This season, The Walking Dead has taken a bit of an emotional, existential turn. Some of us are loving this new introspective aspect, but others are growing a bit restless. To get the inside look at what's coming up on the AMC series and why all that inner turmoil is so important, we spoke with Executive Producer Gale Anne Hurd. She promises a midseason finale that will keep us talking for months and assures us that Shane's recent questionable choices aren't as simple as they seem. And with only two episodes left before the winter hiatus, we'll gobble up every hint and insight we can get.
I'm a big fan of the season so far. I’ve really, really liked all of the existential crises, and things like that. One thing that I really thought was interesting about it is, it seems like—we do get glimpses of last season, but for the most part it seems fairly easy for a new fan to step in from the season premiere. Was that intentional? Do you think that the series is built that way?
We wanted to be able to have someone join this season. Also, we took into account the fact that it has been a year since last season. We only had six episodes. The conflicts and the drama, you can pick up on them…they’re not subtle, let’s put it that way. You can pick up on them fairly easily. You’ve got a love triangle, you understand that they’ve left the city of Atlanta behind, and they’re trying to find a safe haven.
When you were going into the preliminary steps of working on the second season, was there a specific goal you had of the feel that needed to happen in the sophomore season? What was the thought process when you were brainstorming all of that?
The most important thing, really, is that we only had six episodes last year, last season, to set up the world and the characters. We have an ensemble cast, and we wanted to make sure that this season, we were really able to focus on the terrific cast of characters so that we feel we get to know each one of them much better.
It definitely seems like we are getting to know them better. Especially Daryl, we got a greater look at. Shane as well—who, in the books, is offed very early, Lori calls him a bastard. It’s very quick and he’s done. But this season, he’s a little more complex.
Yes. It made a lot of sense, and Robert Kirkman agreed that keeping Shane around allowed us to really see how the three central characters—Rick, Lori and Shane—grapple with what happened when Shane assumed Rick was dead, and Lori was told by Shane that Rick was dead. Their revelations come, and how do they deal with that? Especially when it’s such a small group.
And with the recent developments with Otis, I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter online. Fans are kind of turning against Shane. He’s maybe being a little alienated. Do you think that he’s gone “full-bastard,” or does he still have a lot more to offer? Is his character still growing?
I think that Shane has…there are two characters to me that have adapted, or were already adapted to this new world order. Daryl, because he has the survival skills to make it. He’s essentially a pre-digital guy anyway; he can exist on his own in the woods. And Shane, who sees everything in shades of grey, and not black-and-white, in terms of his morality. He looks at everything in terms of, “Is this going to help me and the ones that I love survive? What will this decision lead to?” And he doesn’t think that there is room for someone to be, as he would put it, soft.
And that sort of internal, emotional, existential struggle is such a huge part of this season. I’ve personally been a fan of all the talking that everyone is doing, and all the inner turmoil. But that’s been a polarizing concept with a lot of fans. Some people are like, “Why are they talking so much?” What would you say to those naysayers?
I think unless you care for the characters, the tension and jeopardy won’t resonate quite the same. Even though we love killing zombies, and I think we find unique and unexpected ways to do that, it doesn’t mean the same if you are not seeing those circumstances through the eyes of the characters. Whether it’s Glenn in the well with the zombie, or Sophia being chased and Rick having to decide what to do to try to save her and himself.
This season, even though we just discussed that it’s a lot about that internal struggle, it really seems to have that element that it seems to have no boundaries. Is there a certain aspect working on this season that you are particularly proud of being involved in?
I think that what this new world will be and how each character comes to terms with their place in it is what I’m most proud of. Because everyone responds a little bit differently. Even though it seems like there are camps within the camp, each character has a different version of what is right and who should be in charge. And there’s a lot of nuance, I think.
Do you think that is a risk when you’re drawing people in with the zombie premise? Obviously people are sticking around…
I think two things. First of all, we are on AMC. Their tagline is, “Story matters here.” That’s first and foremost: making sure the stories and the characters are complex and interesting. And then, it is about a world full of zombies, so there is going to be violence. Some might say gratuitous violence, and some might cheer the fact that the violence is over the top. But we try to create a world and stay within that world. And that world is one that is populated, we think, by really interesting characters, and portrayed by terrific actors.
It’s fantastic so far! I’m excited to see what else is coming down. Something that I gravitated to when I first started watching the series—I’ve always been a fan of zombie movies and that genre—but the series pays particular attention to a very specific woman’s experience in this new world. Not as a victim or as someone who needs to be protected, but as a very robust character within this landscape. Do you think that that element is strong enough to support a viewership that maybe isn’t coming for the gore?
Some of our most vocal fans are women. Some of them are fans of the Dixons. Daryl and Merle fans. There is a family at the center of the show. Raising a child at any time is difficult. It is much more so in this new world. That’s another thing that I think is interesting this season. People continue to tune in to see what changes are in store for Carl, and how Rick and Lori deal with parenting. And obviously the complexity there is, Shane thinks he’d be a better surrogate father than Rick is.
That’s definitely been an interesting element this whole season. We’re getting so close to that halfway point where it’s going to cut off until February—
Which is so sad! I’m not ready!
Darn those football playoffs!
So how painful are these couple of months going to be? How much of a finale is this last episode going to be?
I think people will have quite a bit to talk about, from the beginning of December until January.
That’s a good positive spin.
Go big or go home!
And you guys are already renewed for Season 3—I think it was after the second episode—and I don’t think any of us doubted that there was going to be a third season. But did you guys think it was going to be that quickly that you would get that order?
Well, by the time we got it, we were already shooting episode 2.10 or 2.11. We’re already on our final episode of the season, 2.13, right now. It was important to know. It helps with respect to the crew and the cast, so they can plan their lives. That was really positive. We are very happy to be able to celebrate that. When you’re working with people from—essentially, we started shooting at the beginning of June, and we’ll be finishing right before Thanksgiving—it’s a family. It’s a surrogate family. And it’s nice to share the good news with that family.
As far as the creative planning stages, I believe I read yesterday that the planning stages for Season 3 are already underway as well.
Do you think that knowing that early on that you definitely do have a third season helps the creative process? Maybe the continuity of the story?
Absolutely. Before the writers’ room closed for the season, the writers were able to discuss it, were able to talk with the cast and our crewmembers about it. I think it’s really important not only for morale, but creatively. Before everyone goes back to real life, we’re able to focus on the fact that we will be back next year.
Beyond the influence on your own fans, it seems that the popularity of the show is influencing other networks even. There’s talk about the Zombieland show, and CW and NBC are looking at zombie shows. Now, you guys have your own post-show, The Talking Dead. How does it feel that something that you brought to television is now creating a trend in the genre?
Well, it’s certainly not necessarily what we set out to do…but they say it’s nice to have an homage [laughs]. And I think that there are a lot of fans out there, genre fans, who enjoy really good storytelling, who couldn’t be more delighted. And I’m one of them.
Me too! And would you ever do a zombie cameo on the show?
No. My daughter already did one, though. I feel like I’ve already gotten my family pride.
The Walking Dead's next episode, "Chupacabra," airs Sunday, Nov. 13 at 9 p.m. on AMC.