'Fear the Walking Dead' co-creator Robert Kirkman discusses the plans for Season Two, his favorite zombie movies, his dream guest star and what he'd do in a zombie apocalypse.
AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead returns at sea, aboard the Abigail. The group is unaware of the true breadth of the apocalypse; they assume there still a chance that some city, state, or nation might be unaffected, some place where Infection has not hit. Abandoning land, Madison (Kim Dickens), Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Daniel (Rubén Blades) gather their grieving families for ports unknown. But the respite of Strand’s (Colman Domingo) ocean-side home is short-lived. They will discover that the water may be no safer than land. Creator Robert Kirkman recently sat down to talk about its upcoming second season, his dream guest star on the show, what he would do in a zombie apocalypse and more.
The first season started big, with 10 million people watching it, so what are you expecting from this second season and what is the strength of the season that is going to get the audience?
Robert Kirkman: I think we try to go from big to bigger, right? Is that usually the way we try to do things?
Has working on all these shows, The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead and Outcast, changed the way you write comic books and the narrative?
Robert Kirkman: Maybe a little bit. I like to think it’s made me better. There are certain things that you can accomplish in television because there is motion and sound that I think allows me to kind of look at stories from a different perspective than I had before. And so I think that allows me to break down scenes in different ways in comics that I wasn’t before. I try to learn as much as I can from everything that I do and I feel like – if anything, I think the main thing is working in the writer’s room. Interacting with other writers is just something that comic book writers don’t do very often. It’s invaluable. Seeing how other people think and seeing how other people break story is really kind of trial by fire – an amazing learning experience to watch how everyone else works.
Where do you think lies the success of sequels or prequels when we know that in the film industry it doesn’t always work?
Robert Kirkman: I think sequels and companion shows and things like that work and are popular because I think the general population kind of chooses the path of least resistance when it comes to picking their entertainment. If it’s something they’re familiar with or something they know, they’ll gravitate towards that. But I feel like it doesn’t work often because people aren’t offering anything new. And I think what Fear the Walking Dead does best is you have this familiar world, so people that do enjoy the world of The Walking Dead are getting something that’s somewhat familiar. Our location is so different, our cast is so different and the stories that we’re telling, especially with our second season, you’ll see we’re doing a much different. We’re really providing something that is entirely new in the construct of a cool companion show.
Are there new characters this season?
Robert Kirkman: We’ve also got that story, “Flight 462,” which has been running with episodes of Walking Dead all year and we’ve announced that a character from that series is going to somehow appear in Fear the Walking Dead this season.
The first season was kind of a slow burn. So the second season – But the second season starts with a bang so is that an answer to that? And other than the setting and the characters, what else is meant to be different from the original series?
Robert Kirkman: If you look at Walking Dead over the course of six seasons, you could easily pick a six-episode chunk that someone else could label as a slow burn. I think that when you’re setting up a new world, the same way that we’re doing and setting up characters and trying to get people invested, you can’t really just dive straight into a run-and-gun kind of story line. Now that we have set up those characters and put that time in, things will ramp up a little bit as you’ll see in the second season premiere.
But we’re always going to be taking time to delve into character and really focus on who these people are and what they’re doing and what their struggles are because that really is what the heart of The Walking Dead has always been. So like in The Walking Dead, sometimes it will go fast, sometimes it will go slow, but hopefully you’ll always be sitting there going, ‘I hope these people don’t die.’ And then sometimes they will. [Laughter]
What are the first three things you’d do if a zombie apocalypse really happened?
Robert Kirkman: I’m screwed. I’m not going to be. I just – I don’t know. Do I put my head between my knees and kiss my ass goodbye? I think that’s steps one and two. I don’t know. Then I’ll just take a nap and wait for it to happen.
Rubén and Cliff mentioned that 50% of the people that see Fear the Walking Dead never saw The Walking Dead. Are you working for the hardcore fans of The Walking Dead or the new one or both?
Robert Kirkman: We’re working for everyone, you know. We have actually talked to AMC about this and I don’t know if the number is quite 50% but there is this phenomenon where The Walking Dead has been running for six years now and people hear about that show constantly and they see news about the show constantly but the idea of sitting down and actually watching six seasons of a show becomes somewhat daunting for them. And so, when Fear the Walking Dead started, there was a large percentage of the audience that knew about The Walking Dead, but hadn’t yet invested that time and was like, ‘oh, I can try this.’ This is cool.
I think that’s a great thing for The Walking Dead brand to be able to continually be bringing in new people because if you think about that six-year gap, there are a lot of people that are coming of age in that six years and they’re now 13 and they can start watching Walking Dead, which is not the recommended age but people seem to do it. [Laughter] So yeah, I think that this show is doing a really good job of broadening that audience.
