'The Walking Dead': Robert Kirkman talks season finale
Who will live and who will die? That was the question on the lips of fans before last night’s episode of the Walking Dead. Of course, given the nature of AMC’s undead saga, that tends to be the question on the lips of fans before every episode. But this week the query had a particular urgency given the (correct) assumption that the season finale would finally feature the showdown between the Rick-lead prison-ites and the Governor-ruled Woodburians.
By the time the smoke had cleared, both Rick and the Governor were left standing. Less fortunate were Andrea, Milton, and many inhabitants of Woodbury, whose out-of-town signage will now presumable be altered to read, “Welcome to Woodbury: If you lived here, you’d be dead by now.”
Below, Walking Dead TV show executive producer — and Walking Dead comic book writer Robert Kirkman — talks about last night’s fatalities, previews season 4, and admits he is not a big fan of bathing.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, let’s start with the living. I think a lot of people assumed the Governor would die in last night’s episode, which is what happens in the comic book. Did you always plan for this to be a character who lasted more than one season?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: That was always the plan. I think everybody involved in the Walking Dead has kind of caught on to that cable trope of bringing a big new character into a series and then, by the end of that season, that character magically dying or being written out of the show in some clever way. We really wanted to give people that sense that this was the kind of thing we were doing — but flip the script at the end. We’ve got a lot more to do with the Governor.
Did you tell David Morrissey when you cast him that he should properly unpack his bags?
[Laughs] Yes, he was aware that he was going to be on for more than one season.
I’m fascinated by what’s going to happen next time they have a census at Woodbury, as the Governor pretty much wiped out the entire population. Did you want to have a final, climactic reminder that this guy is absolutely crazy. Or were you saying, “You thought he was crazy before but he’s much worse now”?
It was really trying to build on that self-destructive moment when you’re seeing that this guy who seemingly had it all together — who seemingly was capable of running this town and rebuilding a civilization to some extent — actually didn’t have it together at all and can very easily be frustrated to the point of completely ruining everything he had going. It’s a downfall, to a certain extent. It is a resolution to this season. The Governor is without all of the things he had before and it is supposed to be showing just how much this guy has spiraled out of control because of his interactions with Rick and the other people in Rick’s community.
I feel sorry for his Big Book of Plans!
Yeah, he may have left that book in Woodbury.
Following last week’s Glenn-Maggie engagement, I was fairly sure one or both of them would be biting the big one in the finale.
Well, they still occupy our only hopeful area in the show.
Exactly! You want to be getting rid of that as soon as possible, sir!
[Laughs] Glenn and Maggie are our “Hey-look-the-show’s-not-that-bleak!” characters. Again, we try not to do the kind of things that people expect. It’s something that I’ve always tried to do with my work in comics: find those things that people are going to key into — you know, “Uh-oh, marriage proposal! This is going to end badly!” — and do things the other way, just to kind of keep people guessing.
Moving on to the fatalities. In the comic book, Andrea survives this part of the saga and, in fact, is still alive now. How much discussion did you have about whether or not to kill her on the show?
That was huge. We spent many months of figuring that out and coming to that decision. It’s never an easy thing to kill a character and that one was definitely tough, because Laurie Holden is such a huge part of the show and it is quite a departure from the comic books. I can imagine there are a good number of fans that are frustrated by it and heartbroken over it and that’s what we’re going for.
Your aim is to break fans’ hearts?
Well, we want people to be invested in these characters. We want every death to be as emotional as possible. When you see season 4 and you see how that death has affected Rick and how it’s changed all these characters and what’s come from that death, I think it will all make sense. But no deaths are decided upon flippantly.
…apart from the large group of Woodburians who bought the farm this week.
[Laughs] Well, the Governor doesn’t put as much care into those decisions as we do.
Who gave Laurie the bad news?
That was Glen Mazzara. He handled all that stuff when he was the showrunner. She took it well. All the actors on this show know what they’re getting into. It’s certainly not a joyous occasion. I think it was very hard for everyone to see her go. But she’s a professional and she knows that that’s what this show is about.
Next: “Either we loved Milton or we hated him and wanted to torture him.”
I got the impression that you were also very sorry to lose Milton. You certainly gave him one of the longer death scenes in TV history.
[Laughs] Yes. Like a full episode? It’s either we loved that character or we hated him and wanted to torture him.
I’m going to say that you loved hm.
I’m going to say that we loved him as well.
I feel the Governor never really gave him the resources he needed for his zombie research.
