Is that last Walking Dead episode still sinking in? If so, that’s not such a surprise seeing as how the events of “The Grove” — in which Carol shot her “adopted” daughter Lizzie in the head after Lizzie stabbed and killed her sister Mika to prove that she would come back to life — were definitely hard to digest. (Get it? Digest? Zombies? Oh, never mind.) We already chatted with Carol herself, Melissa McBride, about the controversial episode, and also got the full lowdown from showrunner Scott M. Gimple, but I know what you’re thinking: What the heck does producer Gale Anne Hurd have to say about this whole thing? Well, that’s what I was thinking too so I caught up with Hurd to get her take on the episode as well as her thoughts on season 4 and fan reaction to the show, as well as a tease on what to expect next and an update as to that big Walking Dead spin-off. So read on…if you dare.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This back half of season has felt really different from everything you guys have done before with the group all broken up, and with these smaller pairings leading to more personal stories. We had gotten some of those from time to time before, but certainly never in such rapid succession like this.
GALE ANNE HURD: That’s true. And it’s something we had planned from the beginning of the season when we talked with [showruner] Scott Gimple and the writers. They said it was time to split them up, even though there were significant issues and dangers they had to deal with at the prison, including the infection and all of that. It was really sending them off on their own in small groups, where we got to know them much more individually. We had an opportunity to really get to know Bob and his backstory, which we hadn’t explored before. And certainly Beth has been a character that people felt perhaps that they didn’t know as much. And we’ve remedied all of that and certainly had some very explosive moments in the past few shows.
EW: So let’s talk about this last episode, which certainly had people talking. I spoke with Scott and he mentioned how you guys played around with a lot of different iterations in terms of how much to show of that scene where Carol kills Lizzie. Tell me about the internal discussions you had with each other as producers and with AMC about how to adapt this horrific event from the comics to television. Because they are two different mediums and maybe what you show in one is not how you want to handle it in the other.
HURD: We knew that this was something that was inevitable. It was something that built into the introduction of Lizzie, that at some point she is going to cross the line, like the twins did as we got to know them in the comic books from which this is derived. But what we didn’t want to do was make it more exploitive or graphic than it needed to be because emotionally it could connect without going over the top. And that was always our intent, to pack a really powerful emotional punch, and not just be graphic for the sake of pushing it too far.
EW: Were you expecting any negative feedback from people about this episode who might be upset about kids-killing-kids and adults-killing-kids and might think it was just too much for television? Were you expecting that, and then did you get any of that at all?
HURD: You know, when you start the TV series the way that we did in the very first episode, where the character of Rick kills a little zombie girl, I think that announces loud and clear what this apocalypse was going to be like, and at some point it was not just going to be zombie kids. And we’ve seen horrific things in the past. We’ve seen Carl fire on someone who may not really be a threat to him in the third season. So it really is about who these people are in the zombie apocalypse. Some people, it was their nature. And some people, it was the environment that created that reaction. And it gives us the opportunity to explore those very human conditions.
EW: This is a show with a lot of different characters and everyone has their moment to shine. But for me, the most gripping arc has really been Carol’s and I never would have believed that could happen a year or two ago. As you start to look back on this year — because I know you’re already in the planning stages of season 5 — is that one of the things you all are most proud of, being able to take this character who was maybe more of a secondary one, and make it so rich and vital.
HURD: Absolutely. We always knew that Melissa McBride just has the acting chops that could deliver the performance that she gave in “The Grove.” You can’t really focus back at the prison on one particular character. Or in this case, the four characters from “The Grove.” So we needed to basically be patient and allow her character to evolve and reach the point where we understood her and her choices. As well as Tyreese’s choices in this episode. And that’s why we really thank the fans for their patience. Because at times it’s frustration — it’s frustrating that things can play out slowly. But they trust us knowing that we’re building to something where all of those things — you know, “look at the flowers,” or who killed Karen and David? — it’s all going to be paid off.
EW: It’s interesting you bring up the fans and hoping that they will show patience, because I was going to ask you about that. When you have a procedural show on a broadcast network where they are solving a crime every week, you really sort of judge that on an episode-by-episode basis. When you have a serialized storyline that’s telling a whole tale it’s a lot harder. You look back at season 2 for you guys when a lot of people were complaining at the beginning “Hey, it’s too slow. Nothing’s happening,” but that was not knowing the payoff that was coming, which was the Barnageddon episode that it all led up to — which is really considered one of the show’s finest hours, I think. So how much as a producer do sort of look at fan reaction on a week-by-week basis, knowing what you know — that they don’t have all the information?
HURD: [Laughs] You know, in earlier seasons it was tough. It was tough because I watch every episode when it airs. And I see the feedback in real time on social media. And people do get frustrated. They get frustrated that “not a lot happens.” But they wouldn’t care as deeply and the sequences wouldn’t pack such an emotional punch if we hadn’t built to it. And you can’t set someone up in the first part of an episode and knock them off at the end of the episode and have any kind of emotional impact. You just can’t care about someone that quickly. It is interesting because the echo of Sophia was so clear in Sunday night’s episode. That was really motivating so much of what Carol has been doing — training the kids and trying to toughen them up so they could survive the way Sophia didn’t. And then to see it all crumble in that episode was incredibly profound.
EW: You know I’m not letting you off the line until you give up some teases for the last two episodes. What can we expect in these next two weeks?
HURD: The world of The Walking Dead is all about human choices, about what one has to do to survive, and how much each character is willing to sacrifice and compromise their humanity. And we will really see certain characters pushed to their limit — in a way the way that Carol was — in these final two episodes.
EW: I spoke with Robert Kirkman and he told me that we’re going to see Rick pushed to the absolute limit. And he said, If you think you’ve seen him at the limit before, you don’t know what the limit is.
HURD: Exactly. And it’s always a question of how much can you come back from those moments, and those choices. And that’s where season 5 will take us.
EW: Well, what about the spin-off? Any news there in terms of when you are thinking about getting that rolling?
HURD: Right now our focus is on The Walking Dead and we’d rather have it slow and right than just be quick. We take it very seriously and AMC has been terrific in understanding — all in good time.
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