'Walking Dead' Dissection: Glen Mazzara, Robert Kirkman on the Season 3 Premiere Shocker

The Walking Dead Hershel Greene RIck Grimes - H 2012

The Walking Dead Hershel Greene RIck Grimes - H 2012

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season three premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead and the Image comics the series is based on.]

AMC's The Walking Dead returned with an emotionally and action-packed third season premiere Sunday that found the group, evicted by walkers and fire from Hershel's farm, having survived winter and facing an epic battle for what Rick hopes will be their new home: the prison.

During the season three premiere, titled "Seed," Rick (Andrew Lincoln) leads the now well-oiled machine of a fighting group into the prison, where they're forced to rid the yard of roamers as they attempt to clear the area so they can set up shop -- but not everyone escapes the battle without injury. 

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Hershel, whom executive producers Glen Mazzara and Robert Kirkman spared from death last season, was bitten on the leg. In an attempt to prevent Hershel's transformation into a walker, a quick-thinking Rick took an ax and brutally removed the limb, knocking Hershel out. Walking Dead fanboys familiar with Kirkman's comics will recognize the plot point as having happened to Dale (RIP Jeffrey DeMunn's alter-ego) who survives -- unturned. (He'd later be bitten on the shoulder and be put down before he could turn, the same as Morgan.) Whether or not the theory will work on the AMC adaptation, however, yet to be seen.

Elsewhere, Rick remains distant from Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), who's thisclose to delivering a baby that could either belong to her husband or the late Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Carl's (Chandler Riggs) a fully fledged (and armed) member of the group -- who now recognize that the former sheriff has gotten them farther than his outspoken best friend could have.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Mazzara and Kirkman to break down what Hershel's amputation means for the group, how the gang will handle their new apparent roommates at the prison, Andrea's mysterious illness and all the events of the season three premiere.

Last season you toyed with the idea of killing Hershel. Why keep him and then do this?
Glen Mazzara:
We thought it was interesting to push into some trauma. We wanted to show what is Rick willing to do to keep Hershel alive. We know that everybody loves Hershel and now that's a problem. It's a sacrifice they've made for that prison and there are other sacrifices they'll make to keep the prison. We want to show that the prison is dangerous, worth fighting for and something that they're not willing to give up.

How will that come into play when we eventually see the Governor (David Morrissey)?
Mazzara: When they come into conflict with the Governor, the audience has to understand how important that prison is to Rick and his group. It also makes Hershel a liability and one of those dilemmas: What do you do when you have a disabled person who might not be able to keep up? What kind of pressure does that put on Hershel's character?

What was behind the decision to take his character in Dale's route from the comics?
Robert Kirkman: We really wanted to have some high stakes in the first episode. We wanted to pack a big punch and do something really cool and thought that moment would be something you wouldn't be expecting but also be something that would lead to an interesting story going forward.

How closely might Hershel's lost limb follow Dale's arc from the comics? Are you testing the theory that amputation might prevent the transition to walker?  
Kirkman: This shows how repetitious I was able to be in the comic (laughs). This is a lot more like Allen's [who fails to survive the amputation after a bite to the ankle]. I don't know that I would expect the same outcome that happened with Allen. There are elements of the comic that will come into play with the missing leg story line we're doing with Hershel but there's also some new areas we're going to explore and some unexpected twists we'll see coming up.

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Will exploring if amputation stops the transition to walker be something that's lasts throughout the season?
Kirkman: That's definitely something that we're going to be following up on. There will be a definitive answer over the course of the season, whether or not that amputation did do the trick. That's something that we'll learn.
Mazzara: Yes. We're always interested in our characters wrestling with these questions. There's nobody to call. There's no hotline they can call for information, so they have to figure it out as they go along. One of the things that we do get to is how people have different understandings of what the infection is and what's happening and how you can control it or if it can be controlled. That is something that we're interested in always exploring. As civilization tries to rebuild itself, how do you deal with this problem and how do people try to work together?

