The hit AMC drama series The Walking Dead is back for Season 3, with higher stakes, more threatening human villains and, of course, plenty of zombies. When things pick back up, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his fellow survivors continue to seek refuge, this time in an abandoned prison, but soon discover that there are greater forces to fear than just the walking dead. The struggle to survive has never been so perilous, especially considering that Rick’s wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), is close to the due date of her pregnancy. The show also stars Laurie Holden, Steven Yeun, Norman Reedus, Chandler Riggs, Lauren Cohan, Scott Wilson, IronE Singleton, Melissa McBride, Danai Gurira and David Morrissey.
At the show’s press day, showrunner Glen Mazzara and writer Robert Kirkman (who also created the comic book) talked about how open the writers’ room is to changes from the comic book, which change they were most nervous about fan reaction to, the main themes of Season 3, shooting the opening sequence for the season with no dialogue, keeping the mystery of Michonne (Gurira), why Daryl (Reedus) is so much fun to write for, whether or not the show could survive if you killed off all of the original characters, and why it’s important for them to reinvent the conventions of television. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
ROBERT KIRKMAN: One of the things that led to the popularity of the comic book series was the fact that, when you sit down to read an issue, you have no idea what’s going to happen, anyone could die at any moment, or the entire story could shift gears and go into a different direction that you would never expect. When the prospect of this becoming a television show started to become a reality, I was really concerned about the idea of the adaptation being a little bit too faithful to the comic book series, just because that key element would be completely lost. If you look at the atmosphere of spoilers on the internet now, even with all of the changes we’ve made to the show, every now and then, there’s a leak or a spoiler. If people were able to go, “Oh, it’s this block of issues that they’re adapting this season,” they would know exactly what we’re doing and that would lead to all kinds of disastrous effects. More importantly than that, I work on the TV show. I’m in the writers’ room, and I would be completely bored out of my mind, if we were sitting there going, “Okay, well, you’re writing this issue and this issue into a script, and you’re writing this issue and this issue into a script.” That would just not be any fun, and it would also not be utilizing the supreme talent of Glen Mazzara, and all the other people in the writers’ room who have great ideas that they add to the mix. Because we’ve gone down this road and we’re doing the show this way, it’s extremely gratifying for me to be able to sit back and look at my old material, and then watch Glen and the writers in the writers’ room work at taking that stuff and expanding on it and fixing things that may have been clunky, the first time around, and just expanding it into something that it really fun to work on and really an amazing thing that I never would have expected it could be. It’s been great.
KIRKMAN: I’m usually game for pretty much anything. When we sit down to plot a season and things start getting thrown out and added, I’m usually pretty open to the changes. I don’t think there has been any event, so far. I’ve not been like, “Oh, well, people aren’t really going to respond to this well.” I usually dive head first and am really excited about that changes. With the subtle changes to the way Shane’s (Jon Bernthal) story wrapped up, with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) being the one who handled that situation, as opposed to Carl (Chandler Riggs), there was potential for fans to react negatively to that, just because it was such an iconic beat in the comic book series and it is the memorable event that kicked off everything, moving from that. It was very early on, in the comic book series. But looking at it, everything that was changed for the show was just so cool and added so much story potential for things moving after that, that I knew the audience would react to it the same way I did, where you look at it and recognize that it’s different, but the differences excite you, as opposed to diminishing the material, in any way.
What are the main themes of Season 3?
GLEN MAZARRA: One of the themes that we definitely examine is that nobody can survive alone, in this world. People have bonds, and sometimes those bonds are broken. And then, that person goes spinning off and connects with someone else. That’s something that we came up with pretty early and, as we’re about to write the last few episodes, that has remained true. So, we examine the way these bonds get broken and reformed, and people are partnered with new people throughout the entire life of the season. The other main theme that we have is that this is a complicated, historical novel of the meeting of these two groups, but a novel to be written sometime in the future. But, in the aftermath of the apocalypse when everybody starts coming out of the ashes and people start finding each other, these two groups are in conflict. That will lead to events that we believe will take us throughout the remaining seasons of the show.
