[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Sunday's premiere of The Walking Dead. Read at your own risk!]
If Rick's "defacing" of a zombie didn't turn your stomach, then hacking off Hershel's leg in the Season 3 premiere of The Walking Dead ensured you will probably never eat while watching an episode of the AMC zombie drama ever again. Yes, we made that exact mistake.
Hershel's (Scott Wilson) impromptu amputation came after the Greene patriarch was bitten by a walker inside the group's new "safe haven" within an overrun and zombie-infested prison. But will severing the leg actually stop the virus from spreading and claiming yet another group member? (In the comics, the procedure had inconsistent results — it did and didn't work — on different occasions, so chances are 50/50!)
The season premiere saw Rick (Andrew Lincoln) & Co. begin to clear out the prison in order to find a stable home so Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) wouldn't have to be on the run so far along into her pregnancy. But, of course, the prison wasn't what the group expected. Not only were they attacked at every turn, but there were — wait for it — other survivors there too!
To get the scoop on whether Hershel will cheat death (twice!), TVGuide.com turned to executive producer and comic book creator Robert Kirkman, who also dishes on Andrea's (Laurie Holden) fate, the arrival of the Governor (David Morrissey) and the blink-and-you-missed-it introduction of a certain comic book character. And here's another spoiler warning for safe measure!
By chopping off Hershel's leg, Rick is testing out a theory that was mostly proven wrong in the comics. You guys have talked a lot about deviating from the comics, but how close will you be staying with this story line?
Robert Kirkman: There's definitely a lot of really cool stuff in this era of the comic book series that we'll definitely be adapting. There's a lot of cool moments with the Governor that we'll be seeing, and a lot of other cool things here and there, but like the first two seasons, we'll always try to arrive upon these things a little different, just like the big leg chop scene is something that is mostly similar to what happened in the comic book series, although it's a different character. While it did happen in the comics, this is still something shocking and unexpected, so that's always going to be the mood we're always going to be trying to evoke when we do adapt things from the comic.
You guys have toyed with killing off Hershel twice now, both last season and now in the premiere.
Kirkman: We love Scott Wilson. He's a really good sport. We love teasing him. I like to joke that we love not killing Hershel, but he's a very important character. It's a dangerous world and I think there's going to be some near-misses with a lot of characters and some deaths with a lot of characters this season. Everybody will get their turn before the end.
This story line reminds me of Morgan (Lennie James)! Is there a chance we'll get to see him soon or are you guys having fun keeping him in your back pocket to one day resurrect him?
Kirkman: All I can say about that is that we definitely have not forgotten Morgan, and we'd absolutely love to have Lennie James back into the show as soon as it makes sense for the story. That's all I'll say on the matter.
There are also other survivors in the prison. How will Rick & Co. come into direct conflict with them? And how similar are these prisoners to who we saw in the comics?
Kirkman: There are definitely elements of the comics here. Axel (Lew Temple) is actually the guy who says "Holy sh--" at the end of the first episode, and there are definitely some new changes that we've put into the show, as there always are. This is par for the course for The Walking Dead. Rick thought this was a safe place, and finding this perfect place to live. This is something Rick is going to have to deal with. This is a very different Rick than what we've seen in the previous seasons of this series. I think people will be pretty startled with how Rick handles the situation this season.
And this is a very different Rick and Lori than we've seen. It almost seemed like they were going to be OK before he revealed he killed Shane and everyone was affected. Now, it doesn't. Can they ever get back to a point where they're OK?
Kirkman: That's definitely something we're going to be dealing with in a big way this season. What happens when your marriage has gotten to a point to where you would naturally separate, but because you're forced to coexist in order to survive, you can't really get away from that person. Is that going to make them realize that they do love each other and being together is more important than anything that happened in the past? Or is it going to continue to drive them further and further apart? These are the things we're going to be dealing with moving forward.
Carl (Chandler Riggs) is definitely a warrior now. How will that get him into trouble this year?
Kirkman: We're going to see a very different Carl this season. I don't think he's necessarily going to be in trouble this season. This is a very capable child soldier that can definitely handle himself in a much better way than we saw last season. I love the fact that this episode opens with him kicking a door in and shooting a zombie in the head, when last season he couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger when he was in a similar situation. Those two clear things where we can compare who the character is now to who he was really illustrates how different this guy is and what kind of really cool stories we can tell with him moving forward this season.
How soon will the Governor be coming into conflict with the group?
Kirkman: We're definitely going to see him very soon. But it might be in [Episode 3]. He's somebody that is a good leader. He's pulled Woodbury together, but there's a lot bubbling under that surface. He's got a lot to hide and a lot of those secrets will come out over the course of the season. We will learn a lot more about this guy as things progress.
What can you say of Andrea and Michonne's (Danai Gurira) first interaction with the Governor?
Kirkman: We'll definitely see quite a bit of Michonne and the Governor clashing this season, so be on the lookout for that. One of the things that we're really playing out form the comic book series is the fact that the Governor is the ultimate politician. There's a big element of that in the comics, but he very quickly plays his hand and removes Rick's, so to speak, so that's something that we will be dealing with a lot more in the show. Andrea is probably more than likely going to get caught up in that web pretty quickly.
Is there a chance people in Rick's group might get envious of life in Woodbury and decide to jump ship?
Kirkman: There's definitely a divide for the audience because they are going to be seeing all aspects of different things. They'll get to see the prison in all its glory and Woodbury in all its glory. I think there will be a sense of the audience rooting for different groups and different people within those groups. As for the characters themselves, I don't know that they will ever truly understand exactly what's going on in both places to a point where they could make a decision like that.
How will Daryl (Norman Reedus) change once Merle (Michael Rooker) is back in the picture?
Kirkman: That's a source of conflict that we're really excited to play with this year. Daryl has changed and is a very different person, but it's also just as likely that Merle has changed and he's a very different person because it has been quite a long time since we've seen Merle, so we don't know what light he's going to be in when we finally do see him again. That's a question that's up in the air that we'll be dealing with in a big way this season.
The Comic-Con trailer also showed a helicopter, presumably the one Rick saw in the series premiere. What can you tell us about that?
Kirkman: Rick definitely saw a helicopter in the premiere episode of the show. It may or may not be the exact same helicopter. I will tease that the helicopter from the comic book series was used as an avenue to introduce Woodbury. It's used in very much the same way in the show, so be on the lookout for that.
Do you hope Hershel lives? And are you excited to finally meet the Governor?
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.