Do you think that this show can be a metaphor for the times that we are living in or can make us think about human behavior nowadays?
Robert Kirkman: It takes kind of universal problems that we’re all dealing with and kind of manifests them into this tangible kind of thing – worrying about paying your mortgage or worrying about different kinds of unrest or horrible things that are happening around the world – they’re terrifying. And watching somebody get chased by a zombie, you can, to a certain extent, go, ‘well, at least I’m not dealing with that.’ So that helps. But also, it – oddly, I think it makes this monster thing kind of relatable. You see these people’s struggles. You see these people fighting to protect their family and that’s kind of the same thing that we all deal with in our own way year in and year out. It makes this apocalyptic setting somewhat relatable.
Do you feel like a trailblazer of sorts and what do you thing about the trend with all these comic book shows on TV?
Robert Kirkman: I wouldn’t say I was a trailblazer as much as I was, like, I guess lucky enough to be one of the first. I mean Walking Dead is far from the first comic book that got turned into TV show but arguably the most successful, though, am I right? So I don’t know. I think that comics were always this wealth of amazing stories and great concepts that were just ready to be tapped. Now that television has kind of recognized the fact that, telling a continuing narrative story month-to-month in a comic book actually translates to TV exceptionally well. I think it’s just a great time to, like everything is kind of aligned in a way that’s allowed this big explosion to happen. But I’ll take credit for it. I don’t care, whatever. [Laughter]
How does it feel to be the guy that created or started this new era of zombies?
Robert Kirkman: I hesitate to take any credit for that. I mean, horror existed many, many years before Walking Dead came along and was doing quite well before Walking Dead came along. So I don’t think that, the recent resurgence into this is 100% responsible, because of The Walking Dead. But I don’t know. It’s terrifying sometimes because, now I’ve got the two shows going and, the comic book series and video games, those are the things going and it’s – sometimes it’s a little – it’s a little like, “I can’t believe this got so big.’
And if I pay attention to it, it gets to a point where you start thinking about the, hundreds of thousands of people that are going to read the words that I write in the comic that will go to the millions of people that will see it as the show and you can get trapped, worrying about that. So I try to not focus on that at all or else I would never get anything done. So, yeah, I mean, it can be unnerving at times but, my kids are fed so I can’t really complain. So it’s good.
What are some of your favorite zombie movies and are there any particular movies that inspire you when you’re making the series or writing the comic?
Robert Kirkman: Oh, I’m just going down the list. I would say, you’ve got to like Shaun of the Dead. That’s a great movie. You’ve got Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake is actually really cool. It was written by James Gunn. And, the best horror movie ever made is Day of the Dead – George Romero. Good stuff. And The Bunker, it’s really depressing, bleak. You want to take a shower when you watch that movie. Go ahead.
The Walking Dead over the last couple of seasons has had some really eclectic but large names joining the cast as the show has developed. Is that something that you guys are looking to do with Fear the Walking Dead and do you kind of have a wish list of people that you would like to appear?
Robert Kirkman: Ed O’Neill. Ed O’Neill and I don’t know. I love me some Ed O’Neill. It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen.
As a fan of both shows, I get so invested in the lead characters and never know which ones are going to die. What is the balance that you create in building somebody up with the audience and then killing them? How do you decide?
Robert Kirkman: [Laughter] I don’t know. I mean it depends – I mean when it comes to the comics, sometimes it’s a very long thought-out process of, this is going to happen and that will lead to this and when this character is taken off the table, it will change this character in these seven different ways. And then every now and then, I’ll just go, hmm, she’s just kind of a boring. [Laughter] It’s fun to have the freedom to be able to do that. Death doesn’t always come at the most convenient times or the most well-structured times and I like being able to play with that as writer, going, ‘okay, I’m going to just – I’m going to torpedo the story now.’
Sometimes I have plot lines and stuff that I’m doing for the characters and I just jettison that. It’s not quite as simple when it comes to the shows just because these pesky actors are involved and it’s like a really crappy thing to do. So we don’t do that on the shows. You have to make sure that people are invested in the characters and that’s not just so that you’re upset when they die. Although that is important because we’re not that sadistic, but you have to make a compelling show.
Every single character in the show has to be able to carry the show on their own to a certain extent. You want everyone when they’re in their scene to be the main character and you want the audience to be invested in them as though they are the main character. And I think through working that process out, you end up with some pretty heartbreaking deaths just by design. It’s really just about serving the story and making sure that at every single step of the way, you’re invested in these characters as much as you could possibly be.
Season 2 of Fear the Walking Dead premieres April 10 on AMC.