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'Walking Dead' Dissection: Robert Kirkman Breaks Down the Deadly Midseason Finale

"There will be a lot of different formats at work here because everyone is separate, we will be telling their stories individually," the executive producer and creator of the comic series tells THR about the second half of season four.

The Walking Dead Midseason Finale Rick Carl - H 2013
Gene Page/AMC
"The Walking Dead"

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from "Too Far Gone," The Walking Dead's season four midseason finale and the comics the series is based on.]

AMC's The Walking Dead delivered one of its most brutal episodes in its four-season run Sunday when the zombie drama killed off not one but two series regulars in its bloody midseason finale.

After waiting a season and a half for the confrontation between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and The Governor (David Morrissey), the series based on Robert Kirkman's comics delivered in a major way when the eye-patched baddie drove his tank into the prison community after beheading Hershel (Scott Wilson).

Ultimately, The Governor paid the price for his savagery when Michonne (Danai Gurira) -- the woman he'd taken hostage just prior to the attack -- broke free and drove her katana sword into his chest. Bleeding out before likely turning into a walker, a stunned Lilly (Audrey Marie Anderson) -- "Brian's" new love interest -- turned her gun on her former lover and, as she does in the comics, ends his life.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producer Kirkman to discuss Hershel and The Governor's deaths and what's ahead when the series returns Feb. 9. Check out our postmortem interviews with Morrissey here, Wilson here and showrunner Scott M. Gimple here.

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Heading into the midseason finale, the series had been criticized for effectively telling the same story -- Rick vs. The Governor. Why bring The Governor back for three episodes and stretch out his story? This felt like what we were waiting to see in the season-three finale.

If you look at the comics, The Governor attacked the prison many times and it was something that I wanted to show just how difficult it is to actually try and wage warfare in this world. While it was split over season three and season four, it does mirror the comic book. The Governor had an unsuccessful attempt on the prison and then had a much more successful attempt on the prison. That was the plan, to keep The Governor around for a little bit longer and show that the prison is able to withstand some kind of attack to show that it's a good place to live. But also to show that The Governor is still out there and he's not going to give up on this. We felt it was important for the life of the show to depict how dangerous things can get and how much of a threat The Governor actually poses and to give that story enough room to breathe. I heard the [complaint] that there was a bit of stalling at the start of season four, but people aren't really recognizing all of the character work that is going to pay off quite a bit in the back half of season four. It's an unfortunate thing because our seasons are split the way they are, people will often judge the first half of the season as one piece when it really is just half of the story.

The group has lost the prison. Where do they go from here?

It goes into a lot of interesting and new places, which is something The Walking Dead is always striving to do. The prison has fallen, there won't be any more stories there, and now our characters are out on their own. They've lost the prison, they've lost where they live and where they were building their lives, and they're also separated and have lost each other. They're out in the unknown trying to survive. We're going to be going into some very interesting places with all of these characters and seeing new sides to all of them as they figure out how to survive. Been a while since these people have been out on the road and out in the open; they're very different people at this point. The events in the upcoming episodes are going to change them that much more, which I think will make the show a lot cooler, more dangerous and more exciting.

We've seen the group split up on the road before after Hershel's farm was destroyed. How will their experiences be different this time?

I wouldn't expect them to be reunited as quickly as after Hershel's farm. They're going to endure a lot more. There's going to be a lot more that they're dealing with in the aftermath of the prison falling. I would expect these stories to be extremely different.

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Gimple told us that the second half of the season will feature a different structure to it. Considering the group is divided, could we see stand-alone episodes similar to the two Governor-centric ones in the first half of season four?

Yes. We are going to be telling a lot of different stories. There will be a lot of different formats at work here because everyone is separate, we will be telling their stories individually. We will be playing with the format quite a bit. There will be different kind of episodes that will make up the back half of the season.

Hershel's time was finally up. After escaping death in season two, surviving a leg amputation and becoming the council leader, why was the time right to kill him off now?

It just wasn't enough for the characters to lose the prison. We also wanted them to suffer a very tragic loss that propels them into where we wanted them to be in the back half of the season. Hershel really was the character that meant so much to every [other] character, so he ended up being the key choice to lose in this moment just because it affects everyone in the cast. It takes all the characters to interesting places. Losing that source of wisdom and advice and the fatherly nature he had with all the characters -- not just with Maggie [Lauren Cohan] and Beth [Emily Kinney] -- is traumatic to go along with the loss of the prison. It really just fit when we got down to it.

