The cast and crew of “The Walking Dead” came out in force last Thursday for the fourth season red carpet premiere of the hit AMC series, to the delight of assembled fans. Series star Andrew Lincoln, new cast member Lawrence Gilliard Jr. and co-executive producer and make-up guru Greg Nicotero took some time during the celebration to speak with CBR News about the new season, its challenges for Rick and the hazards of pig farming.
Nicotero, who also directed the fourth season premiere, said fans should expect “a lot of great gags, a lot of great kills” in the season to come. Though most of the special effects expert’s upcoming contributions to the show’s visuals constitute spoilers, he happily teased one he was particularly fond of. “It involves a pool cue and a walker and it’s probably the coolest gag we’ve done in four years. There was a split second where they went, ‘That might be a little too much,'” he told CBR News with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Really?’ I didn’t think so, but that’s me.
“There’s a lot of iconic walkers, a lot of iconic moments,” he continued, praising incoming showrunner Scott Gimple’s work. “He loves the show so much; he’s really smart.” Working together, the two have been able to incorporate even more zombie material into the scripts, challenging the show’s make-up effects artists further. “We’ve had a good opportunity to push what we do so well [up] one more level.”
Season Four finds Rick still reeling from Lori’s death as the reality of being a father to two children inside the prison closes in, all while his fellow survivors question whether or not he can continue to lead the Woodbury refugees as they integrate into the prison environment. According to Lincoln, leadership is not necessarily on Rick’s mind as the season begins. “It’s addressed in the teaser of the first episode that [Rick] is a man who’s stepping away from that,” he told CBR. “[He’s] a quieter man, stepping away from leadership and the brutality of the world for the sake of Carl and Judith.” After seeing Carl become a killer and finding himself with an infant to keep alive, Rick decides to focus on his children. “He realized Carl was going to a place no father wants to see their son turning; into a sociopath,” Lincoln said. “For the sake of the rest of the group, he needed to step up [as a father].”
While the new season’s six-month time jump presents viewers with a slightly-healed Rick, who has somewhat recuperated from the ordeal of the previous season, Rick’s road to full recovery will be a difficult one. “You see a man repressing that brutality and the grief that manifested many different ways last season,” Lincoln said. “You see a man trying to hold onto something and try a new way.”
Gilliard Jr. joins the cast as Bob Stookey, the Woodbury drunk of the comic books and prose novel series, though how the TV series will approach the character remains something of a mystery. “He’s a loner,” the actor told CBR News. “A lot of characters came in as loners, and when they come in, it’s all about trying to see if they’ll fit in.” Gilliard teased that Stookey’s arrival leads to a certain amount of upheaval for the cast, though it’s unclear if the character is the cause of the trouble.
After all the survivors have been through, Rick now sees Hershel as “vitally important” and a mentor, someone the one-time sheriff turns to for guidance. This development underscores the aspect of the series the actor appreciates most. “People, at different times, unexpectedly help each other to live, like they do in real life,” Lincoln said. This support system extends from Rick to Michonne, who still grieves for Andrea and is hunting for the Governor in order to exact revenge. “We’re saying we want her to join the group, and she doesn’t want to be part of the group,” the actor explained. “There’s all these new people and she’s this lone wolf. I think that’s a sadness that Rick feels because he’s beginning to begin again, and start civilization, and believes that they can make a viable go of it.”
While the empathy Rick has for Michonne has translated into an online community hoping for the pair to develop their relationship into something more romantic, that’s not how Lincoln sees things unfolding. “He sees her still in pain and hurting from that, so perhaps that’s being construed as romance, but I think it’s just general concern for a friend and someone he recognizes [hurting]. They’re similar people.”
Even though Lincoln has known about the outcry for a Rick/Michonne relationship for some time, it still surprises him how often he finds himself asked about the possible pairing. “Everyone keeps talking like there’s this romance that’s going on!” he said with a laugh. “There’s a lot of subtext I must be playing really deep.”
Of course, “The Walking Dead’s” popularity stems in part from the fact that it’s the only ongoing zombie drama on television, and while the main challenge comes from creating new and gruesome ways to portray the undead, Nicotero and his team have been known to sneak in a few zombie homage cameos from time to time. “We did it last year in the episode where Merle died. We did a George Romero tribute — the airport zombie from ‘Dawn of the Dead.’ We put it in there, and the next day, fans went crazy for it. So it made me happy that people noticed that we were throwing those little things in there,” Nicotero said. “Since the response has been positive, a few more of these cameos will make their way into season four, including a walker based on Jack from ‘An American Werewolf in London.'”
Despite the copious amounts of gore Nicotero brings to the show, the most horrible moment Lincoln has experienced involved a far more real and foul situation than stage-blood and latex. “Pig farming was one of the stranger days at the office,” he said. “I had a sequence where I was handling a lot pigs. When you pick these piglets up — and they’re quite big, these piglets — they tend to poop. It was an incredibly smelly day. I couldn’t get the smell out — it just wouldn’t go away, for four days!”
AMC’s “The Walking Dead” Season 4 debuts Sunday, October 13.