Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead had pretty much everything a fan of AMC’s zombie show — and the original comic book series — could want. The long-awaited return of Michael Rooker’s maimed maniac Merle? Check. The long-awaited introduction of David Morrissey’s power-crazed villain The Governor? Check. The long-awaited appearance of decapitated zombie heads bobbing around in tanks of water? Hell, this show might as well have been called “Decapitated Zombie Heads Bobbing Around In Tanks Of Water.”
Below, Walking Dead show executive producer and Walking Dead comic writer Robert Kirkman talks about the casting of Morrissey, the thinning-down of Rooker, and the possibility — nay, probability — that the real mayhem is still to come.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So this episode featured the return of Merle, the introduction of the Governor and Woodbury, a helicopter crash, the gunning down of a bunch of soldiers, and a whole mess of zombie heads in tanks. Was it really just a year ago people were complaining not much happened on your show?
Robert Kirkman: Well, yeah, and I’ve got to say this is a big indication of what to expect from season 3. I mean, this episode is jam-packed with pretty crazy stuff and I think the next episode possibly will top it. We’ve got a lot of big stuff planned for this season. It’s gonna be pretty crazy. In all of our promotion the word we’ve been using to describe this season is “intense” and that’s not just marketing and that’s not just interview nonsense.
Wait, we’ve been having these chats now for more than two years. How much of what you’ve told me up to this point has been “interview nonsense”?
A lot. [Laughs]
So that’s one hell of an actor you’ve got with this David Morrissey fellow.
He’s a good actor. He’s a handsome man. He’s the total package!
He’s British, he doesn’t have a moustache, I don’t think anyone would say he was an obvious choice to play the Governor How did you come to cast him?
He did some test footage that we reviewed and he happened to be in town when we were casting. We ended up meeting over at the AMC offices and he was able to do his screen test in person with AMC people there. It was a scene that was written just for the screen test. It wasn’t used in the show. But it was a scene that was welcoming but sinister and then had a big turn at the end. You know, it was a big deal for me because I had not ever sat in a room with an actor before and watched them go through a wide range of emotions and moods in such a brief amount of time. It really just encompassed everything that we needed from the Governor.
I don’t want to say the Governor is more frightening that Merle because I don’t want to be waking up with Michael Rooker’s cold, hard face staring down on me. But in the context of the show Merle does seem to be a little scared of the Governor.
Yeah. That’s by design. We know that everyone knows about Merle and everyone knows that Merle is threatening and he’s a little bit of an “X factor” when thrown into certain situations. Because of what you know about him, his reaction to the Governor informs what you should be thinking about that guy. In the episode, before the Governor takes his turn and ends up shooting those guys, there’s a lot of undertones between him and Merle that should be informing you this is a guy to be looking out for and this guy is definitely dangerous.
Rooker has a very lean and hungry look these days. Are you not feeding that guy?
[Laughs] I think in preparation for him coming back he actually lost a bunch of weight. I think this was all part of his actor plan, to come back as a different Merle, a leaner, meaner Merle. He really put a lot of preparation into this.
Doc Stevens looks a bit different from the way I remember the character in the comic book.
[Laughs] Oh yeah. [Laughs] Yes, yes. We changed things up a little bit. I think in a sense we combined the Alice character [from the comic] and the Doctor Stevens character into one for the sake of the show. We like to change things up and I think that’s a pretty good example of that.
Next: “Their mouths are moving. They’re live zombie heads.”