Based on the Image Comics/Skybound comic book series of the same name by Robert Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard, The Walking Dead will launch its fourth season this October on AMC; last year it became the first cable series ever to post, over the course of its season, the best ratings of any show on TV including broadcast hits like The Big Bang Theory and NCIS.
The series is perhaps best known for its maxim that "no one is safe," and for its Emmy Award-winning effects, overseen by Greg Nicotero.
Nicotero, along with the show's resident bad-asses Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) and Danai Gurira (Michonne), joined us at the roundtable for a discussion on the upcoming season. You can check it out below, with reporters' questions in bold and italic and the answers labeled by speaker.
Any new sort of zombie types going to be in the new season? What should we expect to see?
Greg Nicotero: There's some new--Scott Gimple and I had a really fascinating conversation when we wrapped season three, just about...our group has been on the road for a long time and they've become very proficient--as our lovely lady her shows [indicating Gurira]--proficient at killing walkers.
So we wanted to make sure that the threat was still there; that it wasn't, "Oh, well they can just kill sixty walkers. They can go into the prison yard and kill them and then everything is fine." So the writers have done a really unique job of crafting these moments where our group can potentially find themselves in the middle of a little nest of walkers without being prepared. It doesn't matter how great and how efficient they are as killers; if they're caught off-guard, they're caught off-guard. And if they're caught off-guard with more walkers...
This season, we've surpassed probably season one and season two completely in terms of numbers of walkers. I mean, you can see in the trailer there's shots where we have a hundred to two hundred walkers coming up to the fence in the prison and that was for the most part done all practically. We had a lot of walkers in those scenes. So we're always trying to push it.
Have we seen any zombie babies yet?
Danai Gurira: Well, they get chewed up, don't they? Chomp, chomp, chomp.
Nicotero: I know! They're the chewiest of everybody.
Norman Reedus: Screaming sandwich, right there.
Gurira: Yeah! They're tender--now I'll stop.
As infants, we're so dependent on our parents, but a zombie baby can literally walk out into the...
Nicotero: Or it couldn't walk, or it would get eaten first would be my guess.
Gurira: There's a tiny little...to that in episode one, I think. Tiny, tiny.
Nicotero: Well, we did an episode...five, last year, where Daryl and Maggie go looking for milk and they went into the childcare--the daycare and just the idea of going through that daycare and seeing the sleeping bags on the ground and the handprints. We put our kids' names up on the wall and stuff like that. We do all those little things, but it's really the dread of, "Oh, please, there's no way I really want to see..."--whether you're going to see it or not.
So there's a little nod to something in the first episode back?
Nicotero: There is, yeah.
Was there ever consideration that Lori's baby would be a zombie before it was killed?
Nicotero: Well, there's that great scene. One of my favorite scenes in the first episode is when Hershel and Lori are talking and she's like, "I haven't felt it move." And just the idea that it could be dead in her stomach and that horrific...great performance by Sarah Callies. We never made the pregnant belly with the [splat/ripping noise] Humanoids From the Deep. We haven't done that but I love how that's set up because it's just the most horrific idea. But certainly Hershel and Lori have that conversation in 3.01.
For the actors, is it ever a little creepy to be surrounded by tons of zombies when you're off-camera? Is there a creep factor that comes from being surrounded by those people?
Gurira: Not by the people. There are times when just seeing something that Greg has done for a particular gag that you're like, "Oh, wow, that's a lot."
Reedus: The great thing--the way that he does them, too, is that you don't just see the monster; you see the sad, lost, dying person behind the monster, you know? That's creepy. When they're out smoking cigarettes or having a Twizzler in the corner, it's not so creepy but when they turn it on and you're in the heat of the moment? To feel bad for them, that's really good.
Nicotero: And I'm very protective of those. Every photo that's released of the walkers, I always want to make sure that the makeup looks perfect and the contact lenses look right, because it really sort of embeds in our audience what they have in store for them. So if there's pictures of walkers having popsicles and hanging out, it tortures me a little bit. I always think about when The Exorcist was made or when Jaws was made--and if they would have had, "Hey! See how they turned Linda Blair into the Devil!" it would have taken all the mystery away.
Simon Pegg and I had a long conversation about that one time, and we were talking about how much we love the mystery of it and how much we love not knowing. And I think sometimes sort of building that mystique--even though we know it's done with magic and mirrors and smoke and great actors and things--I like preserving a little bit of mystery because I think it's fun and I think character-wise, that's always exciting too.
Reedus: Well, Greg directed that episode with Merle, so a lot of all of that was Greg. But with Rick and Rooker--with Merle, I mean--you don't tell Merle what to do. He decides he's going to go do something, he's going to go do it. I don't know that that blame would be passed around because I know my brother. If he's got his mind set to something he's just going to go do it.
