It’s sad watching people die on The Walking Dead. But when some characters die off, new ones emerge and take their place. So while we mourn the most recent loss of Hershel, we can at least look forward to the appearance of three familiar faces from the comic book on which the show is based. (Faces like Abraham, as played by Michael Cudlitz — see photo above.) We chatted with Walking Dead exec producer Robert Kirkman to get the scoop on the newbies as well as everything else we need to know heading into the last eight episodes of season 4, which kick off this Sunday on AMC. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview. And also make sure to check out our midseason preview Q&As with Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, and Andrew Lincoln.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’ve spoken with a lot of the cast recently and everyone has talked about how the final eight episodes are tonally different from the first eight. Can you talk about that a bit and how they may feel a bit different?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: It’s all of our characters scattered to the winds. Everybody’s separated and so we’re actually doing a lot of really intense, character focusing episodes. So because they’re separated there will be episodes that focus on different people. There will be episodes that focus on different groups at a time when they’re in their worst situation yet. We’re really going to really drill down into them and get to know them much more than we’ve gotten to know them before. I think after the end of these eight episodes you’re going to be acutely aware of who these people are and I think they’re going to be some really shocking revelations about what makes people tick and who they really are at their core.
EW: This has always been a show about a big group. Why the decision to separate them?
KIRKMAN: Well, the prison is a cataclysm. And you can’t really honor the gravity of that situation without disrupting your characters in a big way. And what the show has been about — in some part at least for the last two seasons — is you need people to survive. The best thing is to do is to get a group of people and try to work together and that’s the way you can get by, and now we’re taking that away from these people. Now they’re separated, they’re on their own, and things are much more deadly than they’ve ever been and it’s really them coming out of losing their prison, and seeing what the Governor has done to them, putting them through their paces. To some extent this is their darkest period that these characters have gone through yet.
EW: Tying into that darkest period – tell me about the aftershocks of Hershel’s execution. What’s that going to do to everyone?
KIRKMAN: It’s a huge deal for them. Hershel touched each and every one of those characters, that’s why it’s such an important death. These guys are shaken to their core trying to deal with this loss and they don’t have time to deal with it because things are out there trying to eat them. That’s what The Walking Dead is about, so they don’t really get a minute to reflect on that or deal with their emotions. We’ll see these characters are absolutely wrecked from seeing that and experiencing that but there are so many things that are put upon them or that they’re going to have to deal with. It’s really just this barrage of terrible things we’re going to have to see our characters overcome or not and that’s really the fun of it.
EW: Okay, where’s Baby Judith?
KIRKMAN: All I know is that there’s a bloody car seat so things aren’t looking too good.
EW: How about Lilly and Tara. Will we see them or anyone from the Governor’s storyline again, or is that chapter complete?
KIRKMAN: There are some people in that mix that we didn’t see die that could theoretically pop up at some point in the future.
EW: We know we’re going to see new characters in the back eight, a few big ones from the comics — Abraham and Rosita and Eugene. What can you tell us about them and how similar or different they will be to the original comic iterations?
KIRKMAN: These characters are going to be extremely similar to who they were in the comics and I’m really excited about that. The visuals and costuming for them has been absolutely amazing. These people really do look like they were torn out of the comic page, it’s pretty startling. But I will say people excited for the introduction of these characters won’t have to wait very long. I don’t want to reveal exactly when they’ll be introduced, but it won’t be too terribly late in the season so get your hopes up. They really are going to add a very interesting and very compelling dynamic to the show. I think they’re going to bring in elements to the show that we’ve never really explored before and I think that’s exciting and something that’s going to change the game to a certain extent. I’m always very excited at how much this show evolves over time and changes season to season and these three characters are agent that very much changes the story and very much changes the direction of the show to a certain extent.
EW: How do you decide whether to make people look like they do in comic, or have them look completely different, like Bob Stookey?
KIRKMAN: It’s never done that way. All we ever do is we have the role, we know what we want to do with the character and then we cast them. If we can cast an actor that looks like the characters in the comics, great. But that’s not something we ever try to do. It’s just not possible to find the best actor for the role and somehow match them with the drawing that was done almost a decade ago. We always look for the best actor for the role, period. It would be an unrealistic endeavor to try to match the comic visually at all times.
EW: What about this new character named Gareth? What can you tell me about him?
EW: Okay, well, is there a new character named Gareth? [laughs]
EW: Wow, really spilling all the beans there, Mr, Kirkman! Fine, let me ask you this: What about seeing Morgan again?
KIRKMAN: All I’ll say is, it’s entirely possible. I feel like the “Clear” episode that Morgan last appeared it would be a worthy end of the story the way he represented Rick’s future and put him back on the path that he was on and it really played up and played off that relationship they built in the very first episode. And that would have been — would be — a fine ending for that character story. But we all love Lennie James and we all want to see Morgan again so it may happen at some point, it may not. We all want to see Morgan again as much as the fans do. You never know.
EW: Let’s talk about some other loose ends. Are we going to learn more about the faint radio signal Daryl and the others picked up on in the car?
KIRKMAN: We will absolutely, definitely learn a ton more about that. I think that the first eight episodes of the season probably deserve a rewatch if you’re really invested in what’s coming up. And when it comes time in a couple of years when you watch all of season 4 as a whole there are so many hints and so many little breadcrumbs thrown out that are going to be paid off in the back half of season 4 that people are going to be shocked at the things that they didn’t notice. There are so many little things that are unresolved and are going to be picked up and addressed in these last eight episodes and that recording is definitely chief among them but there’s a lot of stuff we’re going to be dealing with.
EW: Does that include the identity of the person putting the rats by the fence and performing rat vivisections?
KIRKMAN: Yeah, that’s like a whole plot thread! I wanna know what happens there! We wouldn’t leave that hanging.
EW: Is there going to be any more to the aftermath of making Carol leave? Will Tyreese finally find out? Will we see Carol again?
KIRKMAN: All I’ll say on that front is that Carol was exiled from the prison because of what she did. And now all of our characters have in a sense been exiled from the prison. So, you know…they’re all pretty much in the same place now.
EW: Speaking of locations, any new locations from the comics we might be looking at?
KIRKMAN: There’s a lot of stuff on the horizon. I wouldn’t want to reveal anything like that. One of the things very important to me is when things are adapted from the comics, it’s better when those things emerge unexpectedly, as opposed to, “Oh, when are we getting to this stuff, when are we getting to that stuff?” And there’s definitely some of that coming up in the back half. I wouldn’t want to reveal that, I would spoil all the fun!
EW: I know we’re going to get a good, long look at Michonne in the first episode back. What would you like to say about how that episode maybe connects some of the dots a little bit?
KIRKMAN: The first episode back, we’re definitely going to get a glimpse into Michonne’s past and learn more about her specifically than we’ve known before, and I think people are going to be pretty shocked where we’ve gone with those things.
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