'Walking Dead' Producers Defend Their Show's Violence Against Children

Creator Robert Kirkman and exec producer Greg Nicotero talk with THR about Sunday's midseason premiere.
 Gene Page/AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 609, "No Way Out," the midseason premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead and the comic book series the show is based on.]

AMC's The Walking Dead delivered a gut-punch of an episode with Sunday's midseason premiere, during which three key characters were brutally killed off and another untouchable figure had his eye shot out.

The episode saw Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge), as well as her two young sons, killed off during the group's attempt to make it out of Alexandria during the massive walker invasion. Clearly not everything went according to plan, as Jessie's young son Sam (Major Dodson) freaked out after seeing a boy his age having been turned into one of the undead.

His freak-out got him bitten, which in turn led to his mother also being attacked by walkers. Eldest son Ron (Austin Abrams) quickly attempted to kill the people he thought responsible for his mother and brother's deaths and turned a gun on Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his son, Carl (Chandler Riggs). That's when Michonne (Danai Gurira) immediately plunged her katana into the teenager's torso. However, Ron's stray bullet catches Carl in the eye, bringing to life one of the most surprising moments from Robert Kirkman's comic book series.

"When we're crafting the stories, it's more about characters vs. how old they are," exec producer Greg Nicotero, who directed Sunday's midseason premiere, tells THR. "The comic doesn't pull any punches, and one of the things that's important for us is that we honor that spirit by continuing to do things that are unexpected."

The sequence of events come as both the AMC drama and Kirkman's graphic novels have not shied away from showing how anyone — including children — can go at any time. Both properties have a history of depicting violence against children and Sunday's episode was no different.

The AMC drama most recently featured Carol (Melissa McBride), in one of the show's most devastating moments to date, having to kill off Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) after the little girl killed her kid sister and was clearly not mentally capable of surviving in the new world. That followed Rick having to kill Carol's daughter-turned-zombie Sophia (Madison Lintz) in season two and Michonne doing the same to The Governor's (David Morrissey) zombie daughter Penny in season four. Emily Kinney's Beth, to some extent, could qualify as the teenage character came of age during the series and was largely able to take care of herself in the post-apocalyptic world.

"With Sam, the minute he walks out of the house in midseason finale you wonder if this kid will make it," Nicotero says, noting the writing for Sam's inability to handle the new world has been on the wall all season long. "He's trying to convince Jessie that he can do it and her cardinal mistake is she plays into her weakness for him. There's a moment when he could have gone with Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) back to the church, but the minute he says, 'No mom, I can do this,' he seals his own fate. And she gives in to him. She insisted he go and that was a dead end. We established that when it comes to Sam, Jessie is weak. He wouldn't come out of his room and she kept taking food to him. You can see she has a soft spot for what he's going through and when we get to that moment, she makes the wrong decision. That decision of not making Sam go with Gabriel is what costs them."

Kirkman, meanwhile, told THR that he'd been looking forward to Carl losing his eye on the series for "a good, long time" and producers never considered bypassing the jarring moment from the comic.  

"Carl losing his eye, and what that does for Rick and how that changes things for Carl — that's a big part of the series," Kirkman says. "As shocking and as startling as it was in the comic, seeing the motion of it and the way we were able to pull that off makes it even more startling of a moment. These are the things that make our viewers invested in the show. The fact that anything can happen and the fact that these startling things do happen to these characters we love."

Adds Nicotero: "It's such a critical moment. If you go back and look at graphic novels, for me, I remember when Shane gets killed by Carl and Lori gets shot by The Governor and Michonne taking revenge on The Governor and I remember Carl being shot and Jessie having her hand cut off and Glenn and Negan. Those are iconic moments when you go through it."

On the flip side of things, The Walking Dead took a major detour from its source material with Rick's baby daughter, Judith. In the comics, the character dies with her mother, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) but AMC has kept the now-toddler around — including during Sunday's massacre.  

What did you think of the episode? Do you think The Walking Dead has gone too far? Sound off in the comments section, below.

Click here to read our interview with Kirkman, showrunner Scott M. Gimple and Nicotero; here for more from Breckenridge; here for more from Riggs; and here for how Nicotero created the jaw-dropping moment

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