The Suicide King
Credit: Tina Rowden/AMC

There was an abundance of seemingly crazy decisions in this week’s episode of AMC’s back-from-winter-break zombie show, The Walking Dead. Daryl (Norman Reedus) opted to head off into the woods with his nutjob brother Merle (Michael Rooker) while Andrea (Laurie Holden) made an impassioned speech in support of life at Woodbury, despite its leader’s fondness for utilizing fish tank-dwelling decapitated zombie heads as decorative furnishings. But by the end of the episode it was clear that the man really going off his rocker was Andrew Lincoln’s increasingly troubled and hallucination-prone Rick.

Below, Walking Dead comic writer — and Walking Dead TV show executive producer — Robert Kirkman ruminates on Rick’s mental health, Andrea’s speechifying, and who would win in a real-life fight between Reedus and Rooker.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Last things first — tell us about the apparition which Rick saw at the end of the show.

ROBERT KIRKMAN: That’s clearly his vision of Lori. He’s remembering her in a different time, possibly from their wedding. A happy moment. It’s a remnant of his past life and it’s definitely a sign that we haven’t really seen the peak of his madness just yet and things are possibly going to get much much worse.

In the comic book the plotline in which Rick received imaginary phone calls from the dead lasted a lot longer than it did on the show. Are you essentially dealing with the same theme in a different way?

Yeah, we’re doing something a little bit different, a little bit more tangible. I think that episode after episode of Rick talking on the phone would be somewhat less compelling than it ended up being in the comic book. So we’re doing something similar but very different, which I think is the beauty of the show.

And that really was Sarah Wayne Callies?

Yes it was. And we may see her again. I’m not going to say!

Rick previously glimpsed a vision of Shane. Can we expect hallucinatory resurrections of other deceased characters?

Well, that would certainly be a fun thing to look out for. But I can neither confirm nor deny that we will be going in that route.

You know, Rick’s losing his mind and he’s losing his mind at the exact wrong time because now we’ve seen that the Governor is on the march to war and is going to be coming after them. We’re now going to see the Governor finally face Rick. But he’s not going to be facing the strong, confident, capable Rick that we’ve grown to love. He’s going to be facing this guy that we have now who may be incapable of withstanding that onslaught.

If I was you, I would have “zombie Jim” come back and almost kill Rick because Rick thinks he’s a figment of his imagination.

You know what? That’s a good idea. Where were you three months ago?

Is it fun finally having the Dixon brothers together, from a writing point of view?

Yeah. It’s interesting to think about. We’ve only seen them in a delusion, you know. These two characters that are so popular, that are brothers, that are so intertwined story-wise, and we’re just now finally really getting to see them interact. That stuff is really exciting and we’ve absolutely loved it. It’s been a blast to finally get those two actors together and actually see them interact.

There’s a lot of that going on in the show. Like, I sometimes forget, “Oh yeah, Rick and the Governor haven’t even encountered each other.” That’s still coming. There’s a lot of cool confrontation ahead.

There was a point in the show when Rick asked what kind of sick mind would have Daryl and Merle pitted against each other. I couldn’t help but smile because, really, the sick mind is yours.

[Laughs]Well, I’m one of the seven sick minds that sit in the writers room. Everybody contributes to that madness.

If Reedus and Rooker were in a real-life fight to the death, who would your money be on?

I would put money on me losing because one of them would be angry at me for picking the other one and then they would possibly cause me physical harm. So please don’t ask that question.

Oh, come on!

It certainly wouldn’t be Norman Reedus. That guy’s a pretty boy.

If you go missing now, we’ll know whose door to knock on.

Bring it on, Norman!

Next: “There’s a lot of crazy stuff ahead. So buckle up.”

We’ve seen Merle doing such terrible things on the show. Is he a redeemable character? Is that even a question we should be worrying about?

Definitely. That’s one of the core aspects of the Walking Dead. Are you going to lose your humanity? And, once you lose your humanity, can you be pulled back? I think Daryl is a big part of that. Is he going to be able to make his brother a productive member of society? Or are they going to go off into the woods and is he going to spiral out of control like Merle has? That’s a great question to ask and I can’t wait to see where we go with that. As if I don’t already know.

Merle’s use of, let us say, “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Glenn seems to have been a turning point in his character. He was really in Rick’s face this episode.

I think you’re going to see a very different Glenn in this half of the season and I think that’s a really exciting thing. I can’t wait for the audience to get to those moments and see the phenomenal work that Steven Yeun has done. Every character on the show is transforming, they’re growing, they’re changing, and I think Glenn is a character who’s going to have an awful lot of growth by the end of this season.

Every character seemed to have his or her moment this episode. Were you conscious of the need to remind viewers about the identities of all the characters, coming back from the break?

Yeah, there’s a little bit of craft to that. We’re always writing, well aware of the midseason break. We do treat the midseason finale like an actual finale and we do treat the episode returning as somewhat of a premiere. So we are very mindful of that. Also, I’ve got to give props to Evan Reilly who handled this episode and also handled our first episode back in season 2, after the break. He’s really a go-to guy that always knocks it out of the park and brings us back in style.

Is Beth crushing a little on Rick? Or is that my imagination?

You could be seeing something there. I don’t want to spoil anything. But there’s definitely things going on, maybe involving Beth.

Andrea gave a very rousing speech, which was fun to witness.

I’m really happy that we’ve finally gotten to that material, too. You hear all the fan reaction: “Where’s Andrea? Where’s that bad a—character that we’ve known?” We’ve been building to this and now we’re finally here. I mean, the reason that the Governor is so entranced with her is because he sees her as a strong leader and a partner in his whole Woodbury experiment. That’s more than likely going to go awry moving forward. But she is definitely this capable person that would be an asset to him or anyone who was trying to inspire and lead people.

Speaking of the Governor, does the TV version of Woodbury suffer from an eyepatch shortage?

[Laughs] Maybe we’re building to the eyepatch. Stay tuned!

What can people expect from the rest of the season?

The short answer is “All kinds of awesome.” We haven’t seen Rick and the Governor face to face yet. That’s definitely coming. We’re going to see some pretty large scale confrontations between Woodbury and the prison. I mean, this is going to be a pretty explosive last half of the season and there’s going to be a lot of large-scale cool stuff that you might not expect to see in this show. We’re going to continue pushing the envelope and continue to do the unexpected. There’s a lot of crazy stuff ahead. So buckle up.

Looking even further ahead, where are you at with season 4?

We’re on our second week of writing. We’re knee deep in it and we start filming in May.

Make sure to read our Q&A with Sarah Wayne Callies as well as showrunner Glen Mazzara’s take on Sunday’s episode of ‘The Walking Dead’. Also, Darren Franich breaks it all down in his episode recap.

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The Walking Dead

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

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