We’re hitting the home stretch of season 4 for AMC’s The Walking Dead, and according to creator Robert Kirkman, said homestretch is going to be a doozy. That doozydom — yes, I just made that word up — will begin this Sunday night with an episode that Kirkman insists is “definitely one that people are going to remember and it’s definitely one people are going to talk about. If there is one episode of The Walking Dead that you absolutely had to watch this season, it would be this one.”
Translation: Uh-oh. Every time I hear something like that I get very nervous for everyone on screen. I chatted with Kirkman to get his take on the second half of season 4 so far — which has seen our big collection of survivors divided up into smaller groups — and have him look ahead to the pivotal episode on Sunday.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Now that we’ve seen who is together in this back half of season 4, tell me about how you guys decided which characters to pair up. Because it’s sort of like a mix-and-match set you had to play with and there were a lot of ways you could have gone.
ROBERT KIRKMAN: The overall idea here was to get characters out of their comfort zone. Outside of Rick and Carl, you’re not really seeing characters that are often associated with each other grouped together. So Glenn and Maggie are separated. Daryl and Carol are obviously separated. Tyreese and his sister are separated. We really wanted to do the most interesting pair ups. We wanted to do a few things. Of course Tyreese gets put with Carol because there is so much story potential there with those two being together after what Carol has done and the fact that Tyreese just didn’t happen to get that information.
And the other thing was we tried to think of pairings that would pull as much character out of these people as possible. So in the case of Daryl and Beth, these aren’t people that have spent all that much time together, but there are other characters we have a lot of unanswered questions about. And by bringing the two of them together and figuring out their dynamic, it gives us a way to drill down into these characters and really find out what makes them tick. And that’s really been the driving force of these episodes, to say, “Look, it’s season 4. We’re getting ready to wind things down this season, but we really want to get to the heart of these people and make you hyper aware of who they are what they’ve been through and get you as invested as possible before we do terrible things to them.”
EW: You mentioned Daryl and Beth, and a lot of people have watched those episodes and been like, is there something romantic happening there or what? Obviously, he’s older than her. And Carol is still out there, although he doesn’t know that. What is their connection developing into?
KIRKMAN: They’re growing close, just as anyone who is stuck in that situation would grow close. Now whether or not that is going to evolve into a romantic relationship remains to be seen. They’ve already been separated, so my hopes for that to happen are pretty low. There’s a pretty slim chance of that relationship coming together and it continues the narrative of poor old Daryl is unlucky in love. But they’re definitely clinging to each other for survival and growing a bond that forms when you’re in that kind of that situation.
EW: I spoke to Lauren Cohan last week about how Glenn and Maggie really have been the show’s only real consistent couple since Lori died and she said she didn’t know if that made them more or less likely die. So which is it, Kirkman?
KIRKMAN: [Laughs] I’ll never tell. Watch the rest of the season.
EW: The longer a show is on, you need to find new ways to scare the audience, and I noticed that you guys have been playing a lot with issues of limited visibility in this back half of the season. We had Rick under the bed, Daryl & Beth in the trunk, and then Maggie, Bob, and Sasha in the mist. Was that something deliberate that you guys were doing there?
KIRKMAN: The thing you can’t see is always scarier that the thing you can so it’s really a common horror trope that is always well used and great to do. But also these characters are incredibly capable at this point. They’ve been around for a good long time and there’s a unique set of circumstances that would lead to them being in danger just because they have been living in this world inhabited by walkers for so long that they’ve sort of gotten a handle on what you need to do to survive. So you need to focus on those extenuating circumstances and out in those scenarios. Because otherwise they kind of have this thing covered.
EW: The structure of this second half of the season means we’ve been getting deeper dives on each of the characters like you spoke about earlier. But it also means we then may not see them for a few weeks. We all have our characters that we miss when they’re not around. Whom do you miss the most when they are not around for a particular episode?
KIRKMAN: [Laughs] I can’t play favorites! C’mon, man! It’s just one of those things. We definitely feel like absence makes the heart grow fonder and when you finally do get that character that you’ve been longing for back in an episode, then we hope that it’s a big moment and really plays up how invested you are in a given episode. We thought it would be a fun thing to mix things up and take people off the table here and there and really pull back on different characters in given episodes. There’s always something that you’re wanting more of. You never leave an episode completely satisfied, so you’re just dying for it to come back next week.
EW: Being a fan of the comic, the one that I’m missing is Abraham because he’s such a big deal and I was so excited for him to show up, but you’re doling him out in such small doses to us.
KIRKMAN: I really hope that guys lasts into season 5 because if Abraham survives this season — and I’m not saying that he does — there would be some really cool stuff in season 5 with him.
EW: One of things that excited me was a few weeks back when we saw Rick put on that new jacket and sort of assume that second iconic look from the comics. It must excite you even more to see stuff like that come to life on screen.
KIRKMAN: That stuff is always awesome. That and all the wardrobing that is happening on Abraham, Rosita and Eugene. There are moments where it very much is like the comic book brought to life. It’s always very touching for me and Charlie Adlard, the artist on the comic. It always just reminds me, the weirdest thing that could ever happen has happened to you, and it’s something I’ll never get used to. It’s pretty great when it can all come together, especially when there are things that are directly pulled straight out of the comic. It’s a big deal.
EW: What can you tell us about this episode coming up on Sunday?
KIRKMAN: I would say this is a big one. It’s definitely one that people are going to remember and it’s definitely one people are going to talk about. If there is one episode of The Walking Dead that you absolutely had to watch this season, it would be this one. You kind of have to watch all of them, but it’s going to be a big episode. We’re going to catch a lot of people off guard.
EW: I remember chatting with Andrew Lincoln a few months back and him telling me there was one episode where he could not believe you guys were actually doing what you were doing. I’m starting to get the feeling he was talking about this next episode.
KIRKMAN: That would definitely be this episode.
EW: Will we get to Terminus before the end of the season?
KIRKMAN: I can’t say that! But I would say it would be ridiculous if we didn’t. I mean they are all on those tracks. And where are they going if they don’t get to Terminus at some point? Maybe they get to Terminus before the end of the season. You never know.
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