This was posted on Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV Talk blog on Thursday, October 20, 2016
The state of Rick's crew on "The Walking Dead" at the end of season six was comparable to that two seasons ago, when they faced death at the hands of the Terminus folks.
But Negan's Saviors are even more ruthless. I spoke with executive producer Gale Anne Hurd about this upcoming season, which returns on AMC Sunday, October 23 at 9 p.m. Hurd has been with the show - mostly shot in and around Senoia - since day one and has learned to avoid saying anything remotely spoiler like,. She gave not even a hint about who Negan offed. But we still covered some broad ground about the show, including why the producers liked Jeffery Dean Morgan, why they opted for a cliffhanger and who this Ezekiel guy is.
Here are a few notable quotes from the interview:
Who came up with the cliffhanger idea: "It was very much [showrunner] Scott Gimple wanting to celebrate Robert Kirkman's comic book in the best way possible. Many of his issues have cliffhangers. This is one where obviously there are fans who love it and those who hate it. What we didn't want was, 'Okay, we'll dispatch someone, a beloved character, and have people angry for six months,' that they've been in pain without the hope the show always promises."
Hope? What hope? "There's always hope. We'll return on the 23rd with some shocking and upsetting moments. But the overall theme of the show is one of hope for humanity."
Any dissension in the ranks? "Scott has such great reasons for the choices he makes. I trust his judgment. It was about where season seven goes. You don't just do it and move on from there. Every choice is made in context of where it's taking our characters."
The main point was... "The thing was really introducing Nagan. If you are a fan of the comic books, you know what a game changer he is. That was the focus of the final episode of season six: 'Oh my God! Things are never going to be the same.' Successfully, everyone is talking about Negan."
Casting Negan: " I have to say, when reading the comic book, Jeffrey Dean Morgan came to mind. But he's never available. He's such a well-respected actor who is always working. He was always perfect casting. We never thought we'd be able to get him. It really was perfect when he said he was a fan and wanted to do this."
What does Morgan bring to the table? "First of all, he's a larger-than-life actor. He's tall. And he's got that amazing charisma that Negan has to have. He's the most formidable villain in 'The Walking Dead comic book but he's also incredibly charming. And he's got more monologues than any other dialogue in the comic book. And Jeffrey can just do it easily. From his first day on the set, he's been an absolute joy. When casting such an important role for a character who will be around awhile, you want someone who is going to fit in with the people who have been there. He literally fits the bill across the board and you can tell he relishes it. He was one of the great blessings of this season.
Rick's crew killed Saviors in cold blood. How do we keep rooting for them? "That's the remarkable thing about the show. We're so with our characters at this point that even when they kill other people in cold blood, they're still heroes. We can justify their behavior. If you stand back and look at it from Negan's perspective or objective, they were the aggressors here. And that's part of the whole wonderful discussion of the show. Look where our characters have gotten to. We've seen characters like Glenn rebel against hits. It doesn't go with their ethos. Yet you also have people saying, 'Look, when the rules change, you have to change with them.' It's humanism vs. pragmatism. You can argue it from both sides."
Carol's departure from Rick's group: "I think she had become a person she didn't recognize coming from an abused wife background the way that she did. At what point had she crossed the line and become more like [her dead abusive husband] Ed than Carol? She was the mother protecting her child. She was capable of protecting herself as opposed to forced to kill other people. She thought in Alexandria, they could start over and get things right. But it's a world that's very unforgiving. That kind of utopia will be challenged. Everyone wants a piece of it. Those are people who take what they want. They're not people who will negotiate peacefully or fairly."
How will the Kingdom of Ezekiel, where Carol and Morgan land, be different? "Its very much inspired by the kingdom in the comic book. Obviously, there's a resident tiger Shiva. Ezekiel is a show man. In different communities we've encountered strong leaders. But they approach leadership in different ways. With King Ezekiel, we'll come to find out we're almost back in feudal times. This is very much a feudal system."
Has Morgan reverted back to killing at will? "I think Morgan has maintained his ethos of not killing other people. At the same time, as we can see, that's always being put to the test."
Keeping the cliffhanger under wraps: "After six years, we've learned it can be hard for new people who just joined the show because you can't even tell your friends and family. That's the hardest part. You come home from work, you literally have to zip your lip. You can't leave scripts lying around. Then again, we've eliminated paper. We generally read everything now on devices."
Past dead characters you wish were still around? "In terms of counsel, Hershel [played by Scott Wilson.] We saw Scott and his wife two nights ago. you never really leave 'The Walking Dead' even when you are killed off. You're always part of the family. His counsel is really missed."
The head of AMC said "The Walking Dead" franchise could last as long as "Star Trek," entering its 50th year: "We focus on one season at a time, to get it right for the fans. That's the corporate world. We're the boots on the ground. Let's focus on making sure season seven is the best season ever."
"The Walking Dead," 9 p.m. Sunday, AMC, season 7 debut starts October 23, 2016