The Walking Dead season 5 premiere is just a few days away (on Sunday, Oct. 12), so what better way to get yourself ready than with a deep dive with the man who created the Walking Dead world, Robert Kirkman. Read what the comic book writer and TV show exec producer has to say about what we will see coming up, including multiple threats and multiple…couples? (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we get micro, let’s start big picture. I know sometimes you guys look at these as 8-episode chunks or arcs of what you’re going to do. I guess if that’s the case, why don’t you start by telling me the overall story or theme of how you see this next batch of episodes.
ROBERT KIRKMAN: The show is about characters evolving and growing and changing over time, so for our first batch of eight episodes, if you’ve seen the trailer you very much see that these characters are in this new state of mind — the state of mind that they’ve formed after living through this crucible in the last half of season 4. What you have on the surface could appear to be another Governor conflict with Gareth, who’s the guy who is in charge of Terminus and is definitely in conflict with Rick. But the thing that excites me most about this show is that because these characters are growing and evolving and changing, Gareth is coming against a very different Rick Grimes than the Governor did. So the outcome is going to be quite different. The only hint that I’ll really give you is that there’s a lot of ground covered in our first 8 episodes, so I would say without a doubt that Gareth is far from the only threat, quite possibly far from the biggest threat, and there’s quite a bit on the horizon. I would just say more than any other season, we hit the ground running, and there’s quite a bit going on with all of these characters. I think people are going to be pretty happy to be along for the ride.
Let’s talk about the Terminus folks. There seem to be more clues that they could indeed be cannibals with some of the footage we saw in the preview and obviously some of the other clues and parallels to the comic book. What do you want to say about that?
I’ll answer that with two statements: One, wouldn’t it be crazy if they didn’t turn out to be cannibals, since everything seems to be going that way? And two, all I’ll say is this season is following the comic book storyline pretty closely, possibly closer than we ever have before, and there’s a very popular, familiar storyline in the comic books that happened immediately following the exodus of the prison and it is entirely possible that we will be touching in some way on that very popular storyline.
I think it’s clear either way that we’re definitely about to get some more answers to what these people are doing at Terminus, correct?
Yeah, we left the season on a cliffhanger and it was a big cliffhanger. But by minute two or three of our season premiere, I think the vast majority of our questions have been answered and five or six more have been presented. People wanting to know who the people of Terminus are, what they eat, whether or not our group gets out of the train car, where certain characters are that weren’t in the train car — you’re going to have a pretty tight five minutes of adventure to watch there that is going to reveal quite a bit. We haven’t ended the season on a cliffhanger before. This is really our first season ending in a cliffhanger. As a viewer, one thing that I really hate is when you leave something on a big moment and have this big cliffhanger moment and then you take your time paying that off. Shows where there’s this big cliffhanger and then it’s the end of episode 2 or 3 before you get any real answers as to what we left you hanging on — we’re definitely not doing that. From minute one, it’s like, oh, this is what this was, this is what that was, here’s where these people are, here’s where this person is — so you’re very much going to be invested, well informed, and ready for the ride that we’re going to take you on.
Obviously people have a lot of questions about Gareth, just because he was introduced at the end of last season and we haven’t seen a lot of him yet. What can you say about what type of adversary he is going to be? What is it about him that makes him dangerous?
I think the main thing about him is probably his intelligence. More than anything, he certainly has this element of calm to him that the Governor especially lacked. He seems to be very pragmatic and that serves him well in terms of keeping the community going. And definitely, the way we’re going to see him interacting with Rick, it’s a very different interaction — it’s much more conversational. And we’ll be seeing two people who are pretty much on equal playing fields leadership-wise. I think that the Governor proved himself to be not a very good leader time after time, and that’s certainly not what we’re going to see with Gareth.
I want to talk about this mission to Washington to stop the zombie plague. This is something we haven’t really seen since season 1 when they were going to the CDC, meaning having this destination, this mission to get somewhere and do something. What does this mission represent for the group? Is it hope? Is it a sense of purpose? Or is it different things to different people?
Well, first, I’ll say you have to recognize our season is going to start with people trapped in a train car being held captive by people. We already know that one of our major scenes from the season is this massive trip to Washington. You can already get a sense of just how jam packed things are going to be. There’s quite a bit of material to deal with before we bridge those two storylines. But I’ll say that this trip to Washington, like the first time, it’s certainly about hope, and it’s definitely about a sense of purpose. Since the first season, these characters have been surviving, going from event to event just trying to keep their heads above water. I think that this season finally finds them in a position to start to think about things more long term, and they actually have a clear goal that seems achievable. So it’s a new vested interest in life that all these characters are going to have because there’s actually a goal now beyond surviving, something that they think they can achieve, something that they can all work toward. It could very much bring them all together. It certainly has the potential to tear them apart. It’s kind of a mixed bag.
It’s a little bit of different show too when you have the group on the move a little bit, isn’t it? We had them on the move to begin with, and they were a little more settled down at the farm and at the prison. It looks like we’re now going to see them on the move again. It gives it sort of a different feel, doesn’t it?
Well, I like the realism of it. If this were a show that were done 20 years ago they would have sat on that farm and been like, “Well, we live on the farm now,” and they wouldn’t have moved locations. I think the way modern storytelling and television is, you can evolve these characters and change settings and do these things. I think as an evolving show about characters evolving, having the locations evolve along with it is really just kind of an attempt to have as much realism as possible. This is not a very safe world. Finding a place that’s going to be completely safe for a long duration of time is going to be almost completely impossible, but I’m really proud of the fact that our show is different from season to season. If you look at season 1 and compare it to season 5, it’s going to be two vastly different shows. I think that’s a very exciting. It keeps our show unique. We’re really excited to have them back on the road. There are a lot of cool storylines that’ll come from that. We’ll see where we go from there.
We got a lot of downtown Atlanta in season 1, yet we really haven’t seen it since then. We’re going to be getting a taste of that again this year. What is that city like now?
I’ll definitely say that the show just looks different. We’ve spent a lot of time in the woods, as they say. Going back into the city — it is coming home again. We saw a little bit of that in the first season, but it is going to be vastly different. More than the location though, more than the visuals, the world itself has changed, so the things that you would have encountered in the city in the first season are very different from what you’re going to encounter in the city in the fifth season. You can’t really look back at the first season and kind of expect what’s coming or get any inclination of what we’re going to see. This is a very different urban environment from what we’ve seen before.