The Walking Dead season six

Exclusive: Walking Dead's EP Gale Anne Hurd defends Rick and promises season 6 is 'like the previous season put on steroids'

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Jan 25, 2016, 4:21 PM EST (Updated)

When The Walking Dead returns on Sunday with a supersized 90-minute season six premiere, you can count that the hoped for “safe zone” of Alexandria will be anything but for Rick and the survivors, executive producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens) told us in an exclusive interview with Blastr.

Last season's shocking events left us wondering about Rick's sanity and Morgan's return, and how the people of Alexandria were going to handle having Rick blow away the despicable wife beater Pete, even on the orders of their leader after he murdered one of their own.

Hurd chatted with us about season six, the volume of walkers we can expect to see, and whether or not Rick has gone off the deep end.

There were points last season where I was worried about Rick's mental state and whether he would turn into one of the villains of the show. Could he maybe even go a little Governor on us in the new season?

I don’t think that Rick is crazy. I don’t think that Rick would have done anything if Deanna hadn’t said to do it. The truth is, Rick never would have done that if Pete was a good guy. He was abusing a woman and, by the way, even if Rick didn’t have romantic feelings toward someone, he is the kind of guy who would have not let that continue to happen.

I don’t think there’s any place that’s safe any more in this new world, when even within this civilized world of Alexandria, supposedly the safe zone, you have abusive people. You have those who simply don’t have the skill set to survive and who feel that these outsiders who have taken refuge in Alexandria are not only to be feared, but to be eliminated.

It’s a world that is overpopulated with walkers and underpopulated with people, and the people who remain in most cases have to develop a skill set that makes them survivors, and often cases, predator rather than prey.

Rick is someone who knows what’s out there. He knows that the quiet calm of Alexandria he’s experienced thus far is going to be challenged at some time and probably soon and they’re really not ready. They’re really not ready to deal with that challenge. What could be the revival of civilization and humanity could simply fall to the predators, whether they’re zombie predators or humans.

What can we expect this season?

It’s epic in storytelling, the scope not only in terms of walkers, but also the number of cast members, so that we can tell a lot of really big stories that still have those intimate moments that people have come to expect from the previous seasons. It’s almost like the previous season put on steroids.

What kind of themes will we see this season?

I think that the themes are very much those we haven’t addressed as much because we now have two groups trying to coalesce into one, if that’s possible.  In this new world, it’s almost like what we’re seeing in the world today where you have so many refugees entering a country. You have different reactions to those refugees. You have some people saying yes, the United States was founded on refugees. And you have others saying nope, keep them out. We like it just the way it is, and I think that’s the theme that we’ll be seeing this season. As I said, I think it’s very relevant to what’s going on in the world today... People are dealing with floods of refugees who are coming from war-torn, poverty-stricken places, and that’s pretty much the world of The Walking Dead.

Whether to let these people into our midst who are trigger happy and what does that mean for us. Are people who are better prepared to survive in war when they come into civilization, can they put their weapons aside and can they really leave those experiences and the PTSD that comes with it behind.

Morgan's back and from the previews it looks like he might be around for at least a little while.

Yes. Lennie James is back as Morgan. We’ve seen him in the season finale and he seems to be quite a different person than he was when we left him in the episode “Clear,” when he felt essentially that his mission was not only to clear walkers, but to clear anyone in his path, even if they are theoretically a friend like Rick or a kid like Carl.

What challenges have you faced this season so far?

I think the biggest challenge is tuning out some of the noise of what people may want, whether people think we move too slowly, too quickly, and basically make sure that we stick to the characters and their arcs dictating not only each episode and the many arcs of the season and the half season. That is absolutely key, and I think, knock on wood, that has contributed to the success of the show thus far and we’re not gonna change that.

The other thing that I think is important is because we continually add new characters.  We have the best cast and crew on the planet and that’s another key thing. Going into season six of any show, and beyond, a lot of people seem to want to get out of Dodge. I’ve done this long enough and on our show, it’s hot and sweaty, there’s bugs, you name it. If we continue to keep the characters compelling, the scripts strong, our cast never wants to leave, and that’s a real credit to the writers.

No one wants to leave. The number of emails I get from people who are no longer on the show or even still on the show say this is the best job I’ve ever had in my life. And that’s what we want to maintain on top of everything else. There’s this solidarity among the cast and the crew that is remarkable and unique in the course of my career.

What other new characters will be incorporated this season?

We have Corey Hawkins, who joined the cast as Heath from the comic book. And he’s one of the people who goes out on supply runs, so he has a skill set that fits in quite well with our group since he’s been out there.

I think that people have come to expect new character introduction and it’s been a while since we introduced characters from the comic books to the extent that we have, like the character Deanna played by Tovah Feldshuh, was a male character in the comic book, so I think what’s exciting with Corey Hawkins... you’ll see that he looks very much like the character Heath from the comic book, and then we’re also adding Merritt Wever and she’s joining as well.

It looks like we'll have another split season this year. Does that make the storytelling easier for you?

What is certainly wonderful for us is by having the season broken up like this – it’s not wonderful for our fans, and as fans ourselves, it’s frustrating too – but we are able to have a season premiere and a mid-season finale, and a mid-season premiere and a season finale.  So you don’t get that very often with a series, and it enables us to tell some bigger stories, to often wrap up storylines, with many arcs, but also to pose new questions and challenges for our survivors.

Why should new and returning viewers tune in this season?

Why should they tune in?  Well, I think even if you’re just starting now, I would think there’s something in the show for everyone. There are intimate stories between the characters, set against a world in conflict, and I found that the reason that we have had new viewers is because friends and colleagues and family have twisted the arms of their friends, family and colleagues and said you have to give it a chance. Watch the first episode. You don’t like it, fine, but at least give it a shot. And it turns out that people see an episode and decide that it is worth their time.

With the world we’re facing right now, I think it’s important to think about some of the challenges that our characters face and the decisions they make, and it makes you wonder about what you would be doing if you were in their shoes.

The Walking Dead returns on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

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