"I'm frankly shocked. You always hope this stuff will be successful, but never in a million years did I think the TV show would catch on to this degree," Kirkman tells TVGuide.com. "Now we've got Zippo lighters and mugs, T-shirts and Walking Dead-brand gum and perfume. It's definitely strange to be at the center of what, I guess, is a phenomenon. I'm quite enjoying it, but it does startle me at times."
The Walking Dead's Robert Kirkman on Season 1's explosive finale and what's next
Despite all the aforementioned products and a forthcoming video game inspired by the series, Kirkman remains primarily focused on writing the comics and shaping the second season of the show — the latter of which has seen Kirkman move to Los Angeles to work full-time in the writers' room.
Both the comic and the TV show follow Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the leader of a band of survivors trying to stay alive after a zombie apocalypse. The end of Season 1 found the survivors striking out on the open road after their last safe haven in Atlanta, the Centers for Disease Control, proved to be anything but safe. While Kirkman can't divulge much about how Season 2 is shaping up, he's clearly very excited about seeing the gang travel.
"It's going to be intense," he says. "This world will get more dangerous. In the first season, there was a lot of time spent at that camp when they were fine. Now we've taken that away from them. They don't really have that little area they can go to and protect. ... We're really going to just expand the world a little bit. We're hitting the road, they're moving, and it's going to be a lot of cool stuff."
Check out photos of The Walking Dead cast
Kirkman also promises new faces this season, some of which comic readers will recognize and others they will not. "There's definitely going to be some new blood — some new victims for the zombies, if you will," Kirkman says. "It's important to me that there are these X-factor things thrown in where people that are familiar with the comic book don't really know where things are going to go. I want to keep people guessing as much as possible, and having new characters ... definitely adds to that."
Will some those familiar faces be the family at Hershel's farm and the katana-wielding Michonne, who Kirkman previously told us he wanted to feature in Season 2? "Things are shifting every day, but so far it's looks like we're going to get to at least half of that," Kirkman says coyly.
As for the core cast, Kirkman says the romantic triangle between Rick, his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Rick's best friend and partner Shane (Jon Bernthal) will continue to be a key dynamic. But he also says that, because this season will be made up of a more traditional 13 episodes, the other members of the camp will work their way into the spotlight more than they have before.
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"We've got a lot more room to breathe and explore all the characters in the cast," Kirkman says. "We've got interesting cast members and we're going to be putting them through their paces. This is a hard world, and there are some tough times ahead. We're going to see these characters overcome a lot over the course of this show."
The finale also planted the seed for another mystery: Dr. Jenner (Noah Emmerich) whispered something in Rick's ear just before they escaped the about-to-explode CDC. Kirkman promises viewers will get some payoff sooner rather than later. "We're very mindful of the audience's expectation. There's teasing the audience and there's torturing the audience — and there's a fine line," Kirkman says. "We're going to have a lot of other stuff to deal with, but we're definitely going to be dealing with that soon and not torturing audiences with the mystery of that too much."
Because of the show's huge success (the Season 1 finale drew 6 million viewers, shattering all of AMC's previous ratings records) and its Golden Globe nomination for Best Drama Series, the expectations couldn't be higher for Season 2, which is still scheduled to begin in October. Kirkman, however, remains unfazed.
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"Having been in the room and knowing what we have planned, I'm pretty sure this season is going to top the other season," he says. "Everybody is breaking their backs with a mind toward really coming out of the gate this season and wowing people."
AMC will air a marathon of the entire first season of The Walking Dead on Friday beginning at 8/7c. The first season is also available on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday.
Are you excited for Season 2?