It's been six years since gripping zombie apocalypse drama The Walking Dead lurched its way onto our screens, and since then the AMC series has become the most-watched cable show in TV history. The seventh season is set to premiere this fall, following a dramatic season 6 finale cliffhanger that has kept fans talking all summer, and the second season of spinoff/prequel series Fear the Walking Dead is set to return this week with its midseason premiere.
Robert Kirkman, co-creator of The Walking Dead comic books and executive producer on both of the Walking Dead shows, has been keeping busy since the franchise's breakout success. This year saw the debut of Outcast on Cinemax, a supernatural horror series created by Kirkman and based on his ongoing comic book series of the same name, which stars Patrick Fugit as a man whose life has been wrecked by demonic possession.
Doing press and panels for three TV shows (not to mention various comic books) kept Kirkman pretty busy at San Diego Comic-Con last month, but Screen Rant got a chance to speak to him about his current projects - in particular, about what fans can expect to see in The Walking Dead season 7.
Screen Rant: How has it been, promoting three different shows at Comic-Con?
RK: It might be my last Comic-Con of doing this much stuff... We’ll see. It’s a lot of fun. It’s cool to be with a different cast and doing the interviews. Now I get to do things twice, so that’s kinda fun. But yeah, I enjoy it. It’s always fun to be able to go to Comic-Con and talk to people about the shows and get that one-on-one reaction and see what people are thinking. I think it’s neat.
SR: Can you give us any hints about what to expect in The Walking Dead season 7?
RK: There’s a lot of really great stuff coming. I love that people have been focusing so much on this cliffhanger because it has distracted them from analyzing what happened in the books around that time, and what is possibly coming in the seventh season. It’s pretty great. I mean, Negan has been introduced. He’s going to be this ever-present threat in the show from now on. This amazing 12 minutes that we got in season 6 is going to be nearly every episode now for a while moving forward. We’re going to be expanding the world at the same time. So we’re going to have this huge catalyst, these saviors, this Negan guy walking around doing all kinds of horrible stuff. At the same time, we’re going to be introducing a lot of new characters. We just revealed yesterday that we’re introducing Ezekiel…
SR: And the tiger…
RK: And the tiger named Shiva, which is going to be changing the game in a big way. This is really just kinda kicking things off in a huge way. This is almost like a second season 1. It’s like a new chapter in The Walking Dead. So I think we’re turning the page, so to speak, and setting the stage for what’s going to become for many, many seasons.
SR: There a number of human factions now: Alexandria, Hilltop, The Kingdom and The Saviors. Where will the walkers fit in, going forward?
RK: They are there. And they are going to be used in more interesting ways. Greg Nicotero and his team at K&B have come up with some really amazing advances in how they are dealing with this stuff. So there’s going to be some really cool new zombies. And we’re going to go in a different direction for that stuff, too.
SR: How does the experience of working on Outcast compare to The Walking Dead? Would you say the shows are quite similar in tone or are they very different?
RK: I think they are very different. I think that everything is so extroverted when it comes to Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. There’s a lot of run and gun, like the whole world is against them. Everything is so much more personal in Outcast, and it’s more subdued, and it’s much more under the surface. There’s a creeping dread that is behind every door and on the other side of every wall in Outcast that I think makes it an ever-present threat. But it’s such a different show with a different kind of tenor and a different kind of pace that I think offers a somewhat similar experience because it’s a horror show and there’s some cool character stuff and it’s great and everything. But it’s also really unique.
SR: Adam Wingard directed the pilot episode of Outcast. Did you know about the Blair Witch thing?
RK: I did. I did, because I got to…Well, he told me on set that he was doing a Blair Witch thing. But then he was like, “Ah, I can’t tell anybody. It’s a big secret.” And so, I kept his secret. I’m always good at keeping secrets until they’re out. And then I actually got to see it…
SR: Oh, last night?
