With The Walking Dead returning to AMC for its fourth season, Collider was invited to cover the premiere and catch some time with the cast and executive producers to find out what’s in store. In the new season, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and the group of survivors thriving in the safe haven of the prison quickly find out that happiness is short-lived, as walkers and outside threats are no match for the danger brewing inside the fences. The group’s home and new way of life will be thoroughly tested, and their struggle to survive has never been at such rusk. The 16-episode season will air in two-parts, with the first eight episodes kicking off on October 13th, and the second eight episodes returning in February 2014.
While talking on the red carpet on their way into the Season 4 premiere screening, executive producers Gale Anne Hurd and Greg Nicotero talked about what they want to achieve with this season, balancing the human threat versus the zombie threat, trying to always keep the zombie kills fresh and interesting, that Episode 3 will be “mind-blowing,” how it gets harder and harder to part with cast members, introducing Rosita Espinosa from the comic books, and how Nicotero came to direct the season premiere. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
GREG NICOTERO: By the end of last season, the walker threats fell to the wayside. What was really, really important to Scott Gimple and I was keeping that threat relevant. It’s like a terrorist attack. As soon as you stop thinking about it, or you don’t remember that it’s there, it hits you. You’re the most vulnerable when you’re the most comfortable and you think everything is fine. You can see, in the first two episodes, that we’ve put our characters in situations where they can’t see it coming. I think that’s exciting because no matter how prepared they think they are and no matter how good of killers they are, in terms of the walkers, they can never be prepared for that, and it’s important.
GALE ANNE HURD: Well, this season, we want to have the epic scale of some of the big sequences last season, but also make sure that we have the intimate storytelling and that the conflicts develop within the characters, in their relationships. We also wanted to introduce a threat unlike anything that they’ve seen before. And I think we’ve succeeded on both of those. It’s great having Greg Nicotero direct the first episode, and I think he really hits it out of the park.
There are definitely more group zombie attacks this season, at least in the first two episodes. Was that done intentionally, to remind people just how many zombies are still out there?
NICOTERO: Yeah. We have our moments, as the show progresses. We’ll have little individual bits and pieces.
HURD: Well, there’s no question that there are more walkers in the world than ever before. And we do tend to go back and forth between the period of calm when they’re not under duress, so that you can develop the relationships, but they’re out there. It’s important to remind people that the threat has not gone away. They’re right at the gates. They’re also going to encounter them on every run they do for new supplies. They have to rely on the resources they have at hand. As you’ll see, when they go out for supplies, it’s a life-or-death situation. It’s not just going to the pharmacy or going to the store. Every time you do that, you’re putting yourself and your colleagues and family at risk.
Do you put a lot of thought into balancing the human threat versus the zombie threat?
HURD: Absolutely! It’s very key. It can’t just be a show about the zombie threat-of-the-week, or the zombie kill-of-the-week. What’s even more frightening is the evil that humans have within themselves.
How challenging is it to top the zombie kills each season, and always be more creative than the last season?
NICOTERO: You know, we’re always trying to keep it fresh. It is challenging for Scott Gimple and the writers. For me, it’s a great, unique situation because I read the story documents, so I can see the seeds of the ideas, and then we collaborate and run with it. We’re able to design and build these sequences that are inherent to the story, as opposed to just being random effects. I can’t wait for you to see Episode 3. It’s mind-blowing.
Greg, was it your choice to direct the Season 4 premiere?
NICOTERO: No, they chose me. They picked me. It’s a funny story because I was at a hotel and we had a conference call. I literally was in the elevator and the call dropped. I had to call back in and Gale [Anne Hurd] said, “You idiot!” I said, “What?!” She said, “I gave you the greatest pitch and said that we would be honored to have you direct the season premiere of The Walking Dead,” and there was dead silence. They all thought, “Wow, maybe Greg doesn’t want to do it.” And then, I called back in and Gale said, “You missed our whole impassioned plea.” So, I directed the premiere, and then the mid-season premiere, as well. I’ve done six episodes for the series, so far.
Does it ever get any easier to have to part with cast members, every season?
HURD: No. Every year, it gets harder and harder. But at the same time, it’s fantastic to be able to introduce new characters. We have a lot more characters now. We’re also introducing Rosita Espinosa from the comic books.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC on October 13th.