The people behind The Walking Dead guard information like it's gold at Fort Knox, but, to be fair, they are merely trying to preserve the viewing experience for the fans. Season 5 gave The Walking Dead fans plenty to mull over the summer hiatus, including our survivors taking over Alexandria, the brief return of crazy Rick, the fall of Terminus, Carol's deadly cooking, a surprise kiss, Morgan's magnificent return and, somehow, Father Gabriel, still alive. Answers will begin to appear when Season 6 premieres Oct. 11, 9/8C on AMC. Until then, we couldn't help ourselves in trying to pull a little bit more information out of the cast and crew at Comic-Con to see what hints we could get to hold us over until the fall.
Blastr sat down with several members of the show's team, including Andrew Lincoln, Chandler Riggs, Lennie James, Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride, Danai Gurira, Steve Yeun, Sonequa Martin-Green and Michael Cudlitz, as well as producers Scott Gimple, David Alpert, Greg Nicotero and Gale Anne Hurd, and here’s what we found out. Beware of spoilers if you're not caught up through Season 5.
1. New Themes
“Reinvention and acclimation, those are big prevailing themes of the season,” said Martin-Green. “How are you going to define it for yourself? For Sasha, it’s a period of healing and restoration, it’s a time of evaluating where I’ve been, how low I went, how I can keep moving forward. Where I was, there was only death as the next step. That journey back to life, and it’s all combined and intermingled with Alexandria, the idea of home.”
We've seen members of the group already reinvent themselves, whether it's been Glenn, Carol or Daryl. It's probably fair to say that we'll see Carl come into his own now that he has found Enid, who is someone else besides his family that he cares about. There are going to be lines drawn between those in Rick's group and the rest of the Alexandrians, and we could also see roles change and attitudes shift within Rick's group.
2. Alexandria is not Woodbury all over again
Some might think Season 6 is recycling the Woodbury setting, but the two are very different. For one thing, Woodbury was run by the Governor. One could argue that Rick is Governor-like, but he hasn’t gone off the deep end yet. The Governor had people experiment on walkers, he staged arena fights to the death with walkers, and he used them as punishment. Let’s not forget the Governor slaughtered dozens of his citizens off guard.
“Ignorance is deadly,” Hurd forewarned. “Each of our group who have come into Alexandria has a different feeling and approach to how to gauge that. Carol has infiltrated from the inside, not posing as a threat, just (to see) how dangerous are these people because of their ignorance, while Rick says to just accept that ‘we know what we’re doing’ and everyone else falls within the continuum of those characters."
Outside of a chosen few, no one goes outside Alexandria's walls unless they have to, and zombies are kept out. Also, Rick and the group did not try to make Woodbury their home, and there’s a matter of assimilation at hand. Do our survivors buy into the peaceful life of Alexandria? By the looks in the Comic-Con trailer, not likely, but everyone will have their own way of making peace with their new neighbors.
“Each character takes their own cues,” Yeun teases. “There is Rick’s group. We saw that last year when we entered Alexandria. They found people within walls that were completely weakened and who had no idea what the world was like. Last season we were trying to fortify some semblance of a life there. That includes safety.
3. Old, but modified threats
“The scope of the walkers (increases),” Hurd previewed. “One walker is fine, five they can handle, but hundreds of walkers are a threat. They are vulnerable, and when teamed up with people who have no ideas on how to defend themselves or survive when they are confronted with walkers, that threat is magnified when you have that many walkers. Unless you’re Shane (who used the naive as bait), trying to protect other people who are not competent puts you in danger."
"We’ve never seen how big (in numbers) they are. It was important not to do it with just CGI. It wasn’t that we said, 'Let’s just do everything super-sized because we’re in Season 6,' it did service the particular story. The whole season has that scope because it’s naturally gone there.”
“In the pilot, we had two days where we had 150 to 200 walkers shooting at the tank,” said Nicotero. “This season, we had 300 walkers in one day, which is the most we had ever done. The shots in the trailer, the shots of the swarm of the walkers on the road, it’s just about taking the threat of the walkers and putting them in the forefront. It’s always like, ‘It’s not really a show about zombies.’ When Scott pitched the season, he said that zombie threat is going to escalate and elevate.”
“Scott (Gimple) has one very specific thing he’s conscious of (regarding the zombies). They can’t be a Ray Harryhausen walking skeleton; they have to have some muscle. There has to be something that is motivating the movements. I said, yeah, but we can have a rib cage and just having exposed bone–you can see it in the Comic-Con trailer–we’re doing a few a few things we haven’t done before, like digital augmentation on a couple walkers.”
“(The writers) use the word 'decrepit' in the script a lot, and I’m asked to figure out what it looks like. Every season it’s a little different and we’re just pushing it a little bit more, refining more. For example, we sculpted full muscle arms and then added sagging flesh off of them as if it’s all starting to drip off. We’re removing noses and putting a cavity there, taking the area underneath the rib cage and shrinking it down, kind of Bernie Wrightson style.”
