Currently one of the most popular and most talked about shows on TV is AMC’s The Walking Dead, now in its fifth season and already picked up for a sixth. As part of PaleyFest NY, the ultimate TV fan festival, executive producers Scott Gimple, Greg Nicotero, Gale Anne Hurd and Robert Kirkman spoke about the series that they’re clearly proud of and passionate about, as well as very grateful to the fans for all of the success of.
During the interview, they talked about the theme for Season 5, described the season in five words, being on the same page as the actors who know their roles so well, that Season 5 follows the comic closer than any season has before, what aspects of the comic they’re excited to get to, adding new characters and characters from the comic this season, providing answers to the questions about Terminus right away, telling Beth’s story, and introducing Negan at some point. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
SCOTT GIMPLE: Last year, we were actually investigating whether these characters were too far gone. Have they been through too much? Have they seen too much? Have they suffered too much? And the answer is that no, they can’t be completely real people anymore, or at least the people that they were or the understanding of what real people are. After all that, I just don’t think so. That stuff stays with you, it haunts you, and it frames who you are and what you can be, moving forward. But, that doesn’t mean that they can’t have humanistic moments. In one night, Rick Grimes tore out the neck of a gentleman. We can laugh about it now. That’s how we deal with it. But the next morning, he told his friend, in a very vulnerable moment, “You’re my brother.” Those are pretty different moments.
Gale, in five words or less, how would you describe Season 5?
GALE ANNE HURD: Absolutely heart-breaking, utterly relentless, kick-ass.
Greg, this is the second season premiere that you’ve directed for the show, correct?
GREG NICOTERO: It is. Having been there from day one, I know that the actors know their characters so well and their instincts are spot-on. If I would be directing a scene and I’d go up to give Andy a note, he’d know what the note was. Before I could even walk up to him, we would be on the same page, in terms of how the scene should be played. Fortunately, because I’ve directed several scripts that Scott has written, he and I have that same communication. He’s in L.A. writing the scripts and sitting in the writers’ room, and I’m in Georgia with Gale and the actors. Everybody on the cast and crew is firing at 100%. [The Season 5 premiere] immensely proves how in-tune everything is. Scott knows what’s happening three seasons from now. He’s like, “Oh, in Episode 804, this happens.” And I’m like, “How do you know that?!”
GIMPLE: It’s not like there are a lot of horror shows on television. There are a few now. And there haven’t been any horror shows for a good long while that have lasted this long. For five years, it isn’t like they’re on Grey’s Anatomy or Parenthood, where they can just shake it off. This cast has to go through such horrible things, and we’re doing a sixth season now. That’s a lot to take in, with the amount of killing, horror and death. When people make a horror movie, it’s a few months. This is years of horror, that these guys have to play out. It just hit me and I was like, “Wow, that’s heavy.”
Robert, how much is Season 5 following the comic book?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: It’s actually a lot. Anytime we adapt the comic, we always have to do it in a surprising way. There are a lot of comic book readers watching this show and we never want people to guess what’s coming next, so we will continue to do that. But there are a lot of big moments from the comic book series that are in this season. This season is following closer to the comic than we have, ever before. I’m pretty excited about that.
What scenes from the comic can you not wait to see brought to life on the show?
KIRKMAN: There are so many. There are a few locations that I’m really excited about seeing. The comic book now is very much about little city-states and pockets of civilization. We’re expanding the world in a much bigger way, and I’m really excited about the show getting to that point. This show being about the evolution of these characters and the evolution of this world, sitting here in Season 5, people aren’t really anticipating just how cool this show is gonna get, when we start to open up the world in new ways and dive into what it is to survive in this world, long term. There’s a lot of cool stuff ahead that I’m really excited about.
Gale, this show taps into so much more than just horror or sci-fi. Why does this show eclipse all of that?
HURD: The best science fiction, and I call it speculative fiction, really is about what if this really did happen? The great writers and great creators put you there. They also do something that Robert did brilliantly, which is to take ordinary people and thrust them into extraordinary circumstances. If you bring those characters to life and they feel real, and you find the right cast, then you absolutely have a way to lead people through. What I love are the discussions where a lot of people say, “I’m going to force my spouse, my brother, my best friend to watch the show because I want to have discussions about what these characters have done.” People want to talk about it. They want to share because it feels so real.
NICOTERO: The episode, last season, with Carol and Tyreese, is one of the best scripts that Scott has ever written. We get the director’s cut and we watch them, and everybody gives notes. I got about half-way through the episode and I was crying. I called Melissa [McBride] and I was like, “I don’t know how you do this. I don’t know how Chad [Coleman] does that.” I couldn’t even finish watching the episode. I had to take a break, and I called her and said, “I’m astounded at how great the episode is.” She said, “Oh, my god, call me when you’re done!” It took me about three hours to finish it. I hadn’t even gotten to the scene where they have that last conversation. It was funny because three hours later I called her back and she was like, “Where were you for three hours?!” It took me time to just adjust to it. The first episode I ever directed was when Jeffrey DeMunn was killed.
