Last night’s episode of The Walking Dead was a fairly gore-free zone, by the standards of AMC’s hit zombie show. True, we did get to see one of the undead chowing down on the insides of a deer before being beheaded – and then arrowed through the brain by a new character, Daryl Dixon, played by Boondock Saints star Norman Reedus. And the episode concluded with the image of a recently severed hand belonging to – or, by that point, not belonging to – Daryl’s brother Merle (Michael Rooker). But compared to the mayhem of last week’s let’s-wear-intestines-like-a-scarf, blood-a-thon Guts, this was a veritable Merchant-Ivory-esque yakfest – albeit one not short of incident as Rick was reunited with Lori (who thus discovered that Shane had been lying about her husband’s demise) and the hotheaded Daryl was informed that his sibling had been left to perish on the top of a building in Atlanta.
Regardless, it almost seemed like, having presumably repelled all the people who don’t like zombie movies with the first two shows, the behind-the-scenes team had decided to get rid of everyone who does enjoy a good undead flick with the third episode. “We’re really trying to burn through this audience as fast as we can,” laughs Robert Kirkman who writes the Walking Dead comic series and is an executive producer on the TV adaptation. “There are entirely too many people watching this show.”
Kirkman can afford to joke about ratings. The pilot episode of The Walking Dead – which was helmed by Shawshank Redemption’s Frank Darabont – garnered an very impressive audience of 5.3 million viewers. Unsurprisingly, AMC announced a week ago that it was ordering a second season of the show, which will comprise 13 episodes, as opposed to the current run of six.
After the jump, Kirkman talks about last night’s episode, “Tell It to the Frogs,” the Rick-Lori-Shane love triangle, and, why he can’t be blamed for that Miss Piggy-oral sex gag.
ROBERT KIRKMAN: [Laughs] That is the best way to congratulate me for the second season being approved. Thank you. Although I do this funny thing when you congratulate me for it, where I act like that’s the first time I’ve heard it.
Shall we do that?
Yeah, go ahead.
Congratulations Robert, on your show being picked up.
I loved the scene at the start of the episode with Michael Rooker. It’s not often you see a, quote unquote, bad person on their own, despairing like that.
Yeah. It’s a testament to Michael Rooker’s talent that when you watch that scene you actually forget all the s— he did in the second episode and you start to feel bad for him. Despite the fact that he’s yelling obscenities and still being an a–hole, there is kind of a humanity there. I think it’s a remarkable piece of work. He should be very proud.
This was almost a totally zombie-free episode.
A lot of the actors in the press have been saying things like, “It really takes three episodes for you to see what this show is about.” And I think that’s true. The first three episodes are very different. The first one is slow and methodical and focuses entirely on Rick. The second one adds a few characters and is very action-packed, and has a very quick pace. And then the third episode is much more character-driven than the other two episodes. I think from those three episodes you can see the three different things that this show is planning on doing – sometimes in the same episode. I think there is a mixture of these elements in the fourth episode. I think that these three styles can exist in one show is pretty awesome and people are really going to dig it. I also want to note that, yeah, this is a largely zombie-free episode but it does have one of the best zombies of the series so far. I think [Walking Dead makeup supervisor] Greg Nicotero’s makeup job on the main zombie that appears in episode three is one of this best. And it’s also important to note that that is him, actually.
You’re talking about the zombie who was eating the deer?
Yeah, that is totally Greg. And Greg tells some pretty funny stories about getting the snot beat out of him in that scene too. I like to poke fun at Greg because I think that he basically sits on the sidelines and tries to come up with ways to convince people that he’s the only person that can be this particular zombie. He pops up quite a bit in the first six episodes. More than you’d think.
Do you play a zombie at any point?
I do not. I have a lot of weird pet peeves. I don’t like it when people say “slaw” instead of “cole slaw.” And I really don’t like it when people cameo in their own things. I love the Lord of the Rings movies, but every time I see Peter Jackson, it just annoys me. I’m like, “Oh yeah? You put yourself in your own movie! Good job!”
Right, and see how disastrously those movies turned out.
Well, it’s fine. And 99 percent of the audience doesn’t know that’s him and he had a good time doing it and good for him. It’s just a ridiculous thing that annoys me, and I like the idea of sitting down and watching this show later and the last thing that I want to see when I watch the episodes is myself. I hate myself!
Judging from our online commenters, Lori is turning out to be the show’s most polarizing character. You must have expected that, given her affair with Shane.
