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'Walking Dead's' Robert Kirkman Teases New Format(s), Pairings and Daryl's Big Struggle

The comics creator and executive producer of AMC's zombie drama tells THR that the introduction of Abraham, Eugene and Rosita is "going to change the kind of stories that we tell."

The Walking Dead Season 4 Episode 9 Michonne - H 2014
Gene Page/AMC
"The Walking Dead"

AMC's The Walking Dead returns for the eight-episode back half of season four on Sunday with the group divided. Following the Governor's deadly attack on the prison, Rick and company were forced out of their safe haven and are, as executive producer Robert Kirkman says, "back to square one."

Split up, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has to contend with an angry son (Chandler Riggs) reeling after Hershel's (Scott Wilson) death -- and the potential loss of his baby sister, Judith. Daryl (Norman Reedus), paired with young Beth (Emily Kinney), will have to find himself again now that he's no longer king of the castle. Also on his plate: the fact that Rick banished his closest friend, Carol (Melissa McBride), which also is a bone of contention for Tyreese (Chad Coleman). Michonne (Danai Gurira) is out solo and will face the demons that she overcame in the first half of the season when the loner accepted her place within the community.

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Meanwhile, three key characters from Kirkman's comics series will be introduced -- Abraham (Southland's Michael Cudlitz), Rosita (Twilight's Christian Serratos) and Eugene (Retired at 35's Josh McDermitt) -- that will change the fabric of the show. (For more on what to expect from Abraham, Rosita, Eugene and mysterious new addition Gareth -- played by Greek's Andrew J. West -- click here.)

Also different when the zombie drama returns: the format of the series. The first episode back will only follow Rick and Carl -- as well as Michonne -- as the series plans to flesh out who these characters are, how Hershel's death affects them and how they'll deal with being back out on the road after calling the prison home. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producer Kirkman to preview all that and more. 

Rick is in really bad shape and Carl is furious with him after Hershel -- and potentially Judith's -- death. How can we expect to see their relationship evolve in this back half?

The first episode back is a very intense pressure-cooker that is going to evolve their relationship a great deal and it's all contained in one episode. Coming out of that first episode, you're going to see Carl and Rick in very different places, and that progression is going to continue out through the back half of the season. By the end of the season, you're going to see yet another turn in their relationship. There's quite a bit going on between these two characters, and while we're going to be focusing on all of the characters as we move into the back half of the season, you're going to see a lot of changes in Rick and Carl especially.

How soon will baby Judith's fate be revealed?

It will be resolved with absolute certainty but it's an unknown that's out there. Revealing when it will be resolved would be somewhat of a spoiler. There will be answers, but I don't know if they're going to come necessarily soon.

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What kind of a response will Rick and Carl have to her fate considering how tenuous their relationship has become?

As it stands right now Rick and Carl are on their own and they have every reason to believe that she is in fact dead. So that's something that's going to be weighing on them and is going to put them in a very dire situation and really heighten the events that are surrounding them and put them in a bad place moving forward.

The show is exploring a new format in the second half of season four. Will each subgroup get their own episode? Is it fair to expect that each one will involve flashbacks? That's not something we've seen a lot of on The Walking Dead.

Correct. There's no set formula. The format of every episode is going to be very different so you never really know what kind of episode you're going to get. It's somewhat experimental, but it's going to be a cool way to dive deep into who these characters are and what's going on with them. There will be episodes that focus exclusively on one group or a set of individuals; there will be episodes that check in on multiple groups by varying degrees; and there will be episodes that check in on everybody. It's going to be a good mix of different kinds of storytelling.

Looking at these new pairings -- Daryl is with Beth, etc. -- what can we expect from them? And how will that help the group as a whole when and if they do reconnect?

We're going to see bonds form between characters that weren't necessarily extremely tight before. If these characters ever do reconnect and if they find each other as a group again -- which I'm not ruling anything out at his point -- we are going to see a different dynamic from these characters because of this period in their lives and how much change is going to come from it.

STORY: 'Walking Dead's' Scott Wilson on Hershel's Fate: 'I Could Sense It Was Coming'

What king of emotional toll will Hershel's death have on everyone?

One of the things that makes Hershel's death such an important death to the series is the fact that he did touch every single one of these characters. His death is an extremely meaningful loss for each and every one of them. His death is going to carry consequences throughout the rest of this season and beyond, and we'll be dealing with the impact of that for many seasons to come, theoretically.

Daryl -- and presumably Tyreese -- are still upset with Rick for his role in dismissing Carol from the group and her involvement in the death of Tyreese's girlfriend. When and if they are reunited, how big of an issue is that going to be? Or do Daryl and Tyreese have bigger problems right now?

They certainly have bigger problems right now, but I love that that's a very intense pressure-cooker situation that could boil over at any moment. Something was technically kept from Tyreese, whether it was intentional or just a byproduct of a series of unfortunate events. He was kept in the dark about that situation and how he finds about that, when he finds out about that, that's all up in the air. But we know that there are going to be consequences from that and hopefully viewers are watching each episode waiting for that shoe to drop. When it finally does, people are going to be pretty surprised by the outcome.

What about for Daryl?

It's definitely going to be a big deal. It's something that's going to be weighing on him the entire time that he's out in the wilderness. We'll just have to see exactly how it affects him long-term and whether he can overcome the things he's faced with when we come back.

How will Daryl respond to losing that sense of nobility he'd found with the group?

Daryl more than any other character has allowed his existence in this group and his role within this pocket of civilization to define who he is as a person, and he's allowed it to make him grow as a person. And now everything that has had a positive influence on him -- that has helped him turn into someone he respects and likes for the first time -- has vanished. That's definitely going to shake him to his core and the question really becomes, "Is he going to be able to maintain who he's become?" or is he going to revert back to who he was? That's the struggle he's going to go through, and unfortunately it looks like Beth is caught in that crossfire.

STORY: 'Walking Dead's' David Morrissey on The Governor: 'He Got What He Deserved'

Will we see what has happened with Carol since she was booted from the prison?

Carol was exiled from the prison and has been out in the open, hopefully surviving, and now all of our characters who were in the prison have also, in a sense, been exiled from the prison and are out presumably in the same area. So it's entirely possible that Carol may pop up before you know it. 

How will we see everyone reacclimating to life without the safety that they had at the prison or on Hershel's farm?

That's really the question. These people have been rocked to their core. They had everything that they had come to rely on stripped away and now they're back at square one. This is an apocalyptic environment that they're living in and civilization has completely crumbled. They have to rebuild again and maybe some of these characters don't necessarily have it in them to try and survive to that point again. That's going to be a big struggle for some of them, but it's really going to be different for each and every character. But each of them is going to have the weight of the world thrown on them and we'll have to watch them survive.

There are several new faces coming in these final eight episodes -- Abraham, Rosita, Eugene and the mysterious Gareth. What can you say about how they'll be folded into the series?

There's a lot of story going on in these last eight episodes of season four, and one of the things that really comes in and changes things in a serious way is the introduction of Abraham, Eugene and Rosita, who enter into the series with a mission and are going to change the stories that we tell because of that. They're going to be a great catalyst; every new character that we introduce into the series brings something to the show with them, and that's one of the great things about this evolving cast of characters that we have. These three characters more than any other characters are going to change the kind of stories that we tell and change the narrative drive of the series. There's going to be some big changes afoot mainly because of these characters.

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The Walking Dead returns Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC. What are you looking forward to seeing? And don't forget to come back to THR's The Live Feed on Sunday after the episode for our weekly Walking Dead Dissection.