MAZARRA: When we wrote that, we really wanted to show that we’re back in this world and that these are the same characters, but they had developed and now they’re acting as a tight-knit group. They’re well coordinated and everybody has a specific task, and we saw the effects of Rick’s leadership immediately. Within four minutes, you were caught up, as to what’s happened with that group. They’re like a strike force, taking over this house. They don’t have to speak. They can pick up each other’s cues and they know what everything means. There was just a tremendous amount of catch-up that was being told, in that single scene. It was a lot of fun to write, and the actors responded to it. It was a challenge and a surprise, and it was different, but it made sense in this world. You don’t really want to draw a lot of attention to yourself. You don’t want to have loud guns. You don’t want to be shouting at each other. That quick little teaser explains how they survived throughout the winter.
Michonne (Danai Gurira) is so bad-ass partly because she’s so mysterious, so how do you approach revealing her backstory and taking away some of that mystery?
KIRKMAN: She’s definitely a big mystery. We introduced her in a very mysterious way, at the end of the second season, and not a lot is known about her. But, she’s a cool character that is a bit of a fan favorite in the comic book world and we’re very excited about her appearing in this season. I think that we’ve done some really interesting things with her and brought her into the show, in a very interesting and different way, as opposed to how she was brought in, in the comic. It’s pretty clear that she’s going to be with Andrea (Laurie Holden) quite a bit, and having these two characters play off each other is really going to inform us, as to who they are and what their motivations are. We’ll learn more about her, as we move forward.
MAZARRA: Michonne is a tricky character. She doesn’t give up a lot of information. She actually probably says a lot less than anybody else, as far as the amount of dialogue. She keeps to herself. She doesn’t really like people. She hates zombies. It’ll be interesting, as she reveals things about her character and the audience learns things about her. That’s something that will be teased out, throughout the life of that character.
MAZARRA: We all love writing for Daryl. He’s a great zombie killer, so there’s a lot of action. In one sense, he’s come into his own, in this world. He’s perfectly adapted for this environment, so that’s great. He doesn’t take any trash from anybody. He has a sense of humor. You can put him in any scene, and he works. Norman Reedus is a real great guy to work with. He just adds so much, and he loves the show. There’s really no scene that you could write for The Walking Dead where it doesn’t work, if you add Daryl. He’s just so much a part of the environment and the world. He’s a lot of fun to write for.
Could this show survive, if everybody from the original cast was killed off?
MAZARRA: That’s a good question.
KIRKMAN: Yeah, I honestly do think that the show could survive. Telling stories in this world is an interesting prospect. To a certain extent, this is Rick’s story, so something really drastic would have to happen for it to suddenly shift gears, and that might be somewhat jarring. I’ve always said that this is a very dangerous world that we’re telling stories in and, if characters aren’t dropping like flies and dying left and right, we just wouldn’t be telling a realistic story. So, in an effort to keep things realistic, we are going to be burning through cast, like we have been in the first two seasons. It is an evolving show, and I really like the fact that the cast is cycling. When I see these big marketing images before every season, it’s like, “Here’s the cast,” and then the next year, it’s like, “Here’s the cast,” and it’s always pretty different. I just think that’s cool. It shows that you’re getting something new this season, which I think is really exciting.
MAZARRA: One of the things we take seriously is the issue of life and death in this season, and what that means for the survivors. So, I do think that the show could suffer any death and still continue. I would never want to have everybody wiped out and come back with a brand new cast. That’s a little crazy. We would never do that. But, you show how people survive each other’s death and what that means and what that loss is. This is a show that’s very much dealing with that.
MAZARRA: That’s always been my approach to TV. That’s something that we tried to do on The Shield. That was a tough show to watch because of the number of cop shows that have been done, in the past. With Shawn Ryan and Kurt Sutter, we were very conscious of giving the audience a reason to come over to something that was a new type of cop show on a new cable station. That’s something that I’ve just learned and had fun with. So, when we started writing this material together, we did have new material. A zombie show has never been done, but we try to push what has been done in zombie movies. We’re not just taking things from the comic book or zombie films, and then just dramatizing it. We really do push ourselves. We want the show to be out there. We want the show to be fresh. We want the show to be an original experience for the audience. That’s by design. That’s something that we’re going for, but I also think that the material needs it. Because the comic book is so exciting and interesting, in a way, we have to reinvent the TV format to do justice to Robert’s work.
KIRKMAN: I agree!
The Walking Dead airs on Sunday nights on AMC.