By Clark Collis
October 28, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT
Gene Page/AMC


Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead had pretty much everything a fan of AMC’s zombie show — and the original comic book series — could want. The long-awaited return of Michael Rooker’s maimed maniac Merle? Check. The long-awaited introduction of David Morrissey’s power-crazed villain The Governor? Check. The long-awaited appearance of decapitated zombie heads bobbing around in tanks of water? Hell, this show might as well have been called “Decapitated Zombie Heads Bobbing Around In Tanks Of Water.”

Below, Walking Dead show executive producer and Walking Dead comic writer Robert Kirkman talks about the casting of Morrissey, the thinning-down of Rooker, and the possibility — nay, probability — that the real mayhem is still to come.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So this episode featured the return of Merle, the introduction of the Governor and Woodbury, a helicopter crash, the gunning down of a bunch of soldiers, and a whole mess of zombie heads in tanks. Was it really just a year ago people were complaining not much happened on your show?

Robert Kirkman: Well, yeah, and I’ve got to say this is a big indication of what to expect from season 3. I mean, this episode is jam-packed with pretty crazy stuff and I think the next episode possibly will top it. We’ve got a lot of big stuff planned for this season. It’s gonna be pretty crazy. In all of our promotion the word we’ve been using to describe this season is “intense” and that’s not just marketing and that’s not just interview nonsense.

Wait, we’ve been having these chats now for more than two years. How much of what you’ve told me up to this point has been “interview nonsense”?

A lot. [Laughs]

So that’s one hell of an actor you’ve got with this David Morrissey fellow.

He’s a good actor. He’s a handsome man. He’s the total package!

He’s British, he doesn’t have a moustache, I don’t think anyone would say he was an obvious choice to play the Governor  How did you come to cast him?

He did some test footage that we reviewed and he happened to be in town when we were casting. We ended up meeting over at the AMC offices and he was able to do his screen test in person with AMC people there. It was a scene that was written just for the screen test. It wasn’t used in the show. But it was a scene that was welcoming but sinister and then had a big turn at the end. You know, it was a big deal for me because I had not ever sat in a room with an actor before and watched them go through a wide range of emotions and moods in such a brief amount of time. It really just encompassed everything that we needed from the Governor.

I don’t want to say the Governor is more frightening that Merle because I don’t want to be waking up with Michael Rooker’s cold, hard face staring down on me. But in the context of the show Merle does seem to be a little scared of the Governor.

Yeah. That’s by design. We know that everyone knows about Merle and everyone knows that Merle is threatening and he’s a little bit of an “X factor” when thrown into certain situations. Because of what you know about him, his reaction to the Governor informs what you should be thinking about that guy. In the episode, before the Governor takes his turn and ends up shooting those guys, there’s a lot of undertones between him and Merle that should be informing you this is a guy to be looking out for and this guy is definitely dangerous.

Rooker has a very lean and hungry look these days. Are you not feeding that guy?

[Laughs] I think in preparation for him coming back he actually lost a bunch of weight. I think this was all part of his actor plan, to come back as a different Merle, a leaner, meaner Merle. He really put a lot of preparation into this.

Doc Stevens looks a bit different from the way I remember the character in the comic book.

[Laughs] Oh yeah. [Laughs] Yes, yes. We changed things up a little bit. I think in a sense we combined the Alice character [from the comic] and the Doctor Stevens character into one for the sake of the show. We like to change things up and I think that’s a pretty good example of that.

Next: “Their mouths are moving. They’re live zombie heads.”

The heads in the tanks we saw at the end of the show are alive, right? Or “zombie alive.”

Yeah. I mean, they’re waterlogged zombie heads that are in a severe state of decay. But they’re looking around, you know. If you watch those eyes, they’re moving, their mouths are moving. They’re live zombie heads.

One of my colleagues, who shall remain nameless, had difficulty understanding how a decapitated zombie head could still be alive.

If you don’t destroy the brain, you don’t destroy the zombie. We had a severed zombie head in season 1 that Daryl had to stab an arrow into so we’ve firmly established that severed heads are alive and well in the zombie anatomy.

We don’t need to stoop to those tactics to get ratings. We’re above that!

[Laughs] I don’t know if we’re quite up there. But we’re pretty happy with where we are at.

You shot the Woodbury sequences in an actual town where people actually live?

Yeah, yeah. I don’t know if I should say it but… Hell, it’s Senoia, Georgia. It’s a fantastic little town. It’s a very nice slice of America. And we make it this horrible place that you’d never want to visit!

What do the local folks think about you shooting there?

I think they really like it. When we shoot the Woodbury scenes, it’s kind of cool because all of the local restaurants and shops and everything are still open, they just use the back doors. So a lot of people will come into the stores and shop and then they can peek into the windows and watch filming to a certain extent. We block out spoilery stuff but I think the town is having a good time being part of the Walking Dead.

One of the other new characters, Milton, is a scientist-type who’s investigating the zombie phenomenon. Clearly some people would start doing that in a real undead apocalypse but, for zombie movie fans such as myself, that plotline can’t help but call to mind George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead and the experiments that film’s scientists conduct. Did that give you pause for thought?

We try to avoid anything like that that can be directly referenced into another zombie movie. I think that Milton, as a character, is vastly different from Dr Frankenstein in Day of the Dead. It’s just one of those things where it’s logical that would be happening in that situation. Now, we’re not necessarily going to get into dissections and a lot of the crazy scientific things that Dr Frankenstein did in Day of the Dead but Milton is a very smart individual who is saying, “Hey, look, why aren’t we trying to learn more about these things’ behavior? They’re something that we’re going to be dealing with for a long time, let’s do our due diligence and learn everything that we can possibly learn about this to help us survive.” So, throughout this season, you’ll see him doing experiments from time to time and various things that will hopefully give him the information that he’s looking for. To us, that seems like a really interesting plot point.

How long will we have to wait to find out the identity of Michonne’s jawless zombies?

Well, look, I’m not going to reveal that. I will say that there is definitely a story there and people who have read the comic book series, they’re aware of what that story is. Now, whether it plays out exactly like it did in the comic book series, that remains to be seen and that’s kind of the fun of the television show. So peo0le are just going to have to stay tuned!

Finally, what was up with all the tea drinking this episode?

It’s in David Morrissey’s contract.

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AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
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