RK: Geez, no. A long time ago. I saw it in February, I think. Maybe January, something like that. They had a screening at Lionsgate that Adam invited me to. It was awesome because people… I imagine that’s what they do here at Comic-Con. People came to the screening not knowing that it was a Blair Witch movie… You know, I knew because they told me. But other people in the theater had no clue.
SR: Did people realize in stages as the movie went on?
RK: It’s like minute 15 or so before you start hearing the words, like, Blair Witch. And we saw an earlier cut of it. I don’t think anything changed. There were just a few effects things and things like that that were getting polished. But it’s a phenomenal movie. People should be really excited. Adam is… Let me see if I can put this the best way. He is far too talented a director to be doing a Blair Witch sequel, and it shows, because it is an amazing, amazing thrill ride that is better than it has any right to be. I mean I loved the first Blair Witch. It’s great. But [the sequel is] a fantastic movie... There’s a lot of new stuff added to the movie and to the world of Blair Witch... A lot of great twists along the way. I couldn’t recommend the movie enough.
SR: Awesome. To bring it back to The Walking Dead, I think they’ve confirmed that Rick isn’t going to die...
RK: I’ve confirmed it. Sure.
SR: OK, good. So he’s the one character that’s safe to ask about. Rick’s had an interesting journey. He was a cop and then time went on and he was massacring people in a church. So he’s had a bit of a character arc. Can you tell us what is going to change for him in the upcoming season?
RK: I think he’s just kind of thrown off his game. Seasons 1 through 6 are kind of Rick’s journey to knowing how to handle this world. Every season has been an advance of his confidence and the advance on his capabilities to the point where, in Season 6, he’s like, “Yeah, Negan and The Saviors, whatever. We’re take care of them. We took care of Gareth and his group, and we took care of The Governor and his group. And we know how to handle this. We’re capable of doing it. We just took over Alexandria and we’re saving all these poor yokels that have no idea what they’re doing. We’re the s***. We can handle anything.” That’s the arc that he’s been on.
Negan’s introduction and the confrontation that they have now with The Saviors has just stripped all of that away. To a certain extent, we’re not necessarily back to season 1 Rick Grimes, but this is a character that has a lot of new discovery to do and a lot of new work. He’s got to figure out how to live in this world because Negan and his group have changed the world that they inhabit. So again, a lot of new beginnings.
SR: I imagine no matter who gets batted, it’s going to be… Is Rick going to lose confidence? Or is he going to realize that he has to step up his game…?
RK: I think we saw him lose confidence in the finale to season 6. I mean to see him shuttering and shaking and so horrified and completely helpless, I mean that’s what we’re going to deal with in season 7. Who is this new Rick Grimes? How is he going to be able to manage this? That’s something that Andrew Lincoln is getting to play, getting to break some new ground within that character that he’s very excited about, and it’s something that that guy… You know, he’s one of the best actors working in the business today. That’s the thing that people should be talking about. He’s an absolute phenomenon. Seeing him hone his craft on set is just an absolute wonder to behold. And he’s got a lot of great stuff coming this season that he’s going to play extremely well.
SR: Is the tiger real?
RK: The tiger is definitely not real. It’s very important to us. It’s gotten to a point where everyone recognizes that it’s inhumane to have a tiger on set living in a cage and being trained to perform in a certain way. Take to take, that can be very stressful on the animal.
SR: And you don’t want to lose any actors for real.
RK: Yeah. Honestly, I don’t want to get attacked by a real tiger on set. That’s the main reason for me. All this ‘save the animals’ hoo-ha is not, in any way, as important to me as not getting eaten by a tiger. So no, it's... We have an animatronic stand-in that we’re working with that K&B built that’s very cool. There are some aspects of that that are being used. It’s a lot of CGI.
SR: It looked pretty great in the trailer.
RK: Oh yeah, it looks amazing.
Fear the Walking Dead returns August 21 on AMC. The Walking Dead season 7 premieres October 23. Outcast season 2 is expected to air in 2017.