NICOTERO: I brought the writer into the editing room, and she was crying while she was watching it. What show gives you that emotion? Yes, it’s a genre show, but the emotion that these actors and these writers bring to it is why people watch, every Sunday night.
What new faces can we expect, this season?
GIMPLE: Yes, there are going to be new characters, and there are going to be new dynamics from those characters. Some are directly torn from the pages of [the comic book], and some of them are amalgamations, and some of them are just part of the show.
KIRKMAN: But, all of them are played by former The Wire cast members.
How do you balance the creation of a character vs. taking a character from the comic book?
GIMPLE: I think it’s about the story.
KIRKMAN: And it’s about finding the best actor for that story.
GIMPLE: It’s looking at how we’re telling the story from the comic and mixing it up, and how we’re taking a left-hand turn to get back to a story from the comic, and how the characters are going to go through their emotional journeys. Because we have this pretty big, amazing cast, a lot of the characters are there to interact with our core 80 characters on their journey. We’re not just throwing in characters for shock or interest.
KIRKMAN: I keep pushing for a ninja, but no one listens to me.
NICOTERO: What I love about the way that Scott and his team writes is that everything is planted. It’s always a great balance. We plant moments in Episode 1 that will pay off, 10 episodes later. In [the season premiere], Scott plants themes that will play out for the entire rest of the season. There were a couple that I directed where I was like, “Oh, my god, I didn’t even realize that we did that. That was really good.”
HURD: He’s either very talented, very evil, or both. He’s an evil genius.
NICOTERO: We spent the whole second part of last season, building to Terminus without knowing what the place was. You give hints of it because you don’t want to give too much away. Those questions will be answered [right away].
HURD: The season finale and the premiere were nine-day episodes. It’s absolutely remarkable, what our team is able to achieve in nine days. The intensity that you have to achieve in those nine days is just unbelievable. I come from big movies, and that sequence would have been three weeks of production, so that the actors would really get time and only have to shoot a couple of pages of day. We don’t get to shoot a couple of pages a day. Everyone has to bring their A-game, every moment, and you feel that when you’re watching it.
NICOTERO: [The premiere] is a movie. It’s really epic, what everybody brings to it. That’s what I love about this show. Every season, we continue to top ourselves. Under Scott’s leadership, it really is astounding, what we’re all able to do.
What can you say about Terminus?
KIRKMAN: One of the great things about our first episode back is that there are a ton of mysteries involving Terminus, like who these people are, why they’re there, what they’re planning on doing, what they’re going to do with our people that are in a train car. What’s great about the premiere is that we’re answering pretty much all of those questions, right out of the gate. So, any of the questions that you have about Terminus, or a lot of the questions that you have going into this season, we’re answering very quickly. We’re not dragging that out. We have a lot more to get to.
GIMPLE: We had a big build-up to Terminus and people want to know [what’s going on], so we wanted to get right into it. These characters have crossed the threshold. It’s time for them to know. They’ve been on their road of trials, and now it is the reckoning. I think that’s what we were promising at the end of last season. It’s quite a big reckoning. I remember seeing Greg on the last day of shooting, and he did not leave anything on the field. It was amazing that he was standing up.
NICOTERO: I’ve directed 10 episodes of the series and that was, by far, the hardest, just because of getting everything out of every storyline. What’s great is that stories interweave. Ultimately, our stories crash together very dramatically, within a couple of episodes. At the end of every day, I just looked at Scott and was like, “All right, I’m going to go crawl under a car for awhile, but then I’ll drag out in the morning and get right back to it.” But, I’m so proud of the episode.
What can you say about Beth and where she’s at?
GIMPLE: We’re going to see where Beth is, and she is most definitely somewhere, which means she is alive. In the trailer, you see that it doesn’t look like where she is, is too much fun. She did get hit pretty badly, at the end of that. But, her story will be told. I would say that anybody who’s alive, at this point of the apocalypse, and anybody we cross has a story. We’re trying to tell all of those stories, which is super challenging. And we want to tell Beth’s story because Beth has a story.
Robert, will you introduce Negan, in future seasons?
KIRKMAN: Yeah, Negan is certainly a big part of the future of the series. He is a big important part of the comic, so there are certainly plans to bring him into the television show. Scott and I have discussed the character, at length. But as far as when that will be or how that will be, I can’t reveal. It’s more than likely a long way away. Negan is a character in the comic where, every other word he says is the f-word. It’s his shtick. He’s fun to write.
What would you like people to know about the Season 5 premiere, going into it?
GIMPLE: Like with swimming, I would not eat 90 minutes before. I would have loved ones close. And I would seriously be careful about kids in the room, for the first eight minutes.
HURD: We do this because of the fans. Honestly, we appreciate them so much. That’s why everybody is part of #TWDFamily. Whether you’re on Twitter or not, you’re a part of The Walking Dead family. We love you, we appreciate you, and we owe you everything, so thank you.
The Walking Dead airs on Sunday nights on AMC.