Sharing his beloved characters with a room of other writers
Robert Kirkman created "The Walking Dead" comics that inspired the hit AMC series, but that doesn't mean he gets the last word on what happens to the characters on the show. In fact, he doesn't want it.
Kirkman said he's happy to let the show's writers — led by Glen Mazzara — dramatically alter the TV fates of his characters, even changing who lives and who dies.
"I would be the most arrogant person in the world if I thought that something I wrote 10 years ago was absolutely better than anything a room of eight people on top of their game could come up with. That's just absurd," he told TheWrap.
He spoke to us at an especially busy time: His newest comic, "Thief of Thieves," is hitting stores, he and his Image Comics partners host the first-ever Image Expo fan convention this month, and "The Walking Dead" returns for the second half of its second season on Sunday.
He talked to us about giving up control, when we'll meet comics villain "The Governor" on the show, and which MIA character will be back.
If you had to use only one word to describe the last six episodes of season two, what would it be?
I would say, "intense."
That's always a good thing on this show.
Yeah, if you think there's tension at the end of this first episode back … that's nothing. It just keeps getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and worse and worse from there. Our finale this year is unbelievable. Every episode ramps up until we get to the very end.
Will we see the Governor this season?
I can't [answer] that. But I can say that the Governor is a very popular character, and everybody working on the show is dying to get him in the show as soon as possible. And he will definitely appear in the show at some point. But whether or not it will be this season or next season or the season after that, I can't really say. And I do apologize for that.
In season one, Merle was left handcuffed to a rooftop with walkers closing in, and cut off his hand to escape. Then we saw him in an apparent hallucination. Will we see Merle again?
Oh, absolutely. Michael Rooker [who plays Merle] really came in on the first season and just was absolutely amazing, and really helped sell the show. I think his presence on the show was essential. And so we got him back briefly a few episodes ago, and we'll definitely get him back at some point. Again, I wouldn't want to spoil anything. But we can't do without our Rooker for long.
It's pretty rare in a TV adaptation for the person who wrote the source material to work on the adaptation as well. Does it frustrate you when another writer suggests changes to the story and the characters you've created?
Well, I think it's really a matter of personality when it gets down to it. I don't think everyone could be in a writer's room adopting their own material. But I don't really put my own work on a pedestal. In fact, I kind of tear my work apart.
When I think back on it and look over it, I see like, "Oh, I could have done this better," and "Oh, I would have never done that now." I'm very much of a nature that anything can be improved. And so to me, when I'm in the writer's room, and they start saying, "Well, you know, should we adapt this from the comic?" and then an entire room of people start going, "Well, this should have been like this. And this could have done this. And maybe this would have happened instead and that would have been better …" It's very easy to be hurt by that. Like, "Oh, they're tearing apart my story."
I don't really look it that way. I think it's kind of cool. When things do stand the test of the writer's room and actually make it into the show, I think it's that much more rewarding when something I did in a comic book seven years ago appears to be bulletproof, and it goes through that process, and makes it into the show.
So you're willing to lose an argument in the writer's room?
Do you have an example of something that we've already seen on the show that was changed, that someone suggested be changed from the comics?
There's a lot of stuff with Hershel and the farm in season two. There were various things that I did, the way I told the story with the zombies inside the barn (in the comics) … I sometimes mow over the story pretty quickly. So that story happened and was wrapped up a lot faster in the comic book than it was in the show. And I think in the show, we took a little bit more time with it and dug a little deeper into Hershel's personality before we did that barn reveal.
And so, I think that in the show, when everybody comes out of the barn, it's much more emotional. And then Sophia comes out of the barn as well, which is not something that I've ever done in the comics. Sophia is actually still alive in the timeline of the comic book. So it's little things like that where things are adjusted, but it gives it more of an emotional punch, which is kind of cool.
Some fans have read all the comics and watch the show, but some fans of the show haven't read the comics because they don't want to spoil storylines … what would you advise them to do?
I would beg someone to go ahead and read them, but I'm certainly biased when it comes to that. But I will say that in my opinion, seeing the comic book and the show, and being intimately involved with both of them, I think that if you are reading both, there's an added level of enjoyment … from knowing what happened in the comic, and seeing how we've adapted it in the show. There are constantly things that I'm doing where I'm aware of the perception of someone who's familiar with the comic, and we write things in the show to play with their expectations.
I think there's a very cool thing coming up in the episode that's airing this week ("Nebraska"), where, if you read the comic book, the scene at the end of this episode is going to play completely different than if you hadn't read the comic. And you're going to think it's going to go one way based on how the comic book went, but it's going to go a completely different way.
(Editor's note: Check back at TheWrap on Monday for more detail on the scene Kirkman is referencing).
Did you know, before you started working on season two, that the season would be split into two parts?
Yeah, absolutely. AMC came to us and let us know they were going to try and do [that], so we knew that the seventh episode was going to have to have some kind of an emotional punch to carry the viewership over the hiatus.
You were okay with it then, creatively, to have to split up the action like that?
Yeah, it's fun for me. Some people have complained about it. But I like it in that our first season was six episodes and then we came back with seven episodes. But you don't have to wait until the next October for more episodes; you just have to wait until February. And then that will hopefully ease the burden of waiting from late March all the way over to October [for season three].
That's not that long of a break. So I think it will spread the show out over the year, and it will be in people's homes more regularly, which I think is kind of cool. Also, anytime you can write to a natural break and have a cliffhanger or something like that, I think it's a cool thing. I like those kinds of storytelling devices. I actually think the hiatus is kind of a cool thing.
This is a big year for "The Walking Dead," with the 100th issue of the comic being released. Could that happen at the Image Expo in Oakland?
No, "The Walking Dead" 100 doesn't come out until Comic Con in July. We have a lot of cool stuff coming up for the Image Expo, though, the last weekend of February. There's going to be a big Image Comic celebration, and we also have Steven Yeun [who plays Glen] coming out, and we're going to do a panel with Chris Hardwick, who hosts "The Talking Dead," at the show.
And this is the first ever Image Expo?
That's right. We're celebrating the 20th anniversary of the company. So it's going to be a big deal. All the creators of the various Image Comics are going to be in town. All have all kinds of autograph signings. And actually, the first 5,000 people through the door are going to get an exclusive, limited edition "Walking Dead" comic for free. We'll be debuting a "Walking Dead" watch (Kirkman is signing the watch packages in the photo to the right) that we're producing in conjunction Vannen, which is a really cool watch company. And that will be debuting at the Image Expo. It's a limited edition thing.
It's awesome. Conventions are an amazing experience. It's not really customary for movies and television shows to have various conventions across the country where people can actually come out to a convention hall and meet the people that make the entertainment that they love. And I really love that that's a thing that comics do on a regular basis. If you read comics, there's going to be a convention somewhat close to you at some point. You can actually drive out and meet some of the people that do those things. It's a really cool experience to be able to shake a guy's hand and say, "Hey, I really like that book," or "Hey, that book really sucks. I wish you'd stop."
It's always interesting to know what TV shows people making good TV shows are watching, so what's on your must-see list?
I'm a huge fan of "Sons of Anarchy." I really like "Homeland." And "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." I love "Breaking Bad." I'm very excited for the return of "Mad Men." And I watch every season of "Survivor."
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