Over the past 30 years, PaleyFest has held panel sessions and screenings that connect the worldwide community of television fans with the casts and creators of their favorite TV shows. Kicking things off this year were the folks behind The Walking Dead, which is currently one of the most popular drama series on television, and Collider was invited to be on the press line and speak to some of the talent responsible for pushing the boundaries of storytelling.
While there, we briefly got the opportunity to speak with executive producers Robert Kirkman (who created the comic the series is based on), David Alpert and Greg Nicotero (who is also responsible for all of the zombie gore), as well as cast members Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Scott Wilson and Emily Kinney. The actors shared their thoughts on the journeys their characters have gone on and where they’re headed, and the creative team gave some insight about wrapping up Season 3, the pressure of topping the previous season’s finale, looking ahead to Season 4 (which starts shooting in May), creating new and exciting zombie kills, and how they cast for the walkers. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
GREG NICOTERO: You’ve gotta keep those moments of levity. As dark as it gets, there becomes a point where it’s difficult to pull the audience back from that. So, likeable characters, like Daryl (Norman Reedus), that you root for and that you’re constantly rooting for, like Rick (Andrew Lincoln), I think you’ll always root for those people, no matter what happens. Rick is basically losing his mind and having what initially started as auditory hallucinations, and then he sees Shane (Jon Bernthal), and then he sees Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). He’s clearly become unhinged. As he goes deeper and deeper into this psychosis, he has to deal with the physical threat of The Governor and the people of Woodbury. It’s dark to think about, to begin with, so you’ve always gotta keep those lighter moments. Anytime Merle (Michael Rooker) says anything, it’s a light moment ‘cause he’s such a great actor.
What are the challenges of always having to come up with new and different zombie kills? Have there been any that you’ve wanted to do where they said no, or that you had to cut back?
NICOTERO: We’ve been really fortunate that they’ve never said no. In Episode 3, Carol (Melissa McBride) does the c-section on the walker, and we had done full-body make-up on that actress, so that if we wanted to show more than just the abdomen, we could show it ‘cause we’ve never seen that before. It was pretty horrific. To see her pull the sundress up and then put the scalpel down and start cutting into it, that was pretty dark, but I love that moment. Truthfully, they never tell us to scale back. We pretty much go for it. In Episode 10, when Daryl smashes the walkers with the crossbow and then smashes his head in the trunk of the car, since I’m directing second unit, a lot of times, I’ll go in and shoot those little accents later. I’ll say, “Oh, this would be a great moment,” or “We need a little punch here, or little push here,” like tearing the face of the gas mask walker to see that hideous skull, or shit like that.
How do you find the people who play the zombies?
NICOTERO: Well, there’s no shortage of people that want to be walkers. There’s probably a group of 20 people that we love, that we find each season, and then we just change their make-up, all the time. In episodes that I’ve directed – and I’ve done three episodes this season – I use the same performers because they’re actors in a scene. If there’s a scene where they’re attacking Hershel and they bite Hershel in the leg, that guy is in the scene with Scott Wilson. He has to be able to act, he has to be able to hit his cues, and he has to be able to perform. We really have to work with them to make sure that they make the walkers believable. You want to have that emotional reaction from the audience, and the scare. You want that pop-up scare, and then the horrific, “Nooo!”
NICOTERO: Yeah, we’ve already started thinking about it. Last season, during our hiatus, we started doing test make-up for the pets to try to figure out how to do the jawless make-up. What’s fun is that we get a chance to fine tune every year, and see what’s successful, what people respond to and what people like. It’s pretty great.
Andrew, with as broken as Rick is now, is there a way for him to repair himself enough to face The Governor and whatever else happens between now and the Season 3 finale?
ANDREW LINCOLN: I don’t think he’s ever going to recover from what’s happened. When people have had a breakdown, which is, for all intents and purposes, how I wanted it to be played, you’re always changed. But, with this weekend’s episode, something happens that holds up a mirror to Rick and he realizes he has to return from the wilderness.
And at this point, the relationship between Rick and Carl (Chandler Riggs) is really strained.
LINCOLN: Yes. His son is calling him out and calling him on his decisions. I loved that [moment]. It was just a real tender father-son, almost inverted scene. He’s great, that kid. He can do it.
EMILY KINNEY: I think that we need it. As actors, we need a moment to take a breath and have a moment of slowness, and in this crazy world, too, there are moments where they’re not fighting zombies. What happens in those moments? And I think we answered that this is something that maybe people would do. They would sing a song to feel better, or try to comfort each other, in some way. I loved it.
There was also a really sweet moment with Beth kissing Rick (Andrew Lincoln) on the cheek when he came back to the prison. What was behind that?
