Horror fan or not, chances are you’ve seen – and loved – The Walking Dead. Anything but your typical zombie affair, the AMC drama provides an endless adrenaline rush that can leave us on the edge of our seats or, if you’re me, screaming “Get the hell outta there!” at my TV every Sunday night. Not only that, it’s a fantastic take on life post-apocalypse and mixes in some pretty serious gore, to boot. With the second series coming to a close, I was lucky enough to chat to the series’ executive producer Gale Anne Hurd about The Walking Dead and what makes it so special.
There seemed to be so many things going on in the latter part of this season! How difficult was it to juggle so many storylines?
“Obviously the love triangle was still a major focus because Shane honestly felt that he was a better father for Carl and protector for Lori because of his position. Herschel… we saw how he dealt with the shock of his experience. He realised that unfortunately, Rick and the group were right – his family was never going to come back, they could never be cured. They lost the moral compass of the group in Dale, who was always saying that we can’t forget that we’re human, we can’t change just because the world has changed. We need to maintain our moral compass. Essentially, his motto was that the road to hell was paved with good intentions.”
A lot of fans took issue with the first part of season two, complaining that it was too slow. Is that criticism you agree with, or was the pace deliberately more meditative?
“If you look at the underlying comic book, there isn’t actually that much zombie action. It really is a character driven series and comic book. After the first series of six episodes, we didn’t get the chance to know all the survivors. We wanted to make sure that we had a chance to do that and you could only do it while the group was in a relatively safe haven, such as Herschel’s farm. Obviously, we always listen to what the fans say and we always consider it, but we never want to get into a situation where we’re compromising the focus on character just for extraneous shock. Your fear and those heart-pounding moments result from characters you care about being in jeopardy, not just random zombie kills.”
The Walking Dead series has been extremely faithful to the comic book series – occasionally so faithful that you could match the two up shot for shot. However, do you feel that the expansive nature of TV has allowed the show to become its own entity?
“From the very beginning, Robert Kirkman has been so involved with the show – he’s in the writer’s room and is part of the decision making process and what each episode is going to be like. We’ve got the creator in the room and he signs off on all of it. I think our feeling is that we have the man – without whom there wouldn’t be a Walking Dead – embracing the fact that they are two different mediums. We have an opportunity to delve into character in a three dimensional way, whereas a comic book is only two dimensional. You couldn’t have conversations amongst the characters in print, but sometimes it’s absolutely warranted.”
How do you decide how far to take those liberties and add to the originally established canon?
“Once again, because Robert Kirkman is in the room, he’s part and parcel to every decision and the choices are always made from character first. We have terrific actors to bring each role to life, so we can get very complex with their interactions. But we do have arcs over the season that are discussed in the writers’ room, as well as plot development. Truly, the first decision that we made with the comic book was the decision to keep Shane alive – for a while, at least. Most everybody would agree that it was the right thing to do, to make sure he wasn’t gone as quickly as he was in the comic book.”
Working so closely with these characters, is there any one in particular that you’ve developed a particular affinity for?
“You know, it really varies! Another fan favourite, who’s not from the comic book, is Daryl. I think he provides really interesting storylines – Norman Reedus is tremendous. He’s a complex character. There are quite a few more layers to him than you would expect. And then, the three central characters – Rick, Shane and Lori. I can see each one of their perspectives and understand why they do things.”
Some months back, Steven King was rumoured to be penning an episode, though that was quickly shot down. Do you have any writers in mind that you might like to step in as guest writers?
“We had a full writers room this season – we had two new writers and they bring a wealth of experience to the series and different perspectives. It’s nice to have new blood and there will be occasional freelance writers, but since we just started up the third season writers room, we haven’t decided that. It’s important to have the show feeling consistent, but also to make sure there isn’t an episode out of left field. It’s important for someone to have time to spend with the writers so that it doesn’t feel like a ‘guest episode’.”
The make-up and costuming on set is incredible. There was a scene in 2×08 when Andrea jumps off the truck to pick up an arm that’s fallen off and you can almost feel the weight of it – which is quite rare on TV and in film. Does it look that real in person and do you ever feel almost a suspension of reality around the props?
“I have seen other shows where I think, my goodness, you can tell that’s made out of foam! It’s pretty incredible what the effects team are able to do and every season they up the ante and come up with new techniques that are more effective and, well, grosser than the season before [laughs]. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they have in store in the next season.”
Walk us through a typical day on the Walking Dead set when in production.
“If there are a lot of zombies at work, the make-up and effects people arrive with them around 3 in the morning for a 7 o’clock call so that they can be made up and put through wardrobe. Then we start by reading the scene we’re shooting so that everyone is on the same page and anyone who has questions can bring it up then to the technicians. Then we go ahead and block the scene with the actors walking through it and delivering their lines to the director and cinematographer. If it’s the middle of summer, we all start really feeling the heat and humidity around 9:30am and we get out the bug spray – that’s a really key thing, the bug spray! A lot of water, too, to keep hydrated.
You realise that there are six hours between your call time and lunch and by then, you’re halfway through the day. Either you’re in really good shape or you’re behind. If you’re behind, after lunch it’s pedal to the metal for the rest of the day. Of course, one of the joys of The Walkng Dead is that you’re eating in a large tent with a lot of rotting zombies. If you weren’t on a diet before, it’s a wonderful diet tip to eat at a table with a decomposing zombie!”
You have so many projects in the works – I know you secured the rights to Jeffrey Archer’s 11th Commandment and also have a TV series called Port Royal coming up. You’re also doing an Area 51 film. Can you tell us about those?
“Port Royal is set up at FX and we’re working on a script for thta series. 11th Commandment, we’re talking to a terrific writer about that but I can’t reveal who that is at this point. For Area 51, we’re in negotiations with a network and hope to release soon as a home for the show. It’s all very exciting! Very Good Girls, a film I’m executive producing, is going into production in June. It stars Elizabeth Olsen, Dakota Fanning, Anton Yelchin and Peter Sarsgaard. So there is a lot to look forward to!”
The season two finale of The Walking Dead airs tonight (Sunday, March 18) at 9/8c on AMC. Check out a preview for the finale below, and don’t forget to tune in!