THE WALKING DEAD celebrates at PaleyFest (2011)

On Day One of the annual Paley Festival hosted by the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, “The Walking Dead” was celebrated for its freshman year break-out achievement. Not only did “The Walking Dead” become an overnight sensation when it debuted on Halloween night last Fall, it introduced the world to a zombie-apocalypse that captured the imagination of television viewers across the globe. It was therefore fitting that it should launch PaleyFest 2011 in the same sky-rocketing manner. In an auditorium filled to capacity, exuberant zombie-fans were excitedly awaiting the chance to hear from those who brought this undead series to life.

To get things rolling, a special screening of episode five “Wildfire” was re-aired to reacquaint everyone with the series that brought them all together. In that episode, the series lost two of their own and made the momentous decision to go to the CDC headquarters in hope of finding a cure. It served well to showcase each of the actors appearing at that evening’s panel and served as a vivid reminder why the show became such an immediate sensation. “The Walking Dead” is not just about killing zombies, it is about the humans who try to retain their humanity when all hope is gone.

As the pivotal, if not heart-breaking and yet hope-filled episode ended, TV Guilde’s Michael Schneider returned to the stage to introduce that evening’s panelists: creator/producer Frank Darabont, comic-book creator/producer Robert Kirkman, producer Gale Anne Hurd, and cast-members Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, Jon Bernthal, Laurie Holden, Steven Yeun, and Emma Bell. As the fans greeted them all with hearty and appreciative applause, the guests appeared overwhelmed by the thunderous reception.

Talking briefly about the genesis of the show, creator Frank Darabont shared how he had been tipped off by a clerk at the Burbank comic-shop, House of Secrets about “The Walking Dead” comic by Robert Kirkman. It was love at first sight. Darabont enthusiastically recalled, “[It responded] to something I’ve been toying with. It was sort of the perfect answer to a question that I had been asking myself . . . I was immediately drawn to the zombies on the cover, and read it that night. The next day, I started looking into obtaining the rights.” From his perspective Kirkman said, “I was happy just writing the comics, so I had the luxury of turning down stupid shit like super zombies. But when Frank approached me, he knew that it was about the humans more than the zombies. He got it.” And the rest became history as Darabont, Kirkman and Gale Ann Hurd began the process to turn the comic into a television series for AMC.

In adapting the comic into a television series, neither Darabont nor Kirkman felt that the comic had to be faithfully followed to the letter and instead use it more as a source of mythology and canon. Otherwise, they would have virtually lost all their primary characters by the end of season one! So it became a fortuitous turn of events as the series allowed for flexibility to change the storyline to continue the characters’ life expectancy.

Alas, there is a certain amount of necessity to kill primary characters to keep the stakes real and the suspense heightened; such as when they ultimately killed of Amy, in the fifth episode. Emma Bell revealed, “I had an inkling [about Amy’s death], because in the comic-book she dies.” She also thoughtfully noted, “Although they haven’t stuck to the comic-book for everything.” Such as with the character Shane, who would have died a long time ago if they had followed the comic.  Darabont explained, “What’s canon in the series versus what’s in the comic-book is what I think is supremely cool. The stuff that Robert has laid out is a fantastic pattern. It’s a great template.”

One such example is taking the survivors in the second season to a prison. As the writer/producer of one of the most famous prison stories to grace the film screen “The Shawshank Redemption,” Darabont is rueful about his perceived legacy of prison stories. He humorously said, “It’s the joke of my career now, I keep getting sent back to prison!” But he noted, “It’s such a damn good idea though isn’t it? That was a moment in the comic where I read it and went, ‘That’s too damn cool not to do.’ It’s such a great idea: ‘Oh look, safety!’ – and then cut to the worst possible place in the world.” The idea of having the remnants of the human survivors try to take shelter in a prison provides for the backdrop and launching pad for great drama. However, while the rest of the cast professed to being excited about the prison storyline, Steven Yeun is not too enthusiastic about going there. He laughingly explained, “I’m not excited about maybe shaving my head. I’m going to tell you right now — I have a really ugly head!”

Talking a bit about the casting process and how he feels about the show and his character, Andrew Lincoln admitted, “I’m still convinced I only got the gig because my son had just been born and I hadn’t slept for 12 days and I looked like I’d survived a zombie apocalypse.” However, on a more fun note, he shared, “We’re having the best, grungiest, wackiest, wildest time!” In fact, for the next season, Andrew is ready to embrace the dark-side of his role. He thought that it is important for his character that every decision costs him, yet is still rooted in humanity. Darabont added, “If we didn’t have sympathy for those that died and came back, why would we care for those still alive?”

