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[WARNING: This story contains major spoilers from Sunday’s “Better Angels” episode.]
“This is going to be a key moment that people will always be talking about over the life of The Walking Dead show,” that’s how comic book creator/executive producer Robert Kirkman describes Sunday’s shocking episode of the AMC drama.
To call it a game-changer for the zombie series would be to underestimate the last five minutes of the hour, in which — despite plenty of fair warning that his character wasn’t long for this world — Jon Bernthal‘s uncontrollable Shane was killed. Twice.
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And as if Rick (Andrew Lincoln) stabbing his best friend to death — marking the loss of the second major character in as many weeks and third overall this season — wasn’t enough, Carl (Chandler Riggs) killed him a second time after Shane had been turned into a zombie, delivering a dramatic shot to the head of his former father figure.
With Rick and Carl as well as Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) learning a major clue into the possible origins of how zombie apocalypse began — Is everyone infected? Is it a blood virus? Is it airborne? — The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Kirkman to discuss the episode that turned the series on its head, how Shane’s death connects with Jenner’s whisper in the Season 1 finale and that incoming herd.
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The Hollywood Reporter: Congratulations on making the worst-kept secret still incredibly shocking.
Robert Kirkman: Hopefully too many people weren’t spoiled! If my Twitter feed was any indication after Dale died, none of those spoilers reached most people. So, I feel like there are still some surprises left for most people watching the show.
THR: But it’s Shane! When did you know that this is where his storyline was going? How was that decision made?
Kirkman: We knew that he was going to die before we cast Jon Bernthal. If the first season had been 13 episodes instead of six, Shane’s story would have been told all in that first season; it would have been much like the comic book where Shane dies at the end of the first volume. But because we had that short of a season, we ended up expanding it to really be able to tell that story to its fullest. We knew from Day 1 when we sat down in the writers’ room to pull out the second season that this was going to be the season that Shane died. It was always about working toward that and building up that character and setting up this confrontation between Rick and Shane.
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THR: And what a confrontation that was: You killed Shane twice. Can you discuss the importance of having Rick stab him versus shoot him? Did he suspect what could possibly come next?
Kirkman: The stabbing was something out of necessity. We wanted it to be a really close and brutal kill. We also wanted it to be just definitive. Rick knew he was going to have to kill this guy; it wasn’t an accident and it wasn’t some kind of last-minute thing. He knew that Shane was never going to stop. He took an opening and killed him; this is clearly a murder. It was a moment where he caught Shane off-guard. That was something that was very important to us. Leading up to the shooting with Carl, let’s just say that Shane coming back as a zombie in this scene without having been bitten by a zombie after having just been stabbed by Rick is something that we connected through the Jenner whisper secret and is something that is going to be revealed in the next episode.
THR: Was the stabbing Rick’s way of disposing of Shane while also testing Jenner’s theory that everyone is already infected?
Kirkman: I don’t think he had control of the situation to that point. But it may have ended up being a happy accident. We’ll have to see.
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THR: Is Carl aware of he witnessed?
Kirkman: Carl knows that he shot zombie Shane. All he knows is that he came into a clearing, saw Rick upset and saw zombie Shane come after his dad and killed him. If he hadn’t felt responsible for Dale’s death in the episode prior and hadn’t been in a position where he could have killed a zombie to save someone and do it, he may not have had the strength to be able to gun down someone who was like a father to him in zombie form in order to protect his father. So, Dale’s death really informed that scene a great deal. All Carl really knows right now is that he was a zombie.
THR: How will Rick change now that he’s finally killed Shane? What will seeing what Carl is capable of do to their relationship?
Kirkman: This is what this world does to people. This is a guy who has now murdered his best friend and has the weight of the world on his shoulders in that Shane is no longer around and there is a large group of people back at the farm that depend on him. And as a father, to have to deal with the fact that this is the world that his son is now living in and already has blood on his hands is really going to grate on him. We’re going to see some big changes in Rick starting in the very next episode and leading into the third season. He’s going through quite a bit of a transformation and I think people are going to be surprised where we take him.
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THR: In terms of what Rick and perceivably Glenn and Daryl are going to do with the knowledge of what happens after you die, is this going to be something that we see them share with the rest of the group? I mean you’ve got this huge pack of hoarders closing in on them.
Kirkman: It looked to me like a herd is headed for the farm. I don’t believe that Rick will have time to tell them anything that he might have figured out. So, maybe they won’t find out.
THR: How does Shane’s death change the whole group dynamic?
Kirkman: That’s something that we’ll definitely deal with in the next episode back. It was upsetting to lose Jon Bernthal and not have him be a part of the show moving forward. It’s a real tribute to him as an actor and to Shane’s character in that his death is going to affect every single character in the show. Shane’s death is going to cause shockwaves that will be felt in the show in Season 3 and beyond. Where that murder takes Rick and what it causes Rick to do moving forward — the way it shapes his behavior — is definitely something that is going to end up being a large part of the foundation of this series. So while it does suck to lose him, this is a monumental event. This is going to be a key moment that people will always be talking about over the life of The Walking Dead show. It’s a big event.
THR: What does Shane’s death mean for Daryl, especially knowing that Merle is still out there?
Kirkman: There’s two different aspects of Shane’s role: the adversarial aspect and the partner aspect. Whether Daryl starts to move more toward the partner side of things or the adversary side of things is something that we’re just going to have to watch for. Rick is going to have to lean on Daryl a little bit more in order to keep his group running. Whether or not Daryl responds to that remains to be seen.
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THR: Let’s get to the herd: Is this the same pack from freeway in the October premiere?
Robert Kirkman: Our finale is going to have a very cool opening scene that will reveal what this herd is and where this herd came from and also kind of inform the audience a little bit on zombie behavior and how herds form and what they do. You’ll get answers to all that kind of stuff in the very first minutes next week.
THR: How will the herd’s arrival and knowledge of what happens after death push everyone into Season 3?
Kirkman: The show has always been more about survival than it is about finding answers. I think a long-term exploration of what the zombies are and how they work and what caused them, there’s always going to be new information that they’re going to be learning about the zombies. But on a bigger picture scale, finding out what the causes of everything is, that’s boring. I don’t think that that’s anything that these characters even have time to deal with just because they are so focused on survival. They are going to be spending much more time trying to find food than they are trying to find answers.
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THR: How important was it to find a way to stay true to the comics in Shane’s death?
Kirkman: In the writers’ room, we felt Rick was passive at times and wasn’t handling things himself. So to end this season with Carl killing Shane for Rick would have been a misstep. It was very important to us in the development of Carl as a character to have him have a hand in it. That’s how we came upon the idea of, in a sense, both of them killing Shane. What excites me about that scene is when Rick stabs Shane, even if you read the comic and you know that Shane is more than likely going to go in this scene, I always like that there’s probably been about two or three other scenes in this series thus far where you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, Shane could die right now, couldn’t he?” That knife is still as much as a shock to comic readers as anyone who’s watching the show for the first time having never read the comic.
Staying true to the comic and adapting things as closely as we can when it fits and when it feels necessary is something that’s very important to me. I talk a lot about the different changes in the show and how I like and I support them and how some are actually my suggestion. That does sometimes scare fans and they’re like, “What are they doing, he’s changing too much.” But it is something of a balancing act. When we can stick a little closer to the comics it is something I’m very supportive of. I think this is a scene that kind of straddles the line in a cool way.
What did you think of the episode? Did Shane’s death still surprise you? What do you want to see in next week’s finale? The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit
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