4. New threats
Who decides to drag their heels and resists Rick and Michonne’s leadership? What are the new threats of this season, both zombie and non-zombie? Every season, The Walking Dead plays with the audience’s opinion of who is more dangerous, the walkers or humans, and utilizing each as threats of varying levels.
“Ultimately, it’s the wild west, it’s chaos as the real threat,” said Yeun. “There are no rules anymore, there are limited resources and things are up for grabs. If someone chooses that there is no society because the reset button has been pushed, then how do you deal with that when someone says, ‘I want humanity, I want it to live within these walls.’ There’s so many things at play all at the same time, you’ll get to see how each character how they deal with those lines and how those lines blur and how black and white those lines are this season.”
5. The symbolism of home
Noah may not have lived to have seen it, but Alexandria does offer hope that, on some days, characters can go to sleep knowing there is a tomorrow to wake up to. Each character has their own residence now, and while it was briefly touched on in Season 5, the concept of "home" is going to be explored more in Season 6. How much safety and security does it really offer in this world? Or does it make them more vulnerable in a different way? How valuable do they become to each individual? What life do they reclaim when they can relax their shoulders and not be on high alert all the time? What things do characters hide or are able to hide behind walls and closed doors?
“When you’re fighting to survive together it creates a certain dynamic,” Martin-Green said. “Now that you can have your own identity, I think it's very interesting to see what identities get re-created. Who can I be now personally, individually, since I don’t have to be next to you fighting. What do I want to do, just for me. I can make decisions that don’t affect the group like before.”
Showrunner Scott Gimple quoted Stan Lee in saying, "With great power comes great responsibility" to describe what is on their shoulders now that they’ve asserted themselves as the authoritative figures of Alexandria. “These survivors now are incredibly seasoned, they know how to live, how to survive. Alexandria in many ways is safer with them being there. They all find out or question is, do they have a responsibility to the future with these people and this place? They’re not out there living day to day anymore. It can’t just be about survival now? This is a journey about that for a lot of the characters.”
6. Making the most of more alone time
Related to the last point, what does it mean for each of our survivors to have their own space, privacy and division from others? So much of the first five seasons have been filled with action and reaction. That makes it harder for characters to develop. One of the most compelling characters to have emerged out of the show is Melissa McBride’s Carol, who has done much more being separated from the crew and reinventing herself in the apocalypse, eventually returning to the group.
“Previously outside of Alexandria, privacy equaled death. You’re alone, you’re exposed, you’re subject to attack,” Alpert recalled. “Here, you have a moment to reflect, right? You can take a step back, be alone without being in danger. Allowing that allows you to reflect on what you’re doing and what’s changing. That gives you an opportunity to evolve as a character, that’s been an interesting dynamic to explore in Alexandria.”
Another interesting instance of isolation in Alexandria is Enid, who hops the fences and runs off into the woods to get away from the Alexandrians. However, in the Comic-Con trailer, we see her in the woods again, hiding and crying behind a sheet of metal. On the other hand, Cudlitz brought this to the table: “You’re safe unless being alone is dangerous.”
7. Morgan’s return might be more trouble than help.
We just noted how Carol’s period of solace ultimately helped the group, but the bombshell dropped at the end of Season 5 was having Morgan finally catch up to the group just as Rick was executing Pete. Outside of Rick, no one really knows or has met Morgan, who has survived much of the apocalypse on his own. He's lost his family and along the way gained warrior skills. Fans praised his return to the fold as a Season 6 regular, but he might be bumping heads with others in the group. Gurira thought back to the fan-favorite episode “Clear,” when Rick and Michonne met a crazed Morgan, who had lost all hope and sanity.
“Who is he at this point?” Gurira asked. “The guy she remembers was quite happy to stay where he was and 'clear' and create booby traps all day and night and not join people who wanted to embrace him.”
“There’s a big question to answer about Morgan both for the show and for me playing of him,” James admitted. “There’s a couple of dots to be joined that we haven’t quite got to yet that we’re exploring with. The thing that is exciting me at the moment, sometimes the most incendiary thing you can do is take a position of peace. Morgan is on one level is to stir things up by trying to take a passive position. That’s going to fly in the face of a few people’s ideas of how you survive in this present world. He’s going to offer possibly an alternative that isn’t going to land how he expects it to land.”
Could that make Morgan the show’s new moral compass? Let’s hope not, because those moral compasses have a bad track record in staying alive. James found the question difficult to answer because the notion of being the moral compass is based on what fans might read into Morgan’s actions.
“One of the things that’s brilliant about this show is that all the characters are the sum of their experience. As viewers or fans of the show, you’ve been a party to that experience. There’s very few shows or storytelling out there at the moment that are done where you see characters developed in that particular way. I don’t know about Morgan yet because I’m not finished playing him."
8. About that kiss …
The entire cast acknowledges the audience’s interest in a hoped-for romance between Rick and Michonne, but that was doused after it appears that Rick went after Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) instead. Gimple stated that they have a very intimate relationship, “They have done things for each other that are familial. The way they spoke for each other in last season’s finale, it was to represent how far they have come for each other. They met on opposite sides of the fence with her covered in zombie guts and holding powdered baby formula. She seemed crazy and he was not doing too well himself. Where that goes, who knows? I think there’s something to be said about those two characters’ journey with each other right now.”