However, because Rick Grimes has become in effect the leader of the survivors simply by virtue of his position as a former law enforcement officer, he must struggle with the spotlight of everyone questioning his authority and the decisions he makes. In addition, he has to carry the burden of any losses and bad judgment on his part. When it was noted that, in the comic-book, that Rick’s actions could be held up as an example of what not do to survive during a zombie-apocalypse, Andrew broadly smiled and said, “And yet, people still listen to him!” For Andrew, he said he is really looking forward to the significant character changes ahead. He revealed, “What I’m most excited about is to see the deterioration — to see the guy be poisoned and to start not being able to be the leader anymore and maybe make some calls that are a terrible decision.”

Adding to Andrew’s assessment about the grunge-level portrayed on the show, Sarah Wayne Callies said, “No one was going to get involved with this because, ‘Oh, I’m going to look pretty in this’.” She further noted, “The people who get involved in this, they are going to be actors — they are really going to be incredible folks,” who want to stretch their acting skills rather than worry about how good they look on screen.

For Sarah, the role has been a dream.  Her character Lori plays a pivotal role being the wife of Rick, and ex-lover of Shane who she became involved with believing her husband was dead; and thus Lori’s world hangs by a thread. Lori not only has to worry about the zombie-threat, but she also has to worry about the ticking time-bomb of what the revelation of her relationship with Shane will do once exposed.  Sarah explained it as, “The most dangerous thing that happened to Lori last season was hearing the words ‘I love you’ from Shane. What’s interesting about the context that they’ve put this love triangle into is not just a domestic – the consequences of this could be the end of my marriage . . .[and]  I think the danger of the secret that I’m holding, it involves everybody because these are our two great protectors for the whole camp, everyone of these refugees — and if I say something to either one of them that causes them to fight — that causes one of them to leave — I could not only be leaving myself unprotected but my son unprotected and everyone else around there.” Sarah also noted, “It’s hard to keep secrets in a place without walls . . . there’s no telling who else could know about it, and who might decide to tell Rick.” Once that power-keg explodes, another kind of hell will be unleashed.

Thus, in assessing the upcoming season, Sarah is uncertain how the consequences of telling her husband or not telling will ricochet or cause damaging ripple effects. Sarah further explained, “It’s no longer just a martial issue of whether her husband will be mad at her. This is also an issue of sharing something with Rick that may drive a permanent wedge between Rick and Shane, which could put everyone at risk because these two men are our best protectors.” Even Jon Bernthal, who plays Shane, warned, “[It will be] a triangle like you’ve never seen before!”

As for the comic-book’s take on where her character may be headed, Sarah confessed that she stopped reading the comic before the death of her character.  She said, “I know how badly it ends. . . I’ve seen that frame, and I think it’s emblematic of our show. You can’t pull any punches.”   In fact, for Sarah, the heightened, on-the-edge-of-your-seat drama was what drew her to the role.  She confessed, “I was attracted by the insanity of it.”  She tried to explain, “This thing kind of went one of two ways, right? You either do the version where you take a deep breath, you shoot a little girl in the face and you just go all the way there — or you just fall flat on your face and it’s something that’s an embarrassment for everybody involved. It seemed to me like to take that kind of creative risk, you’re going to have a whole group of people who are just going to pour themselves into this thing.”

Co-star Jon Bernthal, who plays Rick’s partner Shane, is only too happy that his character has not followed the path outlined in the comic.  In the comics, Shane died relatively quickly and it would have deprived Jon of the rich opportunity to flesh out his increasingly complex character.  Jon revealed, “I’m relieved. I’m glad I still have a job!” Even Darabont expressed his dismay at Shane’s early demise in the comics explaining, “I was really surprised how quickly Shane bought it.  . . Once you start fleshing these characters out . . . you really are loath to get rid of them too quickly.”  So with the character of Shane waiting to be written fresh on the page, Jon is ecstatic to see what comes next.   He enthusiastically noted, “There’s a lot more that they can squeeze of this character.”

Also teetering on the brink of the unknown, Laurie Holden shared, “I couldn’t believe the storytelling and the characters and how dark it was.” Describing the death of her character’s sister Amy and watching her turn into a zombie, Laurie said, “[Amy] was like a sick baby and I think that’s what broke Andrea’s heart even more.”  Though in real life, she thought Emma Bell portrayed the “cutest zombie ever.”   Frank Darabont also explained, “You realize [during Amy’s death] it’s such an irretrievable loss — it’s bad enough losing someone you love but what if they come back just long enough, you can look them in the eye and try to say you’re sorry for having failed them in life. . . and they couldn’t hear you [say it].”  Having survived such a horrific and personal loss, Andrea will toughen up a bit next season.  The one thing that Laurie is looking forward to, unfortunately, she could not talk about.  So she cryptically said, “I know it’s going to shake some fans up a bit. . . Andrea is going to do some stuff that’s very unexpected that you will never see in the comic-book. You’re going to go, ‘Oh my god!’”