I already dealt with a lot of that in the comic book series. I think some of that gets diffused in the third episode, once we get a clearer picture on what happened. It’s good to start in a certain place with characters and change your opinion on them as you watch the show. I think that’s one of the wonders of television, that you’re able to do that. I can’t tell you how many great television series I’ve watched where a character gets introduced and I cannot stand them and then by the second season, they’re one of my favorite characters. And I think that’s the case here. Also, it’s important to note thankfully, that no one can really put themselves in her character’s place. No one can see the world the way she saw it. For all she knew her husband was dead. And that was a very believable story because she was watching everyone around her die. Very few of us – almost none of us in the United States – ever experience something that traumatic. And while it may have only been three weeks or four weeks since she learned her husband was dead, Shane is someone that was very much a part of her life and someone she was very close to. Someone that is experiencing these things is going to be so desperate for some kind of a human connection, that they could be driven into the arms of someone that they very much liked before all this happened. That is a very easy jump to make and I think that if you try and understand things from her perspective, you will see just how much she’s had to live through and how it is quite believable for her to have done these things. And Shane’s the one you should hate! [Laughs]
The characters often refer to zombies as “geeks” in the show. That’s not from your comic book, right?
Where does that come from?
You’d have to ask Frank. That’s my least favorite term for zombies. I believe it was first used in Day of the Dead. You know, it’s fine. I like the thought that characters have different names for the zombies because I think, if this were to happen in real life, there wouldn’t be a memo out there where people are like, “Oh, that’s a zombie!” So, you know: Geeks, roamers, walkers. As many possible names as we can have, I’m all for. But “geek” is Darabont’s fault!
I had assumed that it came from “geek” being used to describe the folks in the circus, as in the novel Geek Love.
[Deadpan] I don’t want to speak disparagingly of carnie folk. If you want to say that they seem like zombies to you, you can. But I respect human beings on a much more all-encompassing level…
I’m not the one who helped create a show in which this happens, sir!
I’m just saying, man. I’m just voicing my opinion!
Of course, the interesting thing is that the characters never refer to zombies as “zombies.” Which is actually a recurring trope in the undead genre. Why are zombie writers so reluctant to use the “z-word?”
I think it stems from the fact that, in the real world, we call them zombies because there are zombie movies and all that stuff. But what we try to establish in the Walking Dead and what I think they try to do in most zombie things, is we kind of ignore the fact that zombie movies exist in this world. So you don’t have people going, “Well, you know, it’s like Dawn of the Dead, you hit them in the head.” I think if they were just saying “zombie” non-stop, it could eventually kind of break the fourth wall and make people think of other zombie movies and bring that question up more: “Why haven’t they seen Dawn of the Dead? Why are they acting like this is something they don’t know about?” That’s my answer and I’m sticking to it.
Returning to the specifics of episode three, did I mishear, or did you slip a Miss Piggy oral sex joke in there?
It was definitely slipped in. But I had nothing to do with the actual writing on episode three. So I’m going to blame that on Frank too.
I didn’t think Jerry O’Connell’s penis would come up in this interview.
I try to bring it up in every interview I do.
Well, that says more about you than it does Jerry O’Connell’s penis. But I don’t blame you, honestly.
Alas, Merle’s extremity is doomed to be the second most-famous, or infamous, severed hand of the season. You must sit there and think, “Damn you, Aron Ralston, for cutting your hand off in real-life! And damn you Danny Boyle for making a movie about it!”
I hadn’t even made that connection. Dang it! Dang it! Look, at the end of the day, James Franco is one of the coolest people in Hollywood. He’s a great actor. He does all kinds of cool stuff. He was great in Milk and he was great in Pineapple Express. But it’s f—ing Michael Rooker, alright? So, screw them!!!
What would you miss most in a zombie apocalypse? And if – like Laurie Holden’s character Andrea – you want to say your vibrator, that’s fine. This is a no judgment!
Cheeseburgers? I would be thinking about my survival enough to bring my vibrator. [Laughs]
Come back next week, when Mr. Kirkman will ruminate on the next Walking Dead episode, “Vatos,” the first show to be penned by the man himself.
What did you think of last night’s episode? And what do you think of Kirkman’s spirited defense of Lori?
More about The Walking Dead:
‘Night of the Living Dead’: How a 42-year-old zombie movie refuses to die
‘The Walking Dead’: Robert Kirkman talks about last night’s ‘Guts’-y episode”
‘The Walking Dead’: Robert Kirkman talks about last night’s shocking pilot
‘Walking Dead’ star Andrew Lincoln talks about making AMC’s new zombie hit
‘The Walking Dead’ walks on Google Maps
More about Norman Reedus:
‘The Boondock Saints II’: A cult hit gets a second shot