Yeah. They were like, “Okay, you’re working on that? Great. We’re gonna go over here and shoot some people and give you no resources whatsoever.” You know, [with enough resources] he might have been able to figure something out. But then where would we have been?
Andrea and Milton do seem to have been partly architects of their own terrible respective fates, by attempting to work with the Governor.
To a certain extent. The way I like to look at it is, Andrea was willing to do whatever she could to save the good people of Woodbury and she ended up giving her life for it. I’m sure she would have liked to have things work out a different way. But in the end she did accomplish that goal. Her death has resulted in Rick bringing these people into the prison and them forming one community. She did accomplish something but it cost her life in the end. Which is pretty tragic.
I’m hoping on the DVD that you’ll be including a bonus extra of the Walking Dead writers trying to pick up pliers with their feet.
[Laughs] I can pick up almost anything with my feet.
Because you’re extremely agile or extremely lazy?
I stopped bending over when I was about 12. I was like, “Wait a minute, I can pick that up with my toes. Sweet!”
We didn’t have the chance to talk last week so I think we need to discuss the demise of Merle. How much discussion was there about whether or not to kill him?
That was a huge debate. As I say, every death is an important decision. When it came down to it, it was everything that he does for Daryl. We had seen Daryl’s character grow so much without Merle and it was a lot of fun seeing him revert back to old behavior and seeing how having his brother around affected him. But in the end we felt that losing that character would activate the Daryl character in so many different and interesting ways that it seemed almost essential to the show. We also kind of made Merle a hero on the way out. That’s what that character’s journey ended up being and we thought that was very interesting.
I did find his zombification rather haunting.
It’s one of the rare times that we actually show one of our characters, someone that you’ve really gotten to know, made up full-zombie. He had time to go full-zombie. We don’t often get to do that. Shane was very fresh, Amy was very fresh. Milton? Very fresh. Merle was the real deal. And seeing a character that you’ve gotten to know so well in that state is hopefully jarring. We want people to see just how scary it is to see someone who was a loved one, who was a relative, come back in that state.
Next: “We should be very worried about Carl.”
Towards the end of the show we saw a busload of older folks and kids being relocated to the prison. Obviously, the Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows in the 18-49 age bracket. Is this an attempt to draw in more of the AARP crowd?
We want everyone! I like to think there were younger, more able-bodied people sitting at the back of the bus who hadn’t gotten out yet. But it was the entire population that was left of Woodbury that was brought in and most of those people are the ones that didn’t go to war.
Why didn’t everyone just move to Woodbury? The prison has got bad memories, bad defenses—I’m guessing the plumbing is not top notch.
That’s something we’ll definitely be dealing with in season 4. But just off the top of my head I would say that, knowing the Governor is still out there, and knowing he knows Woodbury like the back of his hand, it would probably be not too safe to set up shop in his hometown. But it’s possible that that’s something we’re exploring next season.
So is the Governor now just governing Martinez?
Yeah. They’ve got a tree fort somewhere and he’s making few new rules. It’s a new place called New Woodbury. “Come here! Live with us! You’re safe!”
How worried should we be about Carl?
Very worried! Growing up in this world is not doing that guy a lot of good and it’s taking him to some very dark and interesting places and I think, coming back for season 4, Rick’s going to have a hard time reeling that guy in and trying to find a shred of that kid’s humanity and bringing it to the forefront. Because that guy’s taken a dark turn.
What stage are you at now with season 4?
I think, as of today, we’re halfway done writing. We’ve got almost half of the scripts in for the season and we start shooting in May and things are going really well. We’re very much knee-deep into it. I’m happy that these episodes have finally aired so that I don’t have secrets from season 3 and secrets from season 4 to keep. Now I can just keep it straight and not say anything about season 4 and that’ll be easy to do.
The show is so successful. How often do you lie in the bath daydreaming about Walking Dead: The Movie?
[Laughs] Hardly ever. It certainly seems like something which is on people’s radar. But right now we’re just focusing on making the show as awesome as possible. Who knows what the future holds? I don’t even take baths. I shower.
What can we expect from season 4?
Season 4 is all about change. We’re going to see a lot has changed in the prison. I think a lot has changed with these characters. I think we’re going to see a very different Rick with very different motives and we’ll see how this conflict with Woodbury and the death of Andrea has affected everybody. And we’ll see a lot of new elements, as we do on every season of the Walking Dead. It’s going to be exciting and different and cool but it’ll still have zombies with it. It’ll still have the things that everybody loves.
So you’re definitely sticking with the zombies, then?
I can confirm, exclusive to Entertainment Weekly, that there will be zombies in season 4.