Hershel, despite being a vet has been the group's de facto doctor. How will his leg amputation affect his role in caring for Lori's pregnancy? 
Kirkman: Over the winter, Carol (Melissa McBride) has started helping Hershel in any kind of medical situation so she has a bit of medical knowledge now. That's definitely something that's going to come into play. Lori's pregnancy is a ticking time bomb: this is a big unknown and they don't really know how they're going to handle when the baby comes. Because of the time jump in the show, that baby is coming sooner than people might expect. It's going to be a big story line and definitely something that is going to put a lot of pressure on Hershel and Carol and the rest of the cast.

Speaking of Carol, she hit on Daryl (Norman Reedus). Is she just paling around with him or is there a little truth behind the joke?
Kirkman: The purpose of that scene more than anything else is to show that these two are very close friends and they are joking about this perceived romance between them but I don't think either of them look at each other in that light. They're definitely good friends and very close and it doesn't seem like anything like that is on the horizon.

Are you leaving her open to a potential romance with Tyreese, should he appear and the show follow the comics?
Kirkman: There are a lot of possibilities in the future, yes.

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Rick is increasingly distant with Lori. How will that distance impact them now that it appears they may have found a long-term place to live?
Kirkman: He cares for her in some way but the fact remains that he hasn't forgiven her for what she's done. She's still got issues with the actions he's taken. It's interesting that these are two lovers that have this tremendous history between them and are having this horrible time in their relationship and they just can't get away from each other because of their circumstances. That's something we're going to be exploring moving forward this season: whether or not they are going to be able to reconcile or if they will decide that they are going to go their separate ways and what will happen because of that. That's something to definitely keep a lookout for.

Meanwhile, Carl's grown up considerably and is now armed and helping to protect the group. Is he following in Rick or Shane's footsteps?
Kirkman: He definitely has two father figures and he's learned a lot of things from both. We have seen a lot of influence that Shane has had over him and you've seen moments where Rick has tried to give him advice. Carl is really taking everything that he can to try and learn to be a stronger person and it's really resulting in him becoming this pretty awesome child soldier who's going to be doing some remarkable things this season.

Carl has set his sights on Beth. Is that something we could potentially see this season or is he exhibiting some child-like behavior there?
Kirkman: That's our attempt to keep some things light and optimistic. The fact that Beth is the only person in any way close in age to Carl, and she's really not that close in age to Carl but that creates this awkward situation that is going to be a story with some humor we're dealing with as the season progresses. Whether or not this turns into anything serious remains to be seen but Carl definitely has a crush and that's something we're going to be exploring quite a bit this season.

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The survivors have taken the prison and have encountered a group of prisoners who want it for their own. How will Rick they handle sharing space with Axel (a character from the comics played by Lew Temple) and company?
Kirkman: That's a big thrust of what's coming up this season. These prisoners do consider this prison to be their home. Rick thought he was taking over this place and did a lot of work making it safer than it was and that's going to give him a sense of ownership over it. Right off the bat this season, we're going to see a bit of a clash. The exciting thing about that is this is a very different Rick and we will quickly see that he handles situations a lot differently than he has in the past.

Andrea doesn't look too well. With her illness, is there the potential to see how the outbreak happened or is this just the common cold and telling that story?
Kirkman: She may have just had the flu. It's important to remember that there are different things that can happen to people that did happen to people in the real world before the zombie apocalypse occurred. How would you deal with just being sick? It's also a way to show that Michonne and Andrea have bonded a great deal over the course of their time together over the winter. We're going to be seeing these two operating closely and supporting each other in a big way. Michonne protecting Andrea and caring for her while she's sick is a big part of that. It's a byproduct of being out on your own in the winter and not having good nutrition. It's not an underlying huge plot point that will deal in any way with the zombie virus.

There were so many big moments in the premiere, none major character deaths.
Mazzara: This show is not just about character deaths. It's also about moments. If you look at the season premiere, the moment with Hershel, that's a big moment. That's something that you're on the edge of your seat. You're watching that, you can't believe that that's going on. Hopefully you had that experience. So, there are also moments like that that you would just not be able to turn away from. Whether or not that involves a death, there's a lot going on. I'm glad to say that I think every episode has some moment like that.

What did you think of the season three premiere? Do you think the amputation will save Hershel? Hit the comments with your thoughts. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. Check back to THR's The Live Feed every Sunday after the episode for our Walking Dead Dissections. 

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