'Walking Dead' Dissection: Robert Kirkman on Rick's Sanity and a Divided Group

The Walking Dead 309 Episodic Merle Daryl - H 2013
Gene Page/AMC

The Walking Dead 309 Episodic Merle Daryl - H 2013

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

The Walking Dead returned from its winter hiatus Sunday with brothers Daryl and Merle Dixon facing off in the Governor's twisted arena as he pitted the duo against one another as he sought retribution for Merle's lie about Michonne's death.

After the attack in which Glenn and Maggie were freed from the Governor's captivity in Woodbury, Rick and company struck a second time in a bid to free Daryl (and by association Merle), with Andrea finally learning that the Governor was holding her friends hostage under her nose.

Once freed, however, Rick faces a larger problem when Daryl is ready to bring Merle back to the prison and essentially forces his group's best guardian to pick between his new family and his brother. Naturally, it doesn't go the way Rick had hoped when Daryl and Merle take off -- much to Glenn's chagrin. Still fuming that Rick and company escaped Woodbury without gunning down the Governor after he and Maggie were tortured, Glenn unloads on a poor walker and questions the former sheriff's decision making.

Arriving back at the prison, Rick learns that Tyreese, his sister and their two traveling companions are seeking shelter there and are willing to help carry the weight and become useful members of the group's dwindling numbers. Rick, however, has other ideas and doesn't want to be responsible for anyone else's death and declines the offer. However, it's then -- when Hershel suggests that he reconsider -- that Rick begins to unravel again, seeing a shadow in the form of his late wife, Lori, and losing it in front of everyone.

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The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producer Robert Kirkman, on whose comics the AMC series is based, to dissect the episode: How will the group respond to Rick's outburst? What's next for Daryl and Merle? How will Andrea handle one really pissed off Governor who is, as he says, "preparing for war"?

THR: How will the group respond to seeing Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) outburst? 
Kirkman: Things are going to be somewhat more out in the open. Everyone saw that and was wondering what the heck was actually going on there. It seemed like part of the wall was making faces of him! (Laughs.) People are going to be really wary of him, moving forward and what's exactly is going on with Rick. If you see the undercurrent of this episode, you see that forces are moving in Woodbury and there's definitely a confrontation ahead and it's happening at the exact wrong time. This is a guy who's clearly going through some stuff and having a bad time with it. People are going to be unable to look at Rick as a leader at a time when they need him most.

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THR: Might Rick confide in anyone about his visions of Lori and Shane? 
Kirkman: We've seen Rick keeps things close to the vest. He may go that route here but we also know he has some confidants in Hershel (Scott Wilson). He's shouldered some burden with that guy and worked some things out with him behind the scenes.

THR: Besides Hershel, does the rest of the group agree that Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and company should stay? 
Kirkman: As Rick has said in the past, this isn't a democracy so if Rick risk is saying they have to go, they have to go. That was a clear decision being made at the end of this episode. There may be some argument here and there but he's trying to take bull by horns and make the decisions for the group. That may lead to some conflict inside the prison while there's conflict coming from outside the prison. So things could get even more dangerous and crazy.

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THR: Will Merle and Daryl's travels be addressed? How will their relationship evolve?
Kirkman: It'd be a disservice to have those guys off the table for too long. We're definitely going to follow Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Merle's (Michael Rooker) journey and see the interaction between those two. We haven't really seen very much interaction between them aside from a vision in the second season. These are characters that have changed very much while they were away from each other. Now that they're back together, they're almost two completely different people. Daryl has always been more subservient to Merle, who is more of an overbearing individual. He was clearly lost without him a bit in the first season. Now that Daryl has had time to become his own man and find himself, it's a question of whether or not he's going to wash away that progress and go back to the status quo or if he's going to use the progress to try and affect Merle.

THR: How safe is Andrea (Laurie Holden) in Woodbury? Will we see the former lawyer try to play peace-keeper between the two communities?
Kirkman: We could possibly see Andrea in that role. She has a vested interest in this impending conflict not destroying both communities or even destroying one. She still has friends in the prison and knows them better than anyone else and would try to use reason before she'd use force. She definitely has the Governor (David Morrissey) as possibly a wrench in that plan.

THR: How will Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie's (Lauren Cohan) torture at the hands of the Governor change them? Could Glenn be the threat to Rick inside the prison?
Kirkman: Glenn's evolution and change has been jumpstarted by the Governor. We've seen him already be more confrontational than we have in the past, and that's going to continue and is going to creep into his relationship with Maggie. Coming out of their encounter in Woodbury, these two have a lot to deal with. Whether or not they're going to deal with it together or allow it to drive them apart, that's what we're going to find out.

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THR: Glen Mazzara is still involved in working on post and serving as showrunner before he departs for season four. Will the tone or pace be different than what we've seen so far this season?
Kirkman: The first half of this season has been very fast paced and we're going to continue that escalation. There's some very explosive and exciting things coming up this season moving forward. That's going to continue into season four. Television is a collaborative medium. If you look at any television show, there are pieces that change from season to season but that core group -- producers, writers, everybody that's contributed to season three to make it the fan-favorite season that it's become -- the majority of those pieces are still in play and are already hard at work on making season four as great as we think it will be. I have very high hopes for this show and we'll continue to be solid moving forward.

THR: Mazzara wasn't at last week's the TV Academy panel and isn't scheduled to be at PaleyFest in March, while he's still doing The Walking Dead interviews and supporting the show on his Twitter feed. Why isn't he being included in some of these events?|
Kirkman: There's not any kind of conspiracy theory going on. Showrunning is an extremely difficult job and takes a tremendous amount of hours. Now that things have pretty much wrapped on season three, Glen is doing a lot of traveling, and he's traveling during PaleyFest. These are things he would have missed even had he still been on the show. There's no story there.

THR: Glen Mazzara told THR that his vision for season four was different from AMC. What didn't line up?
Kirkman: [Editor's note: Kirkman declined to respond.]

What did you think of the midseason premiere? Hit the comments below with your thoughts and theories. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. Check out Rick's latest hallucination, below.

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