[Laughs] And isn’t that just like Dale? He had some important things to say before he went. And those things are going to weigh on people. This is very much going to inform the next episode and episodes after that. He was saying, “Let’s think about humanity and how this is going to affect us if we decide to kill this boy” and everybody seemed to push back on that. It was, “Oh Dale, shut up.”
I think the big question on everyone’s lips after seeing the episode will be, “What, in real life, happened to Dale’s hat?”
You know, when questions like this come up, it’s upsetting to me. Because I think about all the things that I could steal from the set. And the thing is, AMC doesn’t really care. Norman Reedus just joked on a panel about stealing a crossbow and the president of AMC wrote Norman and was like, “You owe us a crossbow! Ha!” He didn’t care. But, damn, I wish I had stolen that hat now.
The scene in which Carl throws a stone at the zombie was fairly chilling. I was reminded that supposedly serial killers often torture animals as kids.
Well, yes, we’re going into dark places. Carl is one of the most fun characters to tell stories about in this world. It’s true of the comic and it’s true of the show. Over time, we’re going to start to see more and more of this kid. What’s awesome about that is, think about what it would be like to grow up in this world. It’s one thing to have everything you know taken away from you and have to deal with this s—y world you now have to live in. But to have barely even really recognized what the world is and how it works and what to expect and then to be thrust into this apocalyptic threat and to grow up and mature with these kinds of situations. It’s going to make him grow up weird, is what I like to say.
Every time Shane does anything wrong I think, “Well, that confirms he’s a bad dude.” But when the episode opened with Norman Reedus torturing some guy who really hasn’t done anything wrong at all I just thought, “Well, that’s just Daryl doing his thing…”
[Laughs] Yeah. Daryl gets a pass. We want to like him. Meanwhile Shane is trying to do everything he can to protect people and everybody’s like, “That guy’s a villain!” It is a funny thing.
At one point Rick said to Lori that Shane isn’t going to be a problem anymore which once again made me wonder what kind of crappy cop he must have been before the apocalypse.
[Laughs] Well, this is actually an important thing and not just a joke. He [was] a police officer in a small town. He’s not a Chicago cop, he’s not a New York cop, He’s not LAPD. He’s not the movie action-hero cop staple. He’s just a guy who was a police officer in a rural town. He hasn’t dealt with huge crises or too many shootouts. I like to think that he’s not necessarily the best cop in the world. But he’s all the people have.
How would you have voted over the Randall question?
Oh, I’m a softy. I would have kept him alive.
Resident Walking Dead makeup effects wizard Greg Nicotero directed this episode. What was that like?
I think he did an amazing job. This is his first full episode of television that he’s directed. He’s done some shorts and he did our webisodes this year. But he just hopped in and really impressed everybody. He picked some beautiful shots and put together a great episode. He knows what he’s doing. This is a guy that’s been working hand in hand with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino and all kinds of famous directors for years now. So I think he’s picked up a lot of good tricks and we look forward to utilizing him as much as possible in the future.
And of course he is actually in George A. Romero’s zombie classic Day of the Dead. When Dale was getting his stomach torn open I half expected him to start screaming “Choke on ’em!” as Joseph Pilato’s Captain Rhodes does in that movie under similar circumstances.
[Laughs] We’ll put a nod to that in there someday.