By Clark Collis
November 25, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST
Gene Page/AMC

Matters turned grim on tonight’s Walking Dead — which is rather impressive for a show which tends to feature more zombie mayhem before its opening credits than Downton Abbey does in an entire season (come on, you lazy aristocratic bastards!).

Yes, the word-of-the-week was “torture” as Merle (Michael Rooker), the Governor (David Morrissey), and even Rick (Andrew Lincoln) tried to get information from, respectively, Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), and Michonne (Dana Gurira).

Elsewhere, Milton (Dallas Roberts) tried to make nice with a zombie while Daryl (Norman Reedus) made a joke about Lassie.

Below, Walking Dead executive producer — and Walking Dead comic writer — Robert Kirkman talks about tonight’s show and previews next week’s midseason finale. Note: We think he ‘s joking about the musical numbers.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I imagine this was your intention, but I found watching the show’s torture scenes to be a genuinely unsettling and discomforting experience. What was it like planning them out?

ROBERT KIRKMAN: Yeah, you know, it’s a dark show. But this kind of stuff is uncomfortable for us. I think that’s really the thing to note. When you work on something like [the Walking Dead], a lot of people think, “Oh, these sick and twisted people doing these crazy TV shows and comics and whatever…” But we’re feeling that stuff in the writers’ room as much as hopefully you are when you’re sitting on your couch. But you’ve got to show that Woodbury is a dangerous place and these are the kind of things that would happen if they took these people captive. But we like Lauren Cohan, we like Steven Yeun. It’s not easy for us either.

In the comic book it is Rick and Michonne who are tortured and brutalized at Woodbury—and for all I know that might yet happen on the TV show. But was it interesting for you to say, “Well, I did that, let’s see how these other characters would react in a similar situation”?

That’s my most favorite aspect of working on this show. Being able to tell the same story, adapt the story, but tweak it in a way so that it is fresh and original for me. Glenn was there in the mix in the comic book series but having Maggie there instead [of Michonne and Rick] is cool because it not only changes the story you’re writing it also changes the road map a little bit moving forward so there’s new things that can come out of it, which is very exciting.

I really like that there is a significant portion of our audience that is very familiar with the comic book series and when you do these things and you change things up it puts them on their toes too. It takes away that air of “Oh, I know what’s coming because I’m a comic book fan.” I think that’s a lot of fun.

This may not be the first time I’ve said this, but Michael Rooker really is terrifying.

[Laughs] He’s a real sweetheart. It’s all acting. He’s probably one of the nicest, kindest people I know, which makes it all the more shocking when you see him in these episodes.

I am now very excited for the reunion of the Dixon brothers—and of the reunion of Daryl and Glenn. I don’t think Hallmark does a “Sorry my brother tortured you!” card.

Well, they may start.

I assume it wasn’t a coincidence that, in addition to Merle brutalizing Glenn and the Governor terrorizing Maggie, Rick himself could be said to have briefly tortured Michonne in his quest for information. Were you trying to remind people that the dire world of the Walking Dead is affecting everyone in a negative way?

Yeah, and we’re also trying to say that Rick Grimes is still evolving. This is a guy who you’re not really going to be able to map out his actions very well. I don’t think anyone would have expected him to do that a few episodes ago and he’s still very much feeling the effects of everything he’s gone through.

Carl came up with the idea of calling the baby Judith. But why did you choose that name?

That’s the name of the baby in the comic and I think I was always intending that to be the grandmother’s name. I thought that that sounded like a grandmother name-y kind of thing, because I thought Carl would name the kid after his grandmother. But I don’t know that I ever really defined that very well in the comic book. [Laughs]

Next: “We’re going to see some pretty crazy stuff.”

I was fascinated by the sequences with Mr Coleman. Generally, when people turn into zombies, both on the Walking Dead and elsewhere, it’s a source of dramatic tension. Obviously, there was some tension in the scenes but I’d never before seen a set up where someone went, “Let’s strap a dying person down and see what happens.”

Yeah, it’s taking a clinical look at this kind of stuff and that’s something the Milton character brings to the show. I think all of the fans watching the show, they really like that stuff, they like seeing the nuts-and-bolts rules play out.

We’ve seen that situation before many many times — it’s Andrea holding Amy, it’s dealing with Jim, Shane’s transformation — there are different ways that we’ve shown that. But being able to watch it in a safe environment is kind of a cool way to change it up.

Talking about Andrea and Amy, I’m assuming one of the reasons Andrea was so vehemently opposed to the idea that zombies have any kind of trace memory is because she would then have to reevaluate what happened with her sister.

Exactly. Her main reason for being so against that theory is because of her personal issues with that.

How far is Woodbury from the prison, would you say?

Well, I would say it’s maybe a few miles. There are certainly times when we seem to truncate that distance, or whatever. We’re certainly keeping it somewhat malleable. It’s not going to be a comfortable walk — but it is a possible one.

Not for the first time Daryl had the best line in the show: “I guess Lassie went home.” You really should compile Daryl Dixon’s greatest hits as a DVD extra.

I’m sure there’s going to be a Daryl Dixon quote book at some point.

Or maybe a self-help guide?

Yeah, start writing to AMC. Send in your requests now!

What was up with the guy in the shack and his “I’ll call the cops!” routine? Is one supposed to believe that he has no idea the zombie apocalypse has occurred and that there are still cops to call? Or is he just some moonshine-crazed nutjob?

That’s the reason Michonne killed him. He was clearly losing his mind and was not all there and was not only a clear danger to them in that moment but would have been dangerous to have around in the future as well. That guy had completely lost it—that’s what we were trying to convey with that dialog.

At one point Michonne compared the Governor to Jim Jones (infamous leader of the Peoples Temple cult, many of whose members died in a mass suicide in 1978.) Was he someone who was in the back of your mind when you originally came up with the character?

Yeah. I mean, cult leaders of all shapes and sizes really. It was just that idea of people who are in a situation of distress and charismatic, intelligent people who take advantage of that.

So what’s next?

We’ve got Rick and Daryl and Michonne and Oscar about to go to Woodbury and we’re going to see some pretty crazy stuff. That’s also our midseason finale so I would expect some surprises here and there. It’ll be another explosive, shocking episode of the Walking Dead!

But with a musical number?

With two musical numbers. [Laughs]

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