It’s an AMC program decision so that the show, which is broadcast in the States on Sunday night, is not competing with NFL, the play offs or the Superbowl. So we go off just before the holidays and then return the week after the Superbowl.
Do you keep that in mind when you’re writing The Walking Dead?
Yes, we develop the show for 16 and we build to that break. This year we did a bit of a cliffhanger, I would not do that type of cliffhanger at the end of the season because it’s one thing to do a cliffhanger for two months and it’s another thing to do a cliffhanger for eight months, that’s sort of cruel. But we do keep that in mind when we’re breaking the season.
What did you enjoy the most working with The Walking Dead?
Telling a big kickass story on a grand scale, with great characters, kind of new territory and I also really enjoyed the fans, something that I had never experienced, particularly on this level. That’s really been incredibly rewarding.
Is working for TWD similar to working in other TV shows?
No, The Walking Dead has something very unique about it that I’ve never experienced and I don’t see occurring in other TV shows. But everyone who works on The Walking Dead or who watches it thinks they are right and everyone thinks they know exactly what the writer should be writing. Every fan, every actor, every writer, every producer feels that their vision of The Walking Dead is right. I’ve never seen a show in which everyone involved in this experience has such a level of ownership. It’s really been very very interesting.
What is the role of a showrunner?
A showrunner is more than just a head writer, they are setting the tone, they are setting the vision of the show, they’re working with every single aspect of the show from the actors to the directors to the wardrobe to make up to set design to editors, special effects and music. They are involved with every single aspect of the show. It’s really their voice that the audience hears every week.
I did, I’ll tell you how I got to it, I was listening to it when I was writing that scene and I even tweeted about it. I think I wrote “Tom Waits is great to write to”. I was writing that scene and I got into that scene and I just wanted that particular scene to feel like that family had been healed; they were fighting at the beginning of that season... And now the family is healed, there would be no TV, but people would sing and we’ve seen them sing around the campfire, so I thought what’s the song? I was listening to that song, and I wrote it into the script and I had never seen a show that had started with one character singing a song a capella, and for it to go into the actual song and to play over a montage. I had never seen that in film or TV. So it was a creative chance and risk. So fortunately we got Tom to give us the rights, and if you think about it with the scene of the naked woman standing over a guy holding a knife to his throat, Tom Waits is the perfect choice. That worked out, I am a huge Tom Waits fan since I was 19 or 20 and I actually waited backstage at a show to shake his hand and have been a fan for decades. Beth is a professional singer and I knew that, I don’t think I had heard her sing live and I wrote the scene at which she sings at the campfire, and then I called her and said “can you sing this” and she said “sure, no problem”. I then called Lauren and asked if she can sing too, and the idea for that was that they were singing for their father when they’re finally safe. You get the sense that it’s the first time they’ve been happy, since we’ve ever seen them and it just kind of made sense. But when I wrote that into the script, that was a risk and there were a lot of people involved in the show who weren’t sure it was going to work but I had faith that that would work and it could’ve been schmaltzy but I felt that Ernest could’ve directed it in such a way that it wasn’t. He’s done a lot of work on Treme and has had a lot of experience filming live music and I knew that the two actresses could handle singing live and it worked. It was a seminal moment for this year.
That is tough. I think my favourite scene on the show so far is when Rick returns a gun to Carl in the hayloft of the barn in episode twelve and he talks about his own father and says “I wish I had more advice for you, my dad was good like that”. H wants to be a great father and he’s not a great father and his son accepts the gun. That gun will play in Shane’s death, it plays in Lori’s death; we flash back to that scene. It’s a very important scene, very sparsely written, it’s beautifully shot..
What scene was the most fun to make?
There are a couple of different ones that were fun to make. The Governor’s attack on the prison was really a lot of fun to edit and to put together. That scene I absolutely loved. I think one of my favourite scenes is a scene that a lot of people forget about, in episode two of this season, where the prisoners give the prison beat down to the zombies and they end up shiving the zombies and stomping them. I just think that that is so funny. I wrote that scene and people were thinking that we don’t do that level of comedy and it’s just so unexpected and yet makes so much sense in the world that it is actually fun.
I wrote a horror movie before for Guillermo del Torro called Hater that was not officially a zombie movie, it was more of a rage virus type movie and reducing people into homicidal maniacs and so that was the only time. I did play a zombie when I was fourteen in my friend’s home movie, in a sort of a Super 8 type scenario, where I chase a girl in the woods and then vomited oatmeal all over myself.
What would you like to do after this?