KINNEY: I think that what we saw was that Beth really feels like she’s a part of this group and she feels very comfortable with everyone and trusts them. When Rick brings her sister back, she’s just so happy and really looks up to him, as a leader. Even though he’s starting to go a little crazy, I think that Beth really does believe in him, and she’s just so thrilled to see her sister. She doesn’t have many people left, you know?
Do you think that’s behind why she’s become so attached to the baby now?
KINNEY: Yeah, I think she feels like that’s her way of helping. She’s not the person killing all the zombies, even though her sister is. Everyone has to help, in their own way, and she’s become attached to the baby to help.
Do you ever get bummed that you’re not involved in the zombie-killing action a bit more?
KINNEY: I don’t know. I don’t think so. Not really. It’s fun to watch. I’ve gotten to kill a zombie, and that was fun. It is fun, but I love some of the stuff I’ve gotten to do, so I wouldn’t change it, at all.
What has most surprised you about your character and how she’s grown?
KINNEY: I think it’s been cool to see her have hope, and to see how much she leans on her father. That’s something that I really learned, in this season. How much she believes in his strength has changed. In Season 2, she was like, “It’s not worth it anymore.” In Season 3, especially when Hershel’s leg gets cut off and she so believes he’s going to come through, I think she truly does believe in these people around her.
Norman, how has it been to explore the Daryl and Merle (Michael Rooker) relationship now, after them having been apart for so long?
NORMAN REEDUS: Daryl is a different person than he was, the last time he saw Merle. There’s a thing that happens when those brothers get together. Daryl gets small because he’s around Merle, and Merle becomes big brother again, but Daryl is not the same guy he was, in the beginning. In the very beginning, Daryl talked out of the side of his head, all the time, and now he talks right in your face. That last episode, Daryl was like, “Get out of the car!” He wouldn’t have done that before. Merle was like, “What are you doing?! You’re not pointing that thing at me!” They’re different people now.
REEDUS: The more complicated we all make all of our characters, the more interesting they are to watch. I love having all these different elements.
Did you have any idea how much people would respond to Daryl with the baby?
REEDUS: No. People were talking about ovaries exploding and it’s disgusting. I didn’t know anybody would say that ever. That was pretty weird!
Scott, how has losing a leg given Hershel a new perspective on things?
SCOTT WILSON: Well, it’s changed what he physically does, but all the attributes that he had before are still there. He can help people get well. He can still fire a gun. And he can still give advice, if it’s good or bad.
Do you think that because he is so much of a survivor that people pay extra attention to his advice, and that he’s able to get through to Rick (Andrew Lincoln) a bit more when other people aren’t able to?
WILSON: He’s a patriarch who is a spokesman, not only of what’s happening now, but of the past. He’s an elder statesman, in a way, so maybe that has something to do with it. The writers keep writing good and interesting stuff for Hershel, so it’s cool.
When you found out that Hershel was going to get bitten, were you worried that you were going to be done for, on the show?
Hershel has really started to see Glenn differently than he did, in the beginning. Why do you think that shift happened?
WILSON: I think he views Glenn as his son, now. He knows Glenn will be there to defend Maggie, and that Maggie is a warrior woman, too. She will be there to defend Glenn and Hershel, and whoever else needs defended. I think each member of the group has shown that they are capable of stepping up and taking that leadership responsibility.
And Hershel is still willing to give new people a chance, when other members of the group aren’t?
WILSON: Yes, he is. When Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and that group comes into the prison, he says, “Give them a chance.” What Hershel has to say is interesting because he’s talking about, not just the survival of the group, but of the human race.
Steven, Glenn has really taken a dark journey this season, and he’s come through it and seems to be taking more of a leadership role. How do you feel about what he’s gone through and where he’s going?
STEVEN YEUN: What’s great is that Glenn is continuing to grow, and it’s not always an easy arc. It’s not like they had the guy go through a really traumatizing moment, and then overcome it and become the hero of all heroes. The greatest part of this show is that it goes on, after something happens. Glenn, being a young man, seeing what happens to the person that he loves and what happens to him, he processes it in a young way because that hasn’t happened to him before, in his life. So, he is strong-headed, prideful and bullish, but not wise, and I think he’ll figure that out.
ROBERT KIRKMAN: We’ve always been moving in and out of the comic book, and I think that we’re going to continue to do that. There are huge elements from the comic book in Season 3. Moving into Season 4, it’s going to be pretty much the same. There are going to be a lot of things fans recognize from the comics with a lot of new elements pushed in, and it’s going to make for a really good show, like it always has been.
As you moved into the finale, how much pressure was there to top what you did last season?
KIRKMAN: The pressure is always there to top it, but we always strive to do something different and unexpected, and I think that we’ve succeeded in doing that.
DAVID ALPERT: I also think we’ve been looking for some emotional closure and wrapping up some storylines. We’re going to visit some dark places, but there’s also a ray of hope and optimism, going forward.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC.