By Clark Collis
March 03, 2013 at 12:00 PM EST
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Gene Page/AMC

Tonight’s episode of AMC‘s undead saga the Walking Dead offered more evidence that reunions between acquaintances in the zombie apocalypse are rarely happy events. In real life, such occasions are all about “You look well” and “My son got into college.” But the long-awaited reunion of Andrew Lincoln’s Rick and Lennie James’ Morgan was more “You look insane” and “My son got turned into a zombie by his undead mom, who I then killed.”

Below, Walking Dead TV show exec producer — and Walking Dead comic writer — Robert Kirkman discusses the return of Morgan, the detail-obsessed ways of new WD showrunner Scott Gimple, and why working on the show makes him feel dumb.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The prison folks’ need for guns was a good excuse for the Rick and Carl to go home — but you could have had Morgan return much earlier. Was it an issue of Lennie James’ availability?

ROBERT KIRKMAN: Honestly, the way the stories fell I think this was the most logical time to have a trip back up to King County, where they were from, and bring him in. There were a lot of stories pitched along the way: “Oh, Morgan could be here.” “Oh, Morgan could be there.” There were a lot of plans to bring him back in season 2. But for story reasons everything kept getting pushed. It wasn’t really a matter of Lennie’s availability as much as it was just the story changing around this event and pushing it further and further into the show.

Lennie’s fantastic. I’ve got to hand it to him. He was such an integral piece of the pilot, which made people invest in this show so quickly. To have him back as Morgan is really cool. But I ought to say he’s really playing a completely different character and doing completely different things in this episode and is just as amazing doing it. So it was a lot of fun having him back and also having him do things that were so different from what he had done before.

Morgan talked about “clearing” a couple of times — and episode was titled “Clear.” What does that mean?

It means a lot of things. To a certain extent it’s the ravings of a lunatic but it’s also about him trying to clear out his life and clear out any entanglements around him. He’s living by himself so he’s trying to have a clear head. It’s basically about him getting rid of his wife and getting rid of his son and the only way for him to survive is to clear the area around him.

I did freeze frame a couple of times on the material that Morgan had been writing on the walls. There was some fascinating stuff.

I think that was all written by Scott Gimple, who wrote the episode. I could be mistaken but that guy goes to painstaking lengths to make sure every little detail is something interesting.

In the diner, we had a couple of glimpses of a zombie who looked very much like Morgan’s wife. I wasn’t sure whether that was a coincidence or a hint that Morgan’s recollections of events are not to be trusted.

Ah, you know, I think that might have been a coincidence. But maybe there’s something to it. I wouldn’t want to reveal anything if there was.

We didn’t find out what happened to Morgan’s son, beyond his zombification.

Yeah, that’s left a little bit ambiguous. He could have killed his son, he could have allowed his son to live on as a zombie, he could have had his son hiding there somewhere.

And obviously you left the door open for Lennie to return at some later date.

Yes. I look forward to constantly being asked when the character of Morgan will reappear again for the next two or three seasons. We were very careful to leave that wide open so I would get to field those questions on the regular.

I’m sorry to be so predictable!

[Laughs] No, no, no, no. I’m just trying to be funny. But we definitely loved having Lennie on the show and we think Morgan is a cool character to check in on from time to time and we’d definitely like to have him back if the story made sense and the guy is still alive. So that possibility is always open.

Next: “There’s going to be some pretty explosive things happening pretty quickly.”

I don’t think it’s an insult to the show’s main plotline to say that it was nice to have a break from Woodbury and the prison.

Yeah. I think this episode was really good in that it gave us a little bit more Rick and Carl interaction, which is important, and also delves pretty deep into Michonne’s personality. It showed us another side of that character. So now we’re viewing her in possibly a different light moving into the coming conflict. But, yeah, it was a good breather episode, an episode which takes you away from all the tension of what’s going on for a minute.

I thought the opening sequence in which they just drove by the guy and ignored his shouts told us so much about the psychological road that Rick and Carl have traveled.

It’s interesting to see that these characters have grown that cold. They can’t even consider interacting with a stranger because it would be too dangerous. It’s kind of a reflection of how the situation with the Governor has affected them.

In your mind, how far is the prison from Rick’s home? Or is that something that we don’t want to concern ourselves with too much?

Well…details! I don’t know. Um, you know, less than a day’s drive. I imagine that King County is aways north of Atlanta and the prison is aways south of Atlanta. So, you’re looking at maybe a maximum four, five hour drive.

Presumably the presence of Atlanta between King County and the prison explains why Rick didn’t know of the latter’s existence despite being a cop.

Exactly!

How the hell did Michonne get that photograph?

Michonne is awesome.

Fair enough. Using rats in cages as zombie-bait was a nice touch. Is that something which is in the comics.

No. You know, that’s another one of those things where somebody puts it in the show and I’m like, “Ah, I should have thought of that over the course of 100 issues of a comic and I never did. I suck.” I’m really excited about the show and I’m proud of the show — but at the end of the day it just makes me feel inferior.

Another nice touch was to be found at the start of the show where we saw a message for someone called Erin on a roadside sign and then one of the zombies was wearing an “Erin” bracelet.

Again, we always refer to Scott Gimple as our details guy. He’s the guy that puts those little touches in and is very careful to be mindful of those details and gave the viewer something really cool to notice, to latch onto, that adds an extra level to the story.

What’s next?

Well, we’re going to have Rick and Michonne and Carl in a somewhat closer position now that they’ve bonded over this trip. They’re going to get back into the prison and start preparing for the coming conflict with the Governor. So we get right back into that. And we’ve only got a few episodes left to our finale. So there’s going to be some pretty explosive things happening pretty quickly.

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