As BUZZ shakes hands Gale Anne Hurd and Michael Cudlitz, the legendary producer of The Walking Dead and films such as The Terminator and Aliens cracks a joke about how she’d get swamped if there were a zombie apocalypse. She’s very wee, y’see. We use the word “wee” with cheesy abandon as we’re interviewing Hurd and the very not-so Cudlitz (Abraham on the show) at the Edinburgh International TV festival.
The irony is, no matter how “wee” she might be, our money would still be on the producer rather than the zombies. Gale Anne Hurd, may joke about her size, but there’s a formidable and forthright energy about her. With the plain-speaking and broad-chested Cudlitz seated beside her, the experience of interviewing them is somewhat akin to an audience with the Cosa Nostra. There are plenty of laughs, but you wouldn’t want to really anger them…
They’re here for a panel later in the afternoon, but BUZZ has been granted a few minutes to interview them beforehand. Gulp.
We’re not even going to address the elephant in the room. People are so obsessed with “who does Negan kill?” in the resolution to that cliffhanger that nobody seems to be talking about the rest of season seven. So what does happen beyond that?
GAH: “If you’re a fan of the comic book you’re very aware of how much Negan is as a gamechanger. When he is introduced, the world, which has so much revolved around Rick and Rick’s choices – whether he wanted to abdicate responsibility and become a farmer, and be a really good role model for his son – that’s all changed down. We have to recall that part of this change is because of a choice that Rick made and talked everybody into, which is going and attacking the Saviors’ compound and that decision is going to come home to roost.”
MC: “You started out by saying that people aren’t talking about what’s beyond the resolution of that cliffhanger, but the thing is, it’s such a huge event there is no talking about what’s beyond. Depending on who it is – or isn’t – is going to effect everything going forward. That one moment that we haven’t seen yet is going massively change the direction of the show. And as no one knows who that is yet, nobody knows how to speculate.”
Season six used a lot of storytelling gimmicks – flashbacks, delayed reveals, non-linear plotting – which drew a lot of attention. Will season seven continue in that vein?
GAH: “We don’t approach it that way. If you look at the way you do and analyse it, that’s your job. But as storytellers we say, ‘Okay, what are the most compelling, character-driven stories we can tell?’
“Let’s take one thing as an example: Glen and the dumpster. Everyone was saying, ‘Why didn’t you just deal with that in the very next episode?’ But the truth is this is a world where there is no social media, no communication whatsoever unless somebody tells you something in person. So that is what would happen in their world. Maggie and the rest would not know what has happened. And yes, it’s painful dammit. We’re all used to getting information right away. And this was really a way to drive home to the audience, your world is not the world these characters are living in. They’re living in a world where they will not find out immediately. And it is painful. It is frustrating. And all of us went through this together.”
MC: “And we have a group of people – 20 regulars now – all with their own needs and everyone is terrified that any one of them might go. To get the audience to care about that amount of people, to truly care… that’s what matters.”
Were you surprised by the somewhat extreme reaction to cliffhanger? Some people seemed to take it as a personal affront, which was odd when end-of-season cliffhangers have been a part of the TV landscape for decades.
MC: “I think it’s because our fanbase is so caring. They care so deeply. Because the social media is so active I believe they literally talk themselves into what to expect. And they talked themselves into – and convinced themselves – of two very specific things about the end of season six: one, we were going to meet Negan and two, somebody was gonna die. We didn’t tell them that. We didn’t tell them that.”
Michael, if Abraham isn’t the victim of an encounter with Lucille, how would you like to see his story continuing?
MC: “I’m very curious to see what a world would be like with Abraham and Negan together. As I was with