When The Walking Dead returns this fall, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) & Co. will still be residing in the prison — but that doesn't mean we're in for a lull while the group learns how to be a community again. After all, there's still the ever-present danger of The Governor (David Morrissey), who abandoned Woodbury and left his former residents to be taken in by Rick. But how is Rick dealing in a world where nearly everyone he's gotten close to has died and his son is on a precarious path to becoming a monster? TVGuide.com turned to executive producer and comic book creator Robert Kirkman and new showrunner Scott Gimple to get the scoop on the new season and which elements of the comics will be introduced this year.
How does it feel going into Comic-Con not only celebrating the AMC show, but 10 years of the comic?
Robert Kirkman: It's bizarre. We are heading to the 10-year anniversary and it doesn't feel like 10 years. It certainly is a very strange feeling.
Because you're so far ahead in the comics, do you ever considering introducing storylines much earlier, like bringing in ultimate villain Negan?
Kirkman: That's definitely a real temptation when you are adapting a show. It's sometimes a struggle because I feel like there are very cool things that are waiting in the wings in the comics that we could do earlier in the show. But those things only work the way they work because of everything that came before them. We have to build up to them properly. Negan isn't going to be as cool if we don't set up this, this, this, and this. We do want to do Negan, and it seems likes everyone on the show does want to do Negan, but we are going to have to do all these other things first.
Scott Gimple: Reading the book now and reading Negan as a character, I'm like, "Damn, there's so much to do before we get to him!" One of my favorite issues with him recently was the Carl/Negan issue. I think it'd be such an amazing episode of TV, but we have a lot to do before we get there.
The direction the series has taken is so different from the comics. At the end of Season 2, we at least had some indication of what was to come with the introduction of Michonne and the glimpse of the prison. What can we expect this season?
Kirkman: You can expect a lot of surprises. Comic book fans that think the show has steered away from the comics completely will be pleasantly surprised by Season 4. Honestly, some of the closest adaptations of the comic have happened thus far is in Season 4. There are some very cool things that are told in the comics that... are adapted almost directly, which I usually frown upon. But Scott Gimple is able to talk me into things from time to time.
Gimple: I think it's something I've always done and something I've always striven to do. Some of the moments I've written on the show that I felt really, really psyched about, like Sophia coming out of the barn or Rick on the phone in the episode "Hounded," are kind of from the comic book. Sophia never came out of the barn in the comic book, but Hershel's family came out of the barn. It affected Hershel the same way as it did on the show. The way I always approached it is that it's a remix of the comic book. It's taking great stuff and, because we have departed from the comic book in so many ways, being true to the moments, but in different ways. As a fan, it can be really exciting because you recognize it and you know it, but it's in a way that will surprise you and you wouldn't see coming.
Kirkman: The dynamic is usually Scott going "Wait, no! This is in the comics was cool," and me going "No! I'm bored with that! Let's do something new." He's won over a couple of times in Season 4. There will be some things that will be directly pulled from the comics that start creeping in very early in Season 4. I think comic book fans don't know what to expect which is the best possible place to be in.
Scott, what was your first reaction when you found out you would be taking over the reins of The Walking Dead?
Gimple: I have a healthy relationship with fear. I'm afraid to make my wife dinner and pull that off. I quite love everyone on the show and I quite love all the fans. I just wanted to do right by them. I will say that I did get a great deal of support from the show, from the peeps that do it, from AMC. I knew I would have a lot of help.
The Walking Dead postmortem: Robert Kirkman defends major death, teases Season 4
Does the season premiere title, "30 Days Without an Accident," suggest that Rick and his group of survivors have been doing well?
Kirkman: I think you can assume that. I always liked the way our seasons are structured. There is quite a variance. These characters get to a point where they are doing OK, where they know what they are doing and where they are going. Those are the periods that happen in between seasons. When things start to hit the fan and get exciting again, those are the parts you see.
Will we still feel the immediate aftermath of Andrea and Merle's deaths in the new season?
Gimple: I would take away "immediate" from that, but all that is still resounding with them. They are not so hardened that they do not feel that stuff. Andrea's death affected all of them deeply — Michonne probably the most and Rick a great, great deal. Rick let people in at the end. That was huge. At the midway point he sent Tyrese away, Tyrese who seemed like a really good guy. The other big point that resounds with Rick is the fact that his son shot somebody in the face. Someone who was putting down their gun. Dale said all the way back in Season 2, Episode 11: "Is that what you want for your son, do you want him to shoot first?" It's a wakeup call for Rick. It's very, very much affected him this season.
How will Rick's relationships be different this season after introducing Tyrese into the fold?
Gimple: I'm really, really excited for the stories Tyrese has this season. In regards to Rick's relationship with these characters, I think they remain very, very tight. The whole group is very, very tight. I will say Michonne has not been a part of big groups, and we've seen her not be great with that. So, her transition into that has been a big thing.
Can you talk about some of the new survivors Rick took in at the end of last season?
Kirkman: Some time has passed and there are new groups and new characters that have come into the prison over the month in the gap. There are some characters, like Bob Stookey, who aren't very capable or very useful, and then there are other characters like Tyrese and Sasha who are stepping up in a big way. Karen, another character that came from Woodbury, is very essential to this season. There is a lot of new blood and a lot of new faces. The cast really expanded, which usually happens at the beginning of every season and it contracts a little by the end. This season will be very in line with that.
The Governor is still lingering out there and David Morrissey is still a series regular next season. Are the survivors feeling that constant threat that he can return at any moment?
Kirkman: If we have done our jobs right, hopefully you'll be watching every scene in Season 4 going, "Oh man, gosh, I can't believe that happened! The Governor is still out there. I forgot! Oh there's that threat that can drop on them at any moment." We know he's out there, the viewers know he's out there, and there is definitely something brewing on the horizon. You'll never know how it is going to happen or when. It's largely an unknown threat, but that guy hasn't gone away.
Can you talk about the tone of this season? Last year, it was more about how humans are more dangerous than zombies.
Kirkman: There is a considered effort towards reminding people just how big of a threat the zombies truly are. I don't think we ever truly got away from that, but we did shift our focus to a human antagonist in Season 3. In Season 4, we are definitely focusing on the zombies, showing them as a clear threat, and bringing them back to the forefront to a certain extent. They will be a very present, huge danger that everyone will have to deal with. But at the same time, we liked bringing in humans as a big threat in Season 3. We are bringing in another threat, which is nature itself. I don't really want to get into specifics too much, but I will say that there is a third uncontrollable, almost undefeatable threat that is going to come in when the characters of the show are at their most vulnerable. It's really going to be something that they have a hard time dealing with.
Gimple: I will say that I love when we have done lighter moments on the show and we do have them, but there will be a good amount of dark story time this season. There's some interesting lighter stuff. It's The Walking Dead; it's not Seinfeld. Things do get dark. Things do get rough and scary and exciting. There is a little balance of funny, though.
Will the world be opening up more this season?
Kirkman: Anything is possible. Anyone who is worried that we will only be in the prison and not exploring the world need not worry. There will there will be a lot of exploring in this season. It will not be contained in the fences of the prison very much at all, to be honest.
Pictures have leaked online that suggest — SPOILER ALERT — Rick may lose his hand, like in the comics. What do you say to that?
Kirkman: I will say Scott Gimple is a huge comic fan and may possibly be trying to steer me into letting the show be closer to what the comic books are. Also people could be misinterpreting those photos. Who knows?
Gimple: I may have convinced him. Possibly. We may not know that.
What are you most excited for in the new season?
The Walking Dead returns this fall on AMC.