Five episodes in to the third season of “The Walking Dead,” and it’s pretty safe to say that the addition of Woodbury to the AMC drama’s tried-and-true zombie apocalypse formula has been something of a game changer. The latest episode, “Say The Word,” tore back the veil and revealed that The Governor’s community is far from what it seemed to be, though it’s taking the characters in the series longer to figure that out than it is the fans.
One of the most interesting new characters taking up residence in the not-so-idyllic post-apocalyptic small town is Milton, played by “The Grey” actor Dallas Roberts. Thanks to the seeming safety of Woodbury, Milton is able to study and perform experiments on walkers in an attempt to figure out why the undead behave the way they do, hopefully developing ways humans can survive in a zombie-infested world. To date, there has been no other character in this series who has asked these questions from a scientific angle, making Milton an intriguing addition to “The Walking Dead.”
Prior to Sunday’s episode, CBR spoke with Roberts about what his character adds to “The Walking Dead” mythology, his experience creating a character new to the show with no roots in the comics and whether or not Milton has any idea The Governor is actually a villain.
CBR News: Why do you think at this point in the series it’s important to have someone asking questions about how humanity can live past the zombie apocalypse?
Dallas Roberts: I think you set out with Rick and the band of heroes in Seasons 1 and 2, and they’re living day to day, moment to moment trying to secure the next safety and the next bit of food and they’re living sort of hand to mouth, you might say. And then in Season 3, you come across Woodbury where, through the efforts of The Governor and the people in the town, walls have been erected and there are guards, certainly, staying awake through the night, people can sleep and try to build back a “normal” life. That kind of state allows for people like Milton to do some of the work he is better suited for. He’s less suited to take the gun or the crossbow or slingshots to try to protect home and hearth. He’s able, with that safety net around him, to start to really address what the issue is in the longer sense with some hope of gaining understanding of what’s happening and the ability to subvert that somewhat.
The Governor very clearly has Merle on one side as his muscle and Milton on the other as his mind. Are we going to see some conflicts come between the two of them?
You can tell, I think, from when we last saw them that Milton and Merle’s relationship is a relationship attempt at best. They’re not two guys who would hang out in the real world, ever, and are forced to tolerate each other in the world they find themselves in. That dynamic has been really fun to play with Michael Rooker, who plays Merle. Tension’s fun on television.
Milton is a new character, both in regard to the show and the comics, so what has it been like for you to create a character from scratch in this “Walking Dead” mythology?
It’s been an honor. It’s been really cool. Since he wasn’t part of the comic book canon, I didn’t have sort of preconceived notion of what he was. And then, because of the secrecy level of the show, I didn’t get a whole lot of information about who he was, so I sort of learned on the job, as they say, who he was and sort of what he was after. That’s been fun. The show’s done really well, I think, paying respect to the graphic novels but not sticking directly to them. You had people who are on [the show] and have some general idea of their trajectory or their desires, but Milton came on the show without any of that backstory and without any of that front story. It’s been fun to try and sort of stay on my feet and see where he’s going.
Have you had a chance to come up with a backstory for Milton, or have you worked with Robert Kirkman or Glen Mazzara to hash out who he is and where he came from?
No, that wasn’t something that was high on anyone’s lists when I showed up, to go communicate Milton’s backstory. I’ve learned in serialized television, where you don’t know what’s going to happen the next episode, much less at the end of the season, much less how many seasons it’s going to go, much less et cetera et cetera, that the more you lock down early, the more trouble you’re going to have later on. It could be in Season 5, we could find out that Milton’s grandfather was the one who started [something], you know? So to invent a backstory that the writers aren’t going to invent just can cause all sorts of weird problems. I just sort of tend to read what’s on the page and then move forward rather than try and move backwards.
What has your experience been like shooting in Woodbury? I’m guessing it probably doesn’t feel like a zombie apocalypse show from where you’re standing.
That was an interesting thing about the transition: You’ve watched “The Walking Dead,” and you know what “The Walking Dead” is, and a lot of us are dirty, grimy people shuffling through woods and farm houses, burned out cars, and then Woodbury is this civilized sort of enclave,.It affords the writers to sort of relax a little bit and it affords the characters — the kind of tensions and the kind of drives and their interests are allowed to sort of broaden a little when they don’t have imminent death at every moment.
It’s been funny, like when the sound department needs more than its normal three guys, they’ll bring in people from the union from Atlanta and people who worked on the show in Season 1 and Season 2 come back.Now they’re working in Woodbury, and they’re like, “This doesn’t even seem like it’s the same show.” That’s been interesting to sort of watch as we progress through the season.
Greg Nicotero directed last night’s episode, which is the first of a couple he’s doing this season. What was it like to have him behind the camera since having him there typically means that some crazy zombie stuff is also going to happen?
Greg’s a fan of what makes him the happiest, and that’s gore and blood and fun. Greg and I actually worked together on “The Grey.” He was like the puppeteer for the wolves in “The Grey.” It’s been fun to sort of see him again, and then it’s also fun to watch this guy who, while we were shooting “The Grey,” that was the guy with the puppets over there and now he’s the guy with the headphones on going, “Try it again, but this time blah blah blah.” Building the story with him in a more intimate way has been a real pleasure.
Going forward, how do you approach the fact that Milton is asking these questions about what makes zombies zombies and what we can use to have camouflage — stuff that will effect the trajectory of this season, or potentially, the series?
I think what’s amazing about that question in general is, it’s obvious in that situation, you would want to gain as much knowledge as you could about what happens to a human when a human becomes undead and, by gaining information, maybe stumble upon something that could reverse that or at least save the people who are alive. But I also think, allegorically, the notion that we’re always becoming. Right? People are always becoming and are in a state of change and newness.
I’m 42 years old and have a wife and two kids, and those kids, they live in a world where everything’s fair and it’s sort of birthday cakes and party hats and juice boxes. Ss they grow up, they will shed some of that stuff that they have now and become something else, and it keeps happening until death, as far as I can figure out. So on a larger level, I think the question of how much remains of the center of someone after years and years or, if this is accelerated, change. I think that’s a really big question that we’ll be able to wrestle with.
Do you think the fact that he’s asking these question will push other people to start asking them, maybe even the people in Rick’s camp if they eventually meet up?
You saw when Andrea has to kill her sister, she’s wrestling with that emotion. Two episodes ago, when Carl shot Lori, he sort of took it upon himself to make sure mom didn’t turn. People have been wrestling with that idea. It must be horrifying to hope that the person who you love is still in there, and then be faced with this sort of monster on top of it. Usually, up until the moment, that’s a decision that needed to be made in the first 1.5 seconds and this, hopefully, will allow for questions in the longer turn where you can provide yourself with some safety and some ability to examine the situation long enough to gather more information to see whether there’s something in there or not.
One final question: Do you think Milton has any idea about The Governor’s dirty dark little secret and his villainy?
Yeah, I do. I think that he’s not comfortable with it, but I think that he understands that in order for there to be civilization, there needs to be rules, and if those rules are broken, there’s chaos. You drive on the right-hand side of the road so that we don’t kill each other repeatedly. I think he understands the bloodshed and I think he has a genuine platonic love for The Governor. [Laughs] The Governor, to put it mildly, is a quirky guy. But I’ve got people in my family who are quirky. You figure out how to love them anyway. I think if Milton was in charge, things would be different, but Milton’s not the kind of guy who would ever be in charge.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays on AMC at 9PM.