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The Walking Dead – Producers on rules for zombies

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The Walking Dead 209 - Steven Yeun and Andrew Lincoln
Episode 2.09 - Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) © 2011 AMC

AMC’s The Walking Dead premiered on October 31, 2010 to rave reviews and over 5.3 million viewers. Season Two premiered to more than 7 million viewers, and within two weeks, Season Three was announced!

Based on the comic book series by Robert Kirkman, it tells the horrific story of the months that follow after the apocalypse, in which the country is ravaged by zombies. A small group of survivors are led by County Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), and the final episode of the show before the Christmas break had the heart-wrenching scene where Grimes is forced to kill Sophia, the young daughter of survivor Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride), who had become a zombie.

The series’ producers Glen Mazzara and Robert Kirkman spoke with TV Critics about the show which resumed its season on February 12th.

Mr Kirkman, how close is the series following your books? Where are you diverging, and why are you diverging when you do?

Walking Dead - Producer Robert Kirkman
Producer Robert Kirkman and zombies © 2011 AMC

Robert Kirkman: It’s a give and take. It’s an evolving process.

As we get deeper and deeper into the show, I think that it’s important to note that the comic book series and the TV show exist separately, and while the comic book series has a lot of cool stuff in it, there’s also a fantastic writers’ room with a lot of guys that have a lot of great ideas.

So we’re able to sit back and mine the best from my comic book series and take it and change it and transform it into the television show that you get to watch.

So sometimes, it will be completely different. Sometimes it will be exactly the same, and that will always be an evolving process as we go through making the show.

With Carol’s daughter dying, how does the character move forward?

Walking Dead, 2.08 - Andrew Lincoln and Scott Wilson
Episode 2.08 – Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson) © 2011 AMC

Glen Mazzara: I think that the Carol character always depended on other people, and what’s been very interesting is that Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) really became her knight in shining armor.

He took up that quest to find [Sophia].

The fact that that quest failed, that she wasn’t saved, I think really affects their relationship and forces Carol to learn to stand on her own.

I’m very proud of the work that Melissa and all of the actors have done. And I think one of the traps with that character is just to make her the grieving mom, just to hit that one note. So we’ve said, ‘Okay, moving forward without that child-in-jeopardy storyline, who is this character?’

It’s really put a lot of focus on that character from the writer’s standpoint. How do we find something new to say with the character? So I think people will hopefully respond.

Have you come up with specific rules for the zombies, how people become zombies, and how quickly they move, because some move faster than others?

Walking Dead, 2.08 - Jeffrey DeMunn
Episode 2.08 – Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) and a collection of bodies © 2011 AMC

Robert: I wouldn’t want to go through them all, but that is something that we’re very mindful of. The way we look at it is, the speed with which you turn into a zombie is based on your physical health at the time of death.

Sometimes they’re faster, sometimes they’re slower is also dependent on the life of the zombie and how long it’s been dead and what kind of condition it’s in. So while it does seem to be somewhat random, we are paying attention to it.

In the comic, you reveal that unless you were shot in the head, anyone who died eventually became a zombie. Is that the case with the show as well?

Robert: That remains to be seen. So you’ll just have to tune in.

I think what makes this show special from other zombie stories, it’s really the only one that has us empathizing and sympathizing with the zombies. Will you continue to go in that direction, and will we ever find out where zombie-dom comes from and how it’s cured?

Walking Dead, 2.09 - Steven Yeun
Episode 2.09 – Glenn (Steven Yeun) © 2011 AMC

Glen: We’ve talked about that, and that’s something that’s not really addressed in the book, and that’s something I would like to keep. This show is about our characters and about them trying to stay alive, hold onto their humanity, find a safe place, hopefully rebuild civilization. Everything’s collapsed.

So they’re under incredible duress. It doesn’t feel right that they would have those answers, and even if they did have those answers, what would they do with them? So I think part of the success of the show is that it feels immediate.

It feels like we’re following the little guys, and they don’t have the answers, and they desperately need them to survive.

So let’s say this, that internally, we don’t know where this zombie outbreak started, how to cure it, anything like that. We’re more focused on the continuing storylines.

In each episode we know that the survivors usually can outrun the zombies, so is it a challenge every week to make the zombies scary?

Glen: In the season premiere when they enter the church, the three zombies are sitting there. They’re in a dormant state. Food walks in, and suddenly they’re up and about.

It is challenging, but one of the fun things about writing this show is to always make sure that the zombies are different and fresh and as scary as possible. That’s my number one rule. It has to be scary.

Season 2 episode 8 has further airing during this week. Episode 9 will be aired from February 19, 2012.