'Walking Dead' Dissection: Robert Kirkman on Rick's Journey and the Return of a Fan Favorite

The Walking Dead 311 Episodic Rick Michonne Carl - H 2013
Gene Page/AMC

The Walking Dead 311 Episodic Rick Michonne Carl - H 2013

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's "Clear" episode of The Walking Dead.]

Rick may have turned the corner on his road back to sanity thanks to a surprising encounter with a long-lost familiar face on Sunday's The Walking Dead.

Hitting the road with Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira), Rick (Andrew Lincoln) returns to his former sheriff's station in search of weapons to help defend the prison against the Governor's upcoming attack. However, the gun supply he finds has been completely depleted. Instead, they set off to find the weapons stashed throughout the town and stumble onto a rigged compound of sorts where Morgan (Lennie James) has secluded himself from the rest of the world. As it turns out, the man who saved his life in the series premiere. The man he finds, however, is a shell of his former self having lost his son, Duane, after his zombie wife he was unable to kill turned him.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producer Robert Kirkman, on whose comics the AMC zombie drama is based, to break down what the Morgan exchange means for Rick and how his old friend may play a role in the upcoming battle with the Governor (David Morrissey).

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THR: Morgan's back! Why bring him back now?
With everything going on with the prison and Woodbury, it made sense. This was the time that it made story sense for Rick to take that trip up to that place where he knew there were more guns -- to that police station. We always wanted to bring Morgan back and there were a lot of pitches on the table that got brushed aside for other story lines. Taking a break out of Woodbury conflict for an episode would make it seem that much more important when we come back to it; it’ll be a little bit fresher and a restart of that and will get people a little more engaged. We thought it would be good to take a break for an episode.

THR: How will seeing how Morgan descended into madness help Rick snap out of his grief-induced downward spiral?
Kirkman: We really wanted to frame this episode as Rick encountering this twisted mirror version of his possible future self. In Morgan, we wanted him to see, "Oh, this is the path I'm going down. This is where I'm going to end up if I keep behaving the way I'm behaving." Hopefully these are lessons that he will keep in the back of his mind during the coming conflicts with the Governor.

THR: Carl has really started becoming his own man -- questioning both Rick and Michonne, and later saying Michonne might be one of them. Will Rick heed that call?
Kirkman: Rick always pays attention to what Carl says. Seeing Carl's reaction to Michonne is definitely going to affect the way that Rick looks at Michonne. Having this adventure together is going to make them closer and will help integrate her into the group a bit more. That was always a part of Rick's plan­: Getting her off on her own­ in a way where he can observe her­, get to know her a little better and test her and see how she handles certain things. This is all something he devised to try to make sure she was right for the group and would be a good addition to his ensemble.

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THR: Rick tells Morgan about the prison and he figures out that they're raiding his armory because someone wants to take it. Could we see Morgan back at the prison?
Kirkman: It's definitely possible. Morgan is still alive; he is still out there in this world. We wanted to leave this episode open-ended as far as Morgan is concerned. Whether we'll see him soon, whether or not it'll be a while or we may never see him at all, I don't want to pin it down. That option is still available. He could pop up when you least expect him to.

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THR: Rick says Morgan isn't seeing things right and can rebound from the emotional torture. How much is he speaking about himself?
Kirkman: There's a bit of that in there. This encounter with Morgan is really going to be a big part of his healing process. Any kind of sanity he is able to reclaim, and any kind of mastery of his current predicament he's able to grab hold of -- the visions -- he's going to work himself through this. A lot of that is starting in this episode. This encounter with Morgan -- much like the encounter in the pilot -- is going to inform Rick's decisions moving forward and definitely affect his character in really dramatic ways.

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THR: Morgan says he has to "clear," what's he talking about there?
Kirkman: This is Morgan's new way of thinking. After losing wife and son, he's come to this way of thinking where the only way to survive in this world is by surviving by yourself: to clear the area around you, to clear your life of any entanglements, to divorce yourself of emotion and have a life and enjoy yourself and focus on surviving. That's going to be the exact opposite of the way Rick is trying to live; he has a group around him and he's trying to protect them, he's trying to re-establish a former life. It's putting these two opposing theories on display in a sense. That's the basis of his clearing mantra.

THR: Might Rick, Michonne and Carl use the booby-trap approach Morgan used to set up traps for the Governor?
Kirkman: They're definitely learning things from episode to episode and picking up tricks here and there, wherever they can. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if I saw some Morgan-style booby traps, at some point in the show.

THR: Morgan tells Carl to never be sorry for doing what he never could -- taking the shot. Will Rick's visit and that exchange with Carl change him from the coward he thinks he is?
Kirkman: Definitely. How that affects Morgan and how that changes him we'll have to wait and see. The more interesting aspect is how that's going to affect Carl. Having his father encourage him in that moment, that's a very real character exchange. It's something very different from what you would expect Rick to say. It's definitely something you wouldn't expect Rick to say to Carl in season two. It's a clear indicator of the evolution of these characters and it's going to add some rarefaction.

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THR: How will this affect Carl?
Kirkman: Carl will always be evolving, growing and changing. We've already seen this season that he's become a much more essential part of the group and we'll continue to see that evolution throughout this season. There are definitely some big moments coming up for Carl before the end of this season.

THR: Morgan stabbed Rick, is that something to be concerned about?
Kirkman: Moving into the coming conflict with the Governor, the last thing you'd want is your main guy to be stabbed and dealing with a knife wound­, no matter how minor. On top of that, the guy is also still unhinged. It's just one more detriment moving into this conflict that is really going to ramp-up in a big way starting in the next episode.

THR: Have we seen the last of Morgan? Is this the character addition you and Glen have been teasing or might there be another surprise coming?
Kirkman: There's always room for another surprise, but as far as Morgan's fate goes, we left him alive and it's entirely possible that we'll see him again at some point.

THR: Michonne confesses she knows Rick sees people and they share more than just the common interest in defeating the Governor and Rick turns it into a joke. Has he turned the corner?
Kirkman: That's a moment that indicates that his interaction with Morgan has really helped him to a certain extent and we are starting to see him turn the corner, which is a good sign moving into the next episode. It's the first sign of things possibly getting better. Maybe we'll see more of that, maybe he'll have a relapse; I'll never tell (laughs).

Were you happy to see Morgan return? Check out THR's interview with Lennie James to hear his thoughts about Morgan. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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