Warning: spoilers for the first season of “The Walking Dead” lurk ahead.
Southern law man Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors of the zombie apocalypse have certainly seen sunnier days, but for fans of “The Walking Dead,” things have never been brighter.
Not only has Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s long-running Image Comics series continued to flourish on the printed page, but the television adaptation of “The Walking Dead” debuted less than two months ago with more critical and commercial success than many had anticipated. In addition to numerous positive reviews of the new AMC series, “The Walking Dead” also holds the distinction of being the most watched TV show on any cable network of the year. Needless to say, the dead will continue to rot on television screens around the world for several years to come.
With the first season of “The Walking Dead” under our belts, CBR News reached out to comic book creator and executive producer Robert Kirkman to discuss the show’s past, present and future. Today’s conclusion of our special two-part interview with Kirkman covers the writer’s feelings on killing television characters as opposed to killing comic book characters, the relatively low body count in season one, the increased episode order for season two, rumors of firings in the writers room and his own future with the hit AMC series.
CBR News: It’s one thing to kill a beloved character off in the comic books – not that it’s easy, but it’s largely a matter of Charlie no longer illustrating the character – but when you’re killing a character on the show, you’re essentially letting an actor go. Killing Amy, for example, means that Emma Bell is no longer on the show. For you, does that make it harder to kill some of these characters, or can you not let yourself worry about that kind of thing?
Robert Kirkman: It’s definitely harder. A lot of these actors, like Emma Bell, she knew she would die before she was hired on. She was hired for a set number of episodes, so it wasn’t that she was fired; she knew she was going before she ever set foot on the set. But it’s still difficult, especially for the other actors. They’re all hanging out for weeks and weeks, and then all of the sudden, one of their friends has to go off and do another job because they died. That part of it all sucks.
But as writers, this is “The Walking Dead,” and we can’t really consider that too much. If it’s interesting to kill off a character, if it’s going to make the show better by keeping the danger heightened and keeping people on the edges of their seat, well, you kind of have to just bite the bullet and fire those guys. Luckily, all of the actors on this show are very talented and they’ll get new projects right away. But I try not to think about it. For me especially, having not worked in television, it’s just like, “Man, this sucks!” [Laughs] “I don’t want to do this!”
But it’s like you said, this is “The Walking Dead,”so an actor coming into the job should probably know it’s not the most permanent gig.
Yeah, and it’s funny, because there are three characters on the show right now that are still alive in the comics. You get to watch Steven Yeun [who plays Glenn] walking around on the set going, “Hey, it’s issue #85 and I’m still in this one! Are you in it? When did you die? Issue #26? Well, that sucks!”
I was reading an interview you gave with “Entertainment Weekly” earlier in the week and one of the few criticisms you had towards season one was that maybe you didn’t kill enough characters. Do you think the body count was a little bit low?
Well, like I said, if I have to come up with a criticism, that’s the criticism I would come up with. I think the season is fine and characters do die and everything, but I don’t know. It’s “The Walking Dead.” Characters die, and as much as I don’t want to fire actors and as hard as that is, I wish there was – yes, I wish more people had died. It’s like a bigger danger thing. I said that because I had just watched an episode of “Sons of Anarchy” before I gave that interview, and I noticed that more people died in that episode of “Sons of Anarchy” than our entire season – I think it was the episode before the last episode this season – and I’m saying to myself, “That’s not right!” There shouldn’t be a show on television where more people die than “Walking Dead.”
In terms of length, it must have been difficult to fit in everything you wanted to with only six episodes for the first season. Thankfully, season two is going to have 13 episodes. For all of the first season’s successes, it was short, but now you have some extra time on your side. Is that something you’re excited about for season two?
Yeah, it’s going to be kind of awesome. I’m very excited that we have 13 episodes instead of six. We’re going to be doing so much more and I’m really excited to get in there and figure out what it is we’re doing with these 13 episodes. Hopefully we’ll be able to do all kinds of crazy stuff that’ll blow people away. The six episodes, it wasn’t that hard to do that. We were always planning on there being more episodes, so we tried to fit in a bunch of cool stuff, but we were always keeping it in the backs of our heads that we would have more seasons if the show does okay. We’ll get to continue, unless it’s a complete disaster. It wasn’t really a matter of trying to cram as much as possible into the six episodes, but I think the second season will probably blow the first season out of the water. That’s cool, because I think the first season is already really good.
Looking ahead at season two, I have to ask you about the recent reports of firings in the writer’s room. Have you gotten any closer to figuring out what’s going on there? Are those reports completely off base? What’s the deal, as much as you’re willing and able to say?
I’ve spoken about this publicly a little bit. It’s a very unfortunate rumor in that it makes Frank Darabont kind of look bad, because you don’t go firing writers off of a successful show for seemingly no reason. That’s kind of what’s being reported, and that’s not really what happened. What happened was, AMC put this show together under the assumption that Frank would have a much smaller hand in the second season and possibly even leave the show, just because he’s a movie guy. You have a big time movie director directing a TV show, and the show wasn’t put together with the assumption that he would stick around.
Chic Eglee, who was the showrunner on “Dexter” for two years and who worked on “The Shield” for a few years, he’s a high-level show-running TV writer. He only came in as second-in-command on “Walking Dead” with the idea that he would be taking over on the second season. When Frank decided to stay, Chic decided to leave, just because it made more sense for him to do another show and allow this one to be Frank’s show. It’s part of his career and that’s what he wanted to do. So, Chic leaving somehow got reported as Chic being fired, which is not the case. It’s a weird thing, because I like Chic. Chic’s a great guy. I had a blast working with him and I hate to see him go. But if I get to watch a cool Chic Eglee show and I get to continue working with Frank Darabont on this series? It’s a win-win situation. [Editor’s Note: Eglee has since been reported as being involved in FX’s “Powers” adaptation.]
It’s unfortunate that it’s gotten reported this way, because it’s completely not true. It’s something that’s completely common in television: writers come and go. They get better gigs or different gigs and they go off to do other stuff. Writers rooms change from season to season, so that’s not unusual.
Well, what about you? How do you see your role evolving going into season two?
Oh, I’ve been fired. [Laughs] I’ll continue to be an executive producer, so I’ll continue to operate on the model of being a comic book writer, which is what I do. I want the comic book series going monthly, because that’s my main focus. With TV, it’s very tempting to work more on a TV show and have a more active hand, but it’s always going to be based upon how much time I have to devote to it. If I have the time, I would like to be more involved, and I will be. If I see that my comics aren’t coming up and artists are waiting on scripts and things are starting to become a bit of a disaster, I’ll back off [the show], just because I know it’s in good hands. The comics are my main focus. So, I may end up being more involved and I may end up being less involved. I don’t really know yet. It’s just a matter of what my time permits, so we’ll see!