Neither Gurira nor Lincoln wanted to commit to defining what the kiss will lead to, if anything, for the new season, but they both feel the characters earned that moment and appeared to welcome a stronger relationship, if that's where Gimple and the writers want to take them.
“I am thankful that people want Michonne wants to get some,” Gurira joked. “There’s a friendship there, a palpable true friendship that I treasure about Michonne’s connection with Rick. He really was the one who challenged her to step out of who she was being and what she was becoming after that fight with the Governor. She was becoming something quite ugly.”
“There’s a kind of jokiness, a gallows humor that they have which is a bit palpable.” Lincoln remarked. “They’re both warriors, and she’s one of the few characters who can take the piss out of Rick. She also has a great point of context. She’s the arched eyebrow, the smartass, and I love playing those scenes as well.”
Hurd reminded press that the tables were turned in Season 5. Rick began to fall back into his crazy ways, that he was going to a place that wasn’t serving him: the group, or the Alexandrians as their constable. Michonne knocked some sense into him. So both Rick and Michonne have gone through some of the deepest valleys one can travel through in this world, and they've had each other to pull them out of those holes.
“Look, there aren’t many people in the apocalypse,” Lincoln said jokingly. “So, when everyone else is dead, it’s just me and her–let’s get it on.” [Laughs]
One thing is for sure: Reedus was glad to have the usual 'ship questions go to someone else as Daryl has been linked to Carol and the late Beth. "It's fascinating how people want to put people together, couples and 'ships, 'ship wars, and the levels of hostility they throw at each other," Reedus said. "What if it was just a one-night stand, what if it was a menage-a-trois? Would the world explode? It's mind-blowing that that's such a thing, and I do it with myself, but it's usually me with everyone. [Laughs]"
9. Carol’s ascension continues
Fans of Carol will have plenty to root for in Season 6 as she continues charming the pants off of Alexandrians with her baked goods. She was terrifying in Season 5, confronting Pete and giving him a warning and ultimatum. There’s no question she will continue to weed out Alexandria’s weakest wills – and there are plenty of them. Thankfully, we will continue to see her duality, balancing her Sarah Connor act with being a neighbor from Green Acres.
“I think they’re both equal sides of the same coin, equally dangerous,” McBride said with a devilish grin. “Each one is necessary, they’re both who she is, and each one is aware of the other, it’s beautiful and complicated, but so simple. It’s a tool, the mask is one of her weapons, one of her weapons is adaptability. She’s multi-tasking. She’s got to carry that cover a little bit, and she’s still trying to find the vulnerabilities are. She’s the eyeballs for Rick."
Lincoln though, sees it different: “She’s the puppeteer, I think.”
10. Rick’s leadership comes into question again
Like any good leader, Rick's decisions are second-guessed. It wasn't that long ago when he realized that he was hurting his group more than helping, but he stepped up when he was needed, and at this point he's taking control of Alexandria. His harsh reality will not go over well at first, but it's creating a large divide that will need to be massaged throughout the season.
"I think people are quite concerned about Rick, the Alexandrians," Lincoln said, ominously. "I don’t know necessarily if he wants control. I don’t think that’s his modus operandi necessarily, but he’s in a place where he’s not willing to compromise. He does something where his leadership is questioned severely this first half of the season."
"If we had walked into the community, were taken in, and they had their sh-t together, he would just say, ‘Look, I will be the chief of police. I'll be the general.’ He'd be more than happy with that. I think that very much a theme within this season is them and us. I don't want to speak for Carol, but there are certain people that are positioning themselves as us, and they will always remain there. That's going to cause conflict within the community and maybe within the survivors, the family themselves."
Other Tidbits learned about Season 6
• Expect flashbacks to continue being used as a storytelling tool, but take notice when and why they are used. It’s usually revealing something of great importance. There will be more flashbacks than in past seasons.
• Alpert went on to tease that, if you've read the comics, there are plenty of hints as to what’s coming next.
• Kari Skogland (Vikings, The Borgias) and Michael Slovis (Breaking Bad) are two new directors to The Walking Dead who have already shot episodes in the first half of Season 6.
• Gimple understands that Andrea is still one of the most important characters in the comics and there is that vacancy on the show. He says that a lot of aspects of Andrea will be shared along a lot of characters, and not just necessarily female characters.
• Everyone is mum on Merritt Wever’s role on the show, except that it’s a fan favorite. Wever did take home an Emmy for her work as Nurse Zoey on Nurse Jackie. Once Upon a Time’s Ethan Embry is also joining the cast in Alexandria.
• To contribute to the effort of keeping storylines secret, Gimple revealed that he and the writers have written enough fake material to cast doubt: “We’ve written stuff I am super proud of, that is quality writing by the writers and myself, where I think, I’d like to see that show, and it will never see the light of day.