'The Walking Dead' Dissection: Robert Kirkman on Allegiances, New Threats and That Jaw-Dropping Scene

Walking Dead Robert Kirkman - H 2012
AMC; Getty Images

Walking Dead Robert Kirkman - H 2012

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's midseason premiere "Nebraska."]

On Sunday's The Walking Dead's midseason premiere, Rick and Hershel's respective camps begin to pick up the pieces from the "Barnmageddon" that ended the lives of people close to them who had been turned into the undead.

As Rick and Glen head out to retrieve Hershel, who's drowning his sorrows at a nearby bar, Lori ventures out to find her husband but has an altercation with a walker that flips her car into an embankment. Meanwhile, Rick defends Hershel -- and his farm -- from a pair of threatening survivors as they realize that the farm needs to be protected from the living as well as the dead.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producer Robert Kirkman, who created the comic book series on which the AMC drama is based, to discuss Sunday's "Nebraska" episode, early glimpses at a darker Carl and whether Lori ultimately could follow in the comics' trajectory and die an early death.

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The Hollywood Reporter: Shane (Jon Bernthal) accuses Rick (Andrew Lincoln) of being just as deluded as Hershel (Scott Wilson). Will Rick start to believe that?
Robert Kirkman:
The end of this episode proves to Rick that that's not the case. This entire season has been leading up to the moment where he shot those two men. Shane has been beating it into his head that he isn't fit for this world and needs to be a harder man and be able to make the hard decisions. Over the last two episodes, we've seen Rick be the one that has to step up and shoot Sophia when no one else can. We've seen him in the blink of an eye take out two guys who are a very clear threat to him and everyone else that's with him. This is really the beginning of Rick emerging as a clear leader and answering that thing that Shane's been saying all this time.

THR: Carl (Chandler Riggs) really supports Rick in this episode in a very chilling scene in which he says he would have shot Sophia, too. How will her death really change Carl? Is he heading toward following in Rick or Shane's path?
One of my favorite things about The Walking Dead -- and it's something I've been doing in the comic for nearly a decade -- is dealing with what this world would be like for children. That is one of the most compelling things about the show: The idea of growing up not knowing society and not knowing the rules and learning by watching the people around you who are adults who you look up to constantly make crazy decisions about how to handle certain situations and do things that would be considered morally wrong and how that would affect you growing up. We're finally starting to see this in the show. Carl is a character to watch for the rest of this season and moving into the third season -- assuming he survives. I'm not going to say that anyone is guaranteed to make it through the end of the season but he is going to be making strange decisions and growing and twisting over time into something that is very much unchildlike for his age.

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THR: He has that ability to pull the trigger in the comics -- having shot and killed Shane while defending Rick. Is that something you're leading up to on the show?
I don't know that we're necessarily leading up to him pulling the trigger. He will definitely be more and more involved in things you wouldn't expect him to be involved in.

THR: Hershel's daughter, Beth, is now in shock after watching her mom-turned-zombie be gunned down during "Barnmageddon." Could we see how the living possibly could transition into the undead?
She's definitely distraught over the loss of her mother and seeing those walkers gunned down and having to deal with that. But whether or not that's actually going to lead to her death remains to be seen.

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THR: Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) learns Dale's theory about Otis' death. What will it take for her to read the writing on the wall about Shane's nature?
The cool thing about Lori is that we don't really quite know where her allegiances lie. We know she had relationship with Shane while she was married to Rick. On surface at least, she's pushing Shane away and trying to maintain her relationship with Rick. But we also know that in the world before she was clearly having a bad marriage and going through some difficulties with Rick and has genuine affection for Shane. Whether or not she's actually fooling herself into thinking that she doesn't want to be with Shane anymore or if she is committed to Rick, that's something she's going to be struggling with as she sees Shane do these harsher things, it could push her away from Shane or it could pull her away from Rick depending on where her opinions fall on these things.

THR: That's if she survives the car crash. Is there a possibility we could see Lori follow the comics trajectory and be killed off sooner rather than latter?
Any character can go at any moment. That's a really compelling story. If the viewers get to a point where they sit down to watch The Walking Dead and they truly believe that anyone could go at any moment, we've done our jobs. I don't know that we're quite there yet but we'll get there eventually. No one is safe in this show. You might start to see that soon.

THR: How will the group deal with the ramifications of Lori's accident? Will there be another search?
If there were to be a search for Lori, and I don't want this to be read as any spoilers as to what Lori's fate is, but any kind of search for Lori would be hugely repetitious over the search for Sophia. There will be no search for Lori. We will definitely see the direct outcome of this car crash very early on in the next episode but it will not lead to a search.

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THR: Was casting a known actor (Michael Raymond-James, Terriers, True Blood) as Dave a way to tease viewers that he might be The Governor?
I was always hoping that people would think he was potentially The Governor. We were definitely casting him because we wanted people to believe that that role was very important because we knew how the episode ended.

THR: Rick shoots Tony twice for good measure but it's unclear if Dave is really dead. Is there a chance he survived?
You'll get the answer to that very early on in Episode 9. Maybe he got him on the first pass, maybe he didn't.

THR: How will Dave and Tony's arrival change how welcome everyone is on Hershel's farm? How will they adjust to this new outside threat?
What we're seeing emerge right now is a very different Hershel than we've seen thus far in the show. Him witnessing the barn massacre and seeing these two men who are very threatening gunned down is definitely going to change his outlook on this world and is going to change his behavior a great deal. We're going to see a bad-ass Hershel.

THR: We've heard the casting reports that Bernthal could be heading to Frank Darabont's TNT pilot, with speculation that Shane won't survive the season. Care to dispel that?
Last year Lenny James was on The Walking Dead, Human Target and Hung as well as doing a show in the U.K. for the BBC. It's not unusual these days for people to be on multiple shows at the same time. The way shooting schedules work for cable, it really does open doors for that. The Walking Dead stopped shooting in early November and doesn't resume until almost summer, so there's a huge gap in there for people to do other projects. I wouldn't let any casting rumors make you think that it's spoiled any show, especially this one. In the case of Jon Bernthal, who's to say he survives that first pilot? Maybe he dies in the first episode.

What did you think of "Nebraska"? Do want to see Lori survive the crash? Sound off in the comments below. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit