The Walking Dead returned Sunday night. It began with a firefight and ended with…well, if you haven’t seen it yet then you might want to consider checking back later after you have. [SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.]
After freeing both Daryl and Merle from the clutches of the Governor, Rick and Co. headed back for the prison. But when the group told Daryl that his brother was not welcome to join them, the two Dixon brothers took off on their own. And Rick’s problems were just beginning. While weighing a decision whether to let a new group led by Tyrese stay at the prison with them, Rick had another hallucination — this one of his deceased wife Lori. I chatted with showrunner Glen Mazzara about the meaning behind the vision, the surprise return of Sarah Wayne Callies (who also talked all about the scene with me right here), and whether we’ll be seeing less of the Dixon brothers for a while.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, that vision of Rick’s at the end: What the hell is wrong with this guy?
GLEN MAZZARA: That is a vision of Lori haunting Rick, and she’s appearing to him in what was her wedding dress, on the day he was happiest with her. And if you look at that moment — and this is important — if you look at that moment when he sees her, it’s right when he’s about to let Tyrese and his group join the group and stay in the prison. And his sanity cracks and his subconscious shows him this vision, which is a classic horror moment. And it’s at exactly the wrong time, and it ruins something for that group. And Hershel, who is very astute and a good friend of Rick’s and has a lot of insights into that Rick-Lori relationship — this will be an arc for him, the fact that his friend is slipping away. It activates Hershel in an interesting way. Hershel spent the back half of the first part of the season recovering from his injury. Hershel is now back and he’s ready to kick ass with his one good leg. He really needs to save his friend.
EW: What does this mean for Rick and the group going forward? If Rick’s the guy that kept them all alive through the winter and beyond, what happens to all of them if he begins to come unglued?
MAZZARA: That is the story. That’s exactly the story. What becomes of this group if Rick is at his most fragile point? And if you look at when these hallucinations appear, it’s at moments of great stress. And the pressure is increasing on Rick. He’s cracking under that pressure, but our group is dependent on Rick to keep it together so they can all survive. That is the story of the back half of the season.
EW: Tell me what it was like having Sarah Wayne Callies come back to shoot that one scene as Haunting Wedding Dress Lori?
MAZZARA: It was very exciting for her to come back. I forget exactly when I told her she was going to come back. I think we told her she’d be back after she had filmed her big death scene and had left the show and we developed that material and said, “We need you to come back.” And she was happy to come back. She loves the show and the cast and crew loves her. So it was just a lot of fun and a great reunion. But she only came back for that day. I spoke to Eulyn Womble, our costume designer, and said, “I really want you to create this stark white wedding dress. Something that compliments her figure.” And Eulyn did a great job. I felt that moment of seeing her — your heart stops. And it’s such a twist; it’s just a classic horror trope. It was something I was really, really excited to do.
EW: This seems to be a case where these hallucinations may be getting worse before they get better.
MAZZARA: The hallucinations are progressing, because they started on the phone. They started as auditory. Now they’re visual. And when he sees Shane, it’s in the middle of this chaos. Now he sees Lori in the middle of the group. So they’re progressing.
EW: Does that mean we’ll see other dearly departed cast members returning as well?
MAZZARA: It’s possible. [long pause] It’s possible.
EW: Actually, the most surprising thing to me about the episode from a story standpoint was the decision to split the Dixon brothers off on their own, because there is so much you could have done with bringing Merle back to the prison. So it totally threw me for a curve when you had them go their own way. Tell me about that decision.
MAZZARA: One of the things that we try very hard to do on The Walking Dead is to make it feel real as far as what people would really do and really say in tense situations. And it’s confusing: Daryl is taken hostage, they’re in this arena, Rick and Maggie break them out. By the way, please note that Maggie has now killed someone else. She has now killed two people. She killed one person with the bone in the last episode and now she shot this girl. So she’s becoming quite an accomplished soldier, and without any hesitation.
EW: Duly noted.
MAZZARA: So the idea was that they’re on the road and where do we go? It’s obviously an untenable situation when the Dixon brothers are confronted with the idea of Merle being integrated into Rick’s group. And Daryl doesn’t have time to think, so he falls back to that little brother. That old pattern. And this is something that people do in stressful situations, they go back to the old patterns. He’s got an entire life with his older brother and he’s got only one year with Rick and his group. So he just says “that’s my brother.” And that’s his code. We need to see Daryl wrestle with that. He took a step backwards and decided to go with Merle. And for him to continue to grow as a person, he’s going to have to confront his biggest foe — his big brother. And that’s an interesting arc for that character.
EW: So are we going to be checking in on them along the way? I can’t imagine you’re going to make Norman Reedus disappear for a while — people will find you and kill you.
MAZZARA: Let me say this…
EW: No, seriously, Glen — they’ll kill you.
MAZZARA: Let me say this: After Sophia came out of the barn in season 2, we had Norman’s character retreat a bit and he dropped out of some episodes. Ummm…we won’t do that again. Daryl is front and center. There are a few interesting episodes where we play the storyline a bit. Fans don’t have to worry. There’s more than enough Daryl to go around.
Make sure to also read Dalton’s interview with Sarah Wayne Callies about her surprise cameo. Also, Clark Collis chats with executive producer Robert Kirkman, and Darren Franich breaks it all down in his episode recap.
For more Walking Dead news & views, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.