It’s hard to believe now, but two years ago people weren’t sure if The Walking Dead belonged on a tony network like AMC. This was, after all, the home of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, not to mention its stable of classic Hollywood films. How would some zombie show based on a (gasp!) comic book fit in?
Quite well, it turns out. The Walking Dead immediately set rating records for AMC, and fan fervor has only grown, with the Season 2 finale in March pulling in a jaw-dropping 9 million viewers. The show was also one of the biggest attractions at this summer’s Comic-Con event in San Diego — with a Major League Baseball stadium even being converted to a zombie-ridden obstacle course, and thousands lining up for hours just to get a sneak peek at what’s in store for Season 3, which premieres Oct. 14 at 9pm.
Robert Kirkman, who created the comic (which just surpassed its 100th issue) and is a writer and executive producer on the TV series, calls Season 3 “explosive,” and a “transition.”
“In the first four or five seconds, you see, ‘OK, everyone is in a very different place. This is a very different situation. These people are more capable. They’ve adapted better,’” he says. “It’s very much everything you like about The Walking Dead, but it’s new Walking Dead. This third season is going to be a transition, an escalation from what we’ve seen before.”
Still reeling from the loss of key members like Dale, Shane and little Sophia, the group is led by a now more determined Rick (Andrew Lincoln), and is still trying to establish some sort of home base. They come upon an abandoned prison and think they may have found their salvation. “It’s everything we think we wanted,” says Sarah Wayne Callies, who plays Rick’s wife, Lori. Meanwhile, Andrea (Laurie Holden) and her new katana-wielding friend Michonne (Danai Gurira) are on their own until they come under the clutches of a mysterious man known as The Governor (David Morrissey), who seems to have established his own little fiefdom in the idyllic town of Woodbury. But when The Governor gets wind of Rick’s group, and the prison, he decides he might just want to expand his empire.
Oh yeah, and Merle (Michael Rooker) is back. Last time we saw him, the racist older brother of Daryl (Norman Reedus) was left handcuffed to a pipe on an Atlanta rooftop while a horde of zombies approached. Think his return might complicate things just a little?
“This season is very much about starting over,” Lincoln tells us. “How do we redefine ourselves? How do we describe ourselves in an apocalyptic environment? Do we do it in our own image? Do we turn back the clock and begin completely again or do we try to hold on to the remnants of before? It’s interesting how each character relates to that.”
Viewers were wondering whether Rick had turned a sinister corner by last season’s end after his impassioned, sometimes sneering speech laying down the law to the group, letting them know his authority won’t be questioned. It led to some fans playfully referring to him as the “Ricktator,” a term Lincoln finds reductive and distasteful.
“I hate that,” he says. “He was processing a lot of very difficult things, and I think he was thinking on his feet, and he was sick and tired of everybody pulling at him. He was just like, ‘Either you’re with me or against me. Shut the @#$% up!’ It’s that simple. … We don’t start with this guy who’s turned into a benign dictator. I do think that’s kind of where he may be headed. That’s why it’s interesting having The Governor, because in a different situation or maybe in the same situation, that could be the place he’s heading to.”
Rick’s leadership methods aren’t the only thing in flux. His marriage to Lori is also much rockier after the events of last season. Callies calls the pair the “mom and dad” of the group, and says “that rift between the two of them has pretty major implications for everybody else.”
This plays into the third season’s theme of the survivors of the new world being more dangerous than the zombies.
“These people have been on the run long enough, the world has fallen apart for long enough that our resources are running scarce,” Callies says. “The biggest threat, before you necessarily get to the walkers, who gets the food? Who gets the ammunition? Who gets the water? Who gets the safety? It’s about those decisions among the living. Who deserves to survive, and who deserves to get cast out?”
Photo: Credit: Frank Ockenfels/AMC