I would like to create my own show and work on my own material and certainly work on shows that I am a part of from the ground floor. I’ve now done a few shows where I’ve gone in to execute somebody else’s vision of the show or to assist other people. I’d like to take all of the experience that I have now and set the table myself and cook the entire meal and just do a show completely from scratch to finish and have it be representative of who I am as an artist.
Were you a comic book fan before working on the show?
No, I wasn’t aware of it until I started working on season two and I read it all in a couple of days. I’m a comic book fan so I enjoyed reading it and think Robert has done a lot of great stuff in it so I became a fan after working on the show.
People buy into the characters. They get really invested and they put themselves into that world and the decisions the characters make. They see themselves alongside Daryl Dixon, his brother Merle, Rick and the others. The audience plays along at home, if you will.
It’s premature to discuss that.
I call all of the actors before the script is released and maybe there was one minor character that I didn’t connect with, and they weren’t supposed to get a copy of the script but for the most part I call.
I’m the one who is ordering the dinner so no I am not invited. It’s always a purely creative decision and I am there to help the actor through the process, because some actors don’t take the news well. Part of my job as the showrunner is to help them, so that they can do their best work at a time when they’re really emotionally destroyed and leaving a show that they love. It’s challenging.
The show has taken on a life of its own, so you really need to decide what is honest, what will happen next, and it’s developed its own path. It’s not that we make choices to reject anything from the comic book, but we have to stay true to parameters of the story and the parameters of our world.
Months, we filmed those episodes in eight days, before that we’re prepping it for seven days but from start to finish, probably four to five months, from inception to final delivery.
What about the format of the seasons, with the hiatus? As a writer, do you think it’s a good or bad thing?
It’s a programming issue, we’re there to develop a
show for AMC and those are one of the parameters of the show. It’s no different
than the fact that we have less than 43 minutes and that we have particular ad
breaks, it’s just part of the format of the show. Writing TV is about
compression and being imaginative between boundaries. It’s just a given and you
work with it, I don’t think it’s good or bad, it just is.
Daryl’s character wasn’t in the original comic books. Are you surprised by the fan reaction to him?
No, there’s something about Norman’s portrayal of Daryl that makes that character very magnetic. In season two we were developing certain episodes where Daryl withdrew because he had taken on this journey to find Sophia and failed. He was withdrawing from the group to process this. Around the same time we were screening the early episodes of the show in which he was featured heavily and I realised that he just pops on screen, that he has a lot of charisma, he’s cool, he’s funny, he has kept his sense of humour but we were developing episodes that he wasn’t featured heavily. I missed him and so I made a course adjustment in the last few episodes of the show of season two to feature him heavily, for example in episode twelve, there’s a story line in which he and Glenn are tracking Randall. There were some concerns by people involved in the show that it gave away the surprise that Shane was going to kill Rick. I wanted to make sure that we had Daryl there in a big way. Daryl has some great lines and some great moments in the finale of last year where somebody says “we are going to die tonight” and he says “it’s as good a night as any”, he’s on his motor cycle and saves Carol. I think as a writer I’ve learned to catch up to what Norman brings to the show. He is a huge asset and I was never surprised. Coming in as a new showrunner I had many things to deal with. I’ll admit I didn’t see it until I did and then I made a course adjustment.
Probably. Sure, you can’t kill House, but the Daryl character can do anything you need him to do, he could be a love interest, he could be a hero, he could be an anti-hero if you needed him to be. He could do anything you want, you could spin off Daryl and he could carry a show or feature film by himself. Norman has that kind of heft to him as an actor and it’s a fully developed character. What happens to that character, I don’t want to say, but I’m certainly aware of how important Daryl is to The Walking Dead.
I think Carol has romantic feelings for Daryl, I think Daryl has a great amount of affection for Carol as a friend. I don’t know if he has romantic feelings for her. I think she would love for them to be together but she’s also afraid of pressing her case too much because his friendship is more important than anything, she doesn’t want to risk alienating him. What’s nice about their relationship is that they are two broken people who have redefined themselves during this apocalypse and those characters have really come together. If you think about it, Daryl had very little lines in the beginning when we first met him, and Carol did not have a lot either last year. We developed them and the actors are absolutely fantastic. One of my all-time favourite scenes is where Carol sees the baby for the first time and smiles and realises that means Lori’s gone and Melissa’s portrayal of that scene is absolutely heartbreaking. She’s an incredible actress and just brings so much to that role and her performance has made me cry more than anyone else in the editing room. She absolutely breaks my heart. That Carol/Daryl dynamic has become so important to the heart of the show that I hope the writers moving ahead realise that.