Why did The Governor opt to kill Hershel instead of Michonne, with whom he has a brutal history?

He probably had something a little bit worse planned for Michonne. He knew that he was going to be chopping this guy's head off and he probably didn't want Michonne's end to be as quick. It's entirely possible that he planned to cut her head off next. There's a lot of different things that changed in the outcome of what he was planning immediately after he did that. He also saw that Hershel was this voice of reason. Hershel was pretty much saying what Rick was saying to him back in that trailer when he had him prisoner: We can live together and make this work. Because of that, he saw that Hershel was this guy that was good and trying to come up with a peaceful solution. So taking him out of the picture, in his mind, would affect Rick in a jarring way, and that's what he was after.

Speaking of The Governor, we never saw the brutality from the comics -- when he savagely exacts his revenge on Michonne by torturing and raping her. What were the discussions like to skip over that this year?

This was discussed quite a bit in season three. It was decided that we didn't need to go there. Unfortunately, rape of your strong female character has kind of become a trope on cable television a lot more than it ever was when I did the story. It would be like we were trying to compete with other cable shows or doing something that other cable shows have done, so we tried to go in a different direction and do something more original that was better. That was the main reason we skipped over it in season three, and it wouldn't make sense to do something like that in season four the way we were telling stories.

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Michonne and Lilly both are responsible for killing The Governor. What was the conversation like about who would ultimately do it after Lilly acted solo in the comics?

There has been so much going on between those characters. We had shown Michonne hunting The Governor down in the wake of Andrea's [Laurie Holden] death. While I thought it was very cool to not have a heroic moment and not have a satisfying death for The Governor, I like to torture the readers of the comic a little bit more than is acceptable when it comes to television viewers. I like the idea of this despicable guy just kind of dying and you don't get to feel good about a death, you're not going to feel like one of the characters had a win over him. It made more sense to give Michonne that moment because of everything that had happened, to give people their heroic moment and have her take the guy out. It was important to have her saving Rick in that moment. We never want to show Rick as being this action hero; he is this everyman, and I like the idea of there being a physical confrontation between Rick and The Governor. In an action movie, Rick would totally decimate that guy -- but that's not our show. We can show our hero getting one over on him and then having him actually face death in a very real way. We thought it was cool to have Michonne come in and stop that.

The series under Gimple is taking a remix approach to the comics. Rick escapes The Governor's story arc without losing his hand. Should Andrew Lincoln breathe easier now?

Andy would be all for it but you never know. It's entirely possible that we've closed the book on that issue right now but it could crop up in the future. It is the bane of my existence in the comics because I'm constantly having to rewrite scenes that you can't do with one hand. I'm not going to rule it out; it could happen at some point but it certainly hasn't happened yet.

Baby Judith's fate is unclear, despite an insane amount of blood in her car seat. Should we presume, like Rick and Carl, that she's dead?

You can presume; you'll never know until we know. We are keeping that as a mystery that will be revealed in the back half. That blood had to come from somewhere and I certainly wouldn't feel too comfortable about the status of that baby.

The prison battle in the comics is really brutal after Lilly, under The Governor's orders, kills Lori and Judith. Was that something you didn't want to depict on the series?

It's hard to answer this without spoiling something coming up. The story dictated that the scene be different. We'll see why in the back half of season four. But in planning season three, I thought the death of Lori [Sarah Wayne Callies] coming so unexpectedly and in the way that it happened was more brutal than what happened in the comic.

How will Carl (Chandler Riggs) handle the loss of his sister considering he had an itchy trigger finger when The Governor first arrived?

Both Rick and Carl both backed away from the harshness that they were entering into after the state of lost humanity they went into in season three. We came back from that and we opened season four with them not carrying guns and them both actively farming and having that be their focus. This event is a rude awakening for them. Carl is at a very interesting place when we pick up in the back half of the season. The events of the midseason finale are very present on his mind and it's something that will affect him for the duration of the series. There's big stuff that's going to come from this.

What did you think of The Walking Dead's midseason finale? Hit the comments below with what you're looking forward to seeing when the series returns Feb. 9 on AMC.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit