Robert Kirkman Talks 'Outcast,' Says 'Walking Dead' Will Return With 'Intense' Season 5

The comics creator talks with THR about adapting his new exorcism title for TV, why the genre is so hot and says he already knows how the zombie drama's long-running comic will end.
'Outcast' No. 1 (Inset: Robert Kirkman)

Robert Kirkman is returning to familiar territory. The creator of The Walking Dead comics on which AMC's ratings behemoth is based, this month will launch Outcast, an exorcism story that he's writing -- and already adapting for Cinemax via Fox International Channels.

Outcast, due in comics stores June 25 via Image Comics, will explore similar themes to The Walking Dead -- most notably the urgency that comes with loved ones affected by an outside force (possession instead of whatever is behind the zombie outbreak). The title, released via Kirkman's Skybound imprint, is already out-selling The Walking Dead -- a massive accomplishment considering the latter's recent spike in sales following the story's recent time jump.

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The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Kirkman to discuss all things Outcast, including his approach to writing the comic and the TV pilot, knowing how The Walking Dead comic ends, as well as an early look at season five of the AMC juggernaut and his thoughts about those Glenn rumors.  

Outcast is similar to The Walking Dead in that it is, as you've said, a dramatic take on a horror concept. What other similarities would you say the two comics share?

I think that both of them strive to be very real examinations of a very fantastical and unreal kind of situation. Although I would argue that demonic possession is certainly something that there's evidence to support the possibility that it could be a real phenomenon -- much more so than zombies. I think zombies are probably definitely never going to happen (Laughs). I think people may wish that they would. But they're both stories about very real people against these horrific backdrops. That's something that I really enjoy doing.

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How long do you see Outcast running? Do you already know how it ends?

I actually do. It's the first time I've started a comic knowing exactly what the benchmarks are and where I'm going and how it all wraps up, which is a pretty exciting prospect for me. I don't know that it will run past 100 issues, but it might. Just because I know where the benchmarks are and what I need to do to get there doesn't mean that I know the exact lengths that it'll end up being, which is part of the fun. But it is a finite story that does have a beginning, middle and end, and will probably take a good long time getting there.

You've said that there's a larger mystery beyond the possession storyline for Kyle Barnes. What can you tease about that?

I've been calling Outcast a "horror epic" and I think it will definitely live up to that. We're going to start the story in a very familiar place with demonic possession and play with some of the tropes that people expect from these kinds of storylines. But as Kyle gets deeper and deeper into discovering the ins and outs of this world, he is definitely going to uncover something that is very world-threatening, that he is very much at the center of, that he is the key to trying to prevent. The stakes as the story goes are going to continue to get higher and higher.

With The Walking Dead, the current comics arc has started a new story after a time jump where Rick has re-established part of a larger society. Do you already know how that story ends? How has prepping Outcast, where you know the ending, impacted what you're doing with Walking Dead?

I've known roughly how The Walking Dead [comic] ends for a while now. It's something that I took my time figuring out but I always knew the direction I was going in. A few years ago the end cemented itself. But that's something that is very far off into the future and it's an ending that doesn't really work unless I take my time getting there. I feel like, as with Outcast, the stakes on The Walking Dead have continued to escalate, and in recent issues, we've revealed the full extent of the world building that we're planning to do long-term, and just how important these characters that we've been following are going to turn out to be in the history of civilization. That's a pretty exciting prospect and a really cool change and shift in the narrative of that story.

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What makes demonic possession such an attractive story to explore right now? That seems to be emerging as one of the hotter trends, with former Walking Dead showrunner Glen Mazzara also developing a follow-up to The Omen, where Damien is now an adult who realizes he's the antichrist.

Horror is always the most scary when it's the most real. And this is a very personal subject matter to a lot of people. It's something that I think a vast majority of our population actually believes to be a real phenomenon that's taking place and that makes these things that much scarier and that much cooler. I think that it's definitely a realm of horror fiction that deserves to be explored and can definitely be explored in a myriad of ways and still be exciting and engaging and new. [Showtime's] Penny Dreadful is dancing around the edges of this and something like [NBC's] Constantine looks like it's going to be dealing with a more action-driven angle of this. Outcast is going to go down this emotional road and show this really deep character-driven emotional journey that will make it stand apart from any other explorations of exorcism and demonic possession that are going on on TV right now. I think there's room for all that stuff.

Is demonic possession the new zombie drama?

I remember a lot of people saying zombies are the new vampires back when The Walking Dead was starting, so if we can change the narrative to "demons are the new zombies" for Outcast's debut then that will be very exciting.

You're also writing the script for Outcast, which is in development at Cinemaxand it's your first time prepping a potential pilot. How will that version compare to the world that you're creating with the comic, especially considering how much you enjoy changing things up between the comic and the show for AMC's The Walking Dead?

There's definitely going to be a lot similarities, but despite the fact that I'm writing the comic and writing the pilot episode of the series, you will see some pretty big differences. There are certain ways to tell a story, and certain mechanics and things that work really well in comics that don't work well on television and vice versa. There are certain opportunities to be taken when you adapt something into television, where you have motion and sound, where you can expand on and change things in very cool ways in a manner that wouldn't have worked so well in comics. To be honest, that's the fun part and the challenge of saying, "This is going to be moving and there's going to be actors, and it's going to have sound, and there are different things to be done." It's cool to limit the same story and think about it in a different way.

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In terms of AMC's Walking Dead, season four ends without the deaths of any major characters. Considering anyone can go at any time, what's the likelihood that there will be major fatalities on the early side of season five? Especially given the predicament that Rick and company were in when we last saw them?

It's always highly likely, though I wouldn't say that it's any more likely than it ever is, but it is always extremely likely. We did pull back on the reins a little bit at the end of season four. We're definitely going to hit the ground running for season five and we really don't let up very quickly at all. It's going to be a pretty fast-paced, intense season.

As there seems to be every season, there's another rumor circulating that Steven Yeun's Glenn may not be long for this world. Thoughts?

I absolutely love it. It means people care and people are paying attention. So keep those rumors flying!

Seth Gilliam has joined the cast and, judging from photos from the set, it seems like he's playing Father Gabriel. What does he really bring to the cast?

Every season we try to bring in new characters that add something in their own way to the cast, much in the way that Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) brought a new narrative and more character dynamics to the show. Seth Gilliam's character -- whoever it may be -- brings a lot of conflict and really cool character traits to the mix.

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Can we expect any other familiar characters to be popping up in the coming season?

I wouldn't be surprised to see some more announcements along those lines at some point soon. But that's always the case. We're always going to be cycling through characters, as I like to say in an ominous and foreboding kind of way. If we're not bringing new blood into the mix then we'll eventually run out. So we're definitely going to be bringing some new blood into the mix and always moving forward.

How long will the show stay at Terminus? Is the plan to change locations every half-season or so?

There's never a formula. We're certainly not falling into, "We're going to do eight episodes here and eight episodes there." We'll be changing things up quite a bit and keeping people guessing. There's not going be any set pattern that people are going to be able to recognize.

The Walking Dead returns in October. A specific premiere date will likely be announced at Comic-Con. Outcast No. 1 is released June 25 via Image Comics. Check out an advance look at Outcast No. 1, below.