As for what is next for Steven Yeun’s character Glenn, if the comic storyline is to be relied upon, Glenn should have a romantic interest upcoming.  As Steven explained, “Glenn doesn’t have a reason to live, which is why he’s so reckless. . . . [Thus,] once he finds something and someone to live for, that’s really going to change his character and I’m really excited to play that.”  While all the other characters have family or loved ones to worry about, Glenn has been the happy unattached bachelor.  But those carefree, somewhat stress-free days will soon be over.

Finally, despite the doom-and-gloom hovering over Emma Bell, whose character Amy was killed in the 5th episode, Emma laughingly shared, “I was just happy to be a part of it for as much as I was.”  Even producer Frank Darabont felt bad and told her, “I’m sorry, Emma.”  He then told everyone, “Every time I look at her, I feel guilty!”  He added, “Once you start fleshing these characters out and they’re brought to life by these extraordinary actors — you really are loath to get rid of them too quickly. . . . and then you second-guess every murderous decision you make, because you fall in love with the characters.”

In addition to the teasing tid-bits that the second season will take the survivors to seek refuge in a prison, that the Rick-Lori-Shane triangle will heat things up, that Lori has a big secret and that Glenn meets a lady friend, even more significant spoilers were revealed during “The Walking Dead” panel.

For fans curious about where the series will pick-up, Darabont said, “I think that’s where we’re going to start: [with everyone staring back at the blown-up CDC center and asking,] ‘Darn it, what do we do now?’” He is intrigued by the idea of the characters’ reactions to the helplessness of their situation.  Their one last shot at survival snatched away.  Thus, he explained, “I want to see them still in the reactive phase of this heated and intense thing that happened.”

In addition, Darabont confessed that while the detour to the CDC center was his idea and not part of the comic-book story, he revealed that now the storyline will “veer back onto the path that Robert [Kirkman] has established.”  Though he noted that he does not feel constrained to follow the comic-book exclusively, noting, “We don’t want to limit ourselves in the just box of making the comic-book fans happy. We’re making a show for everybody.”   A move that Kirkman has been a huge advocate as he loves seeing the world he created expanded in ways he never anticipated.   So as Darabont shared, “Next season is an open road, it can go anywhere.”

The one thing that will not be addressed is how the zombie-apocalypse began.  As the comic creator, Kirkman explained, “I think that the origins are less interesting than how our characters deal with what’s going on . .  . in the comic-book series I have vowed never to explain [it] and the fanbase seems to have accepted that.” Darabont added, “We nibbled around the edges, but there are no real answers.”  So for fans looking to find out how it all began, don’t hold your breath.

Despite not wanting to tell the origin story, Darabont was quick to reassure fans that whatever Jenner whispered into Rick’s ear in the final episode of the first season will not remain a secret forever.   That is one secret that will be revealed.  Darabont cheekily said, “We’re not like other shows. . . the ‘truth is not out there.’”   The audience roared over this gentle jab at one of the more notorious science fiction series to not answer its bigger mysteries, “The X-Files.”

Having a flexible mind-set has also allowed the cast to approach the writers and express their interest in what they would like to see or not see as the series unfolds.  For Sarah, she was interested to explore some of the other life threatening implications of the world being shot-to-hell and not having the resources that we have all come to depend upon.  She wanted to explore, “What are the consequences when there’s no Theraflu? . . . there’s no pain medication, there’s no doctor, there’s no prenatal vitamins?” In a whopping spoiler, she also revealed, “I’m really interested to see the way Lori navigates this pregnancy knowing that this is a renaissance pregnancy.”  Apparently, in the second season, Lori discovers she is pregnant and the issue of paternity becomes a central explosive problem.

This prompted Andrew to teasingly note, “I want to hear about a certain small indiscretion,” and Sarah good-humoredly snapped back, “I want not to have that conversation!” She also mischievously added, “The humans are getting to be more dangerous than zombies!”

In addition to Sarah’s unexpected pregnancy, there will also be an appearance by the notorious character The Governor, which Darabont quickly stated was not going to be Merle Dixon, the character who lost his hand early in season one.  He thought it was too obvious a choice.  Though Kirkman noted, “It doesn’t make Merle any less important a character to have him not be The Governor.”

As for whether Rick will also lose a limb this next season, Andrew was quick to point out that he is not looking forward to portraying that storyline anytime soon – despite the fact that fans thought it was cool because it meant that no one was safe.  Andrew explained, “It was great to show the extremity of the situation, but I think we’ve shown that already. I’m not sure that it’s an essential part yet.”

In the end, Darabont summed it up as,  “We don’t want to limit ourselves. We don’t want to put ourselves in just the box of making the comic-book fans happy. We’re making a show for everybody.” He also revealed, “I love all of the new stuff and the more of that stuff we can do, the better, because it keeps people guessing.”

So with so many mind-boggling and jaw-dropping stories upcoming in the second season, “The Walking Dead” promises to dazzle and delight us all again when it returns later this Fall.

Where to find this article: http://nicegirlstv.com/2011/03/13/a-bunch-of-zombies-walk-into-paley-fest/


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