Robert Kirkman on ‘The Walking Dead,’ Glenn’s Story and the Arrival of Negan (Published 2015) (2023)


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By Jeremy Egner

Spoilers follow for Sunday’s episode of “The Walking Dead.”

“The Walking Dead” wrapped up the first half of Season 6 on Sunday as the walker swarm introduced in the season premiere overran Alexandria, seeming to end the site’s promise as a long-term home for the show’s survivors.

Or did it? On Monday Robert Kirkman, the great and powerful Oz of the “Walking Dead” universe, suggested that all might not be lost within the colony, even though it’s currently filled with zombies. The invasion and its consequences — including the death of Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh), the colony boss — wrapped up a half-season that unfolded mostly over the course of two very busy, bloody days. And that was before the series made its first mention of Negan, a major villain in the comics, in an interstitial during “Into the Badlands.”

“There was just a lot of story to tell in a short amount of time,” Mr. Kirkman said in an interview. “In the next half of the season we change things up quite a bit. A lot more time passes.”

Mr. Kirkman created the world of “The Walking Dead” with the artist Tony Moore in the comic urtext, which made its debut in 2003. There have now been 148 issues and Mr. Kirkman still writes them all (Charles Adlard has been the artist since Issue 7). As an executive producer on the series, Mr. Kirkman also helps to shape story lines that both remain faithful to and diverge from his original “road map.”

“There are certain scenes in the comic book that are the core of what makes ‘The Walking Dead’ ‘The Walking Dead,’ so those scenes will get adapted directly,” he said. “The connective tissue between those scenes is very malleable.”

Mr. Kirkman on Monday afternoon discussed Glenn’s controversial non-death, the future of Alexandria and the coming arrival of Negan. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

The half-seasons on “The Walking Dead” tend to focus on contained arcs and specific themes. What was the first half of Season 6 about?

Our main focus was the Alexandrians and just how different their existence has been to Rick’s existence. I would say the theme has been finding strength, whether it be Sam or Spencer or Deanna, or even Rick trying to find the strength to have his humanity come back.

Is Alexandria done?

I hate to spoil things and try to avoid that, but many characters in this midseason finale did remark on the fact that while things look dire, they can stay in the houses and rebuild. Everyone was very optimistic about the fact that this place is so valuable, it would be foolish to give it up, even though it’s currently in disarray. Deanna’s plans for Alexandria are kind of her legacy, and rebuilding and honoring her legacy is something other characters are going to be invested in. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they stay in Alexandria for a good long while.

The most discussed part of the season was the mystery over whether Glenn had or had not been killed in Episode 3. He’s still with us — why was the show so tricky about his fate?

It was a great way to pull the audience into the show in a new, different way. The audience is so invested in these characters and whether they live or die. By leaving his death as a big unknown, you put the audience in the same position as Rick, as Maggie, as all of the other characters who don’t know whether Glenn is alive or dead.


Having the characters in the show and the audience in the same place was a really interesting experiment that did turn out really well.

The show’s stakes are life or death at all times. Did you worry at all that it would diminish the power of that if it becomes life or death, or we’ll tell you in a few weeks?

I did see some people saying, “Oh Glenn’s not dead, I guess you guys aren’t killing characters anymore.” But I know what’s coming so that’s not a concern of mine. If people think we’re pulling back or softening in any way, we’ll just catch them off guard, so that’s awesome.

Was there anything about the reaction that was surprising?

No, not really. We knew it would be a big deal. We knew people would be upset, but we didn’t do it because we wanted people to be upset. We wanted them to be invested and engaged and feel something, but we knew it would be a pretty big reaction. Steven Yeun is an amazing actor, and he’s immensely popular. It couldn’t have worked out better because it did remind us and prove to us just how invested people are in these characters. That’s our job. That’s what we’re trying to do.

If you don’t mind comic book spoilers, scroll to the bottom for more about Glenn.

What can you say about the second half of Season 6?

Nothing! No, I think we’ve revealed a tremendous amount of what’s coming. We’re definitely going to have to wrap up this monumental attack on Alexandria. That’s going to be the focus when we come back. We’ll pick up moments after Sam is asking for his mother and we’ll see what the consequences are of that. The Saviors and Negan are on the horizon. While it is possible that there will be some rebuilding of Alexandria, there’s this huge threat that Daryl and Abraham and Sasha are dealing with that’s going to be a big part of the back half of this season. This character Negan, whose name was mentioned last night is a huge threat — he’s a huge part of the comic book and he’s going to be introduced into the show very soon. I won’t say when. That’s going to change things in a really radical and terrifying way, so we’ve got that to look forward to.

You said on “Talking Dead” that this part of the story rejuvenated your interest in the story —

It didn’t rejuvenate my interest. My interest never wanes but I’m always trying to second-guess the audience’s interest. “The Walking Dead” has never waned in popularity; I’m very fortunate that hasn’t happened. But I’m always trying to anticipate when that could happen. Negan came in and really shook things up and really changed things in ways that kept the story moving and kept people invested. People have to be invested for a long time or I’m not going to get to tell this ridiculously long story that has no business being this long. [Laughs.] It’s a continual effort to do that. Negan has been a huge part of that transformation for the last three or four years.

That said, there are constants and cycles: A place seems good and safe but then a menace arises that they have to fight. So how do you mix it up? Just by adding bigger and badder villains?

Each villain does get bigger, in a sense. But that’s a natural byproduct of the fact that the longer people survive in this world, the more dangerous they have to be in order to survive. So if you encounter somebody that’s been in this world for a year, like the Governor, he’s going to be a pretty dangerous guy who’s done a lot to survive. But if you find somebody who’s been living in this world for three or four years or however long Negan has survived, they’re going to be that much more adapted to this world, and that much more savage and dangerous.

As this world continues to evolve, the overall threat of the world continues to evolve. We started out the show and the comic with people in the woods fighting zombies. Then it was people in the woods fighting people. Then it was people in the woods fighting groups of people. Now it’s massive groups of zombies. It’s continuing to expand the world and expand the threats. The characters are starting to encompass a larger portion of the world — they’ve got Alexandria now as opposed to a camp or a walled-in prison. Deanna’s plans are a big part of that. We’ll see them inhabiting a larger part of the world.

Spoilers from the comic books follow. Proceed no further if you want to remain unsullied.

Can I share my Glenn conspiracy theory?

Please do.

In the comic books his death is a landmark event and comes shortly after the group meets Negan, who will arrive in the second half of the season. So I wondered if you did this is-he-or-isn’t-he experiment as a way to focus-group fan reaction to his death before committing to killing him off on the show the same way you did in the comic books.

You’re incorrect! Look, we know that all of these characters are beloved and the thing is, the writers and producers love the characters as much as the audience does. That’s why the show works. As much as I joke in interviews, we’re never offing characters in a callous way or having fun when we’re doing it. We know how painful it would be for the audience to lose Glenn because that’s how painful it would be for us. We’re definitely prepared and we know what reactions are going to be just because we go through the same pain that the audience does.

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