There's lots of internal things going on but at the heart of it, people in the camp try to have each other's back until they don't, you know what I mean? But I don't know. Rick's like the brother that Daryl didn't have, really, in a lot of ways and there's a lot of weird resentment as brothers have so there's all kinds of things going on.
There's been a lot made of the fact that with Daryl and Tyreese, Rick is no longer the sole alpha male in the pack and so fewer people will just assume that he's the leader. But Danai, does that kind of uneasy leadership situation impact how you interact with people? I mean, you might be a girl, but you can kick just about anybody's ass.
Reedus: [Clears throat] What? Yo...
I think with Michonne she's such a loner, you know what I mean? For her, it's about being a part of a group--that she's choosing it. So she chooses to be amongst these people, she chooses to contribute and her belief in them is that there's something about this group of people that in some ways can save her soul.
But in another way, if I invest in that, it's about protection and preservation--how she can contribute. She figures out how to contribute but you know, there is an aspect of her loner-ship that comes into play. For her, it's never about trying to say "Oh, there are all these men" or Tyreese or whatever. It's not how her mind works. What she takes comfort in is when she can just be alone sometimes. So there's nothing about the dynamics that makes her feel like she has to be part of in different ways. She's figured out how to contribute in a way that she feels like, "This is how I contribute to this group," and she makes the choice.
That can be tricky in a community, becuase you can't always just make a choice if it doesn't work with the group. I think that's the complexity of her stepping into the dynamic of a group, is that she's so used to being on her own. That's where she finds comfort so it's not about trying to deal with Tyreese or Rick or whatever. It's about stepping out of loner-ship, which is where her comfort is the most palpable.
Stepping out of that, she can be lonely even just for companionship.
Gurira: Right, right and I think that's part of why she knows this is a community that she needs in order to save herself.
Romantic companionship, I mean.
Gurira: Oh, oh. Everyone wants Michonne to get some! That is so sweet; I appreciate that s--t, and where is Gimple at?
Nicotero: She'll have one sex scene and then she'll all the sudden not be good with the katana anymore; it'll take her mojo away!
Gurira: Her tantric power, spilled!
Nicotero: We can't do that.
Michonne and Daryl both had really big losses right at the end of the season. Will they find a bond with each other?
Nicotero: Everybody likes this idea.
Reedus: Everybody likes this idea, yeah.
You know the thing? A lot about our dynamic--the two characters' dynamic--is a lot like our personal dynamic in a lot of ways. There are certain things that happen even in season four where there are characters that don't step up to the plate and Daryl's like, "Get up! Stop being a wimp." And with her, she's got a couple things where she says to me and in any other circumstance, I'd be like, "What did you say to me?" And it's kind of like, "Ah. I like this girl." You know what I'm saying? So there are similarities.
Nicotero: If you guys had a baby, would it have a crossbow and a katana?
Nicotero: It would be like a crossbow with a sword on the end of it!
Reedus: It would take over the world.
Nicotero: Alright, where's Scott Gimple? Get him over here.
Reedus: It could probably read your mind!
Nicotero: And be awesome with women.
Sorry--I just love the image of a little baby with a crossbow. That makes me laugh.
See? We're talking about babies again.
The baby with the crossbow could fight the baby zombies!
Nicotero: Dude, I'm so in. I'm in.
Gurira: That'll be the next season.
Reedus: Do it!
Nicotero: It'd be like the all-CG version. I'm going to run with this idea.
[At this point, Gurira had to leave to go to another panel.]
Reedus: Dude, we just paid that girl $20 to take her out of here.
Nicotero: I paid her $50! [Laughs]
Have you discussed following a walker character for a longer term?
Nicotero: You know, there has been a few walkers in this season that have some significance in terms of story that Scott and the writing team has crafted very well, and you'll see it in the first couple of episodes. It's never going to be a scenario like Bub or anything like that where we see them progress because that's not our world, that's George's world and our world's different.
But yeah, those things are always kind of interesting.
Do you feel like the walkers are beyond sympathy or do you still try to create them with some kind of humanity?
Nicotero: Yeah, listen. Probably the most iconic moment in the first episode where Rick finds the half-torn-apart girl in the park--the reason that worked is that you actually did feel compassion for this person and Andy's performance and that moment that was so brilliantly directed by Frank Darabont, it really set the bar for us.
Every once in a while, we do--you know, like when Rick found the walker that devoured Lori and it was just so bloated and it couldn't move and when we shot that scene we put hair in its mouth and hair as it's reaching out and you get different emotion from them. We don't want it to always be scary. Sometimes it can be creepy, sometimes it can be unsettling but you sort of invest in it. A lot of times it's run and gun but this season we've sort of made a point to really integrate the gags in those moments.
There was one we shot the other day that was something we've never done before and it was so great, and...you just have to wait and see. I can't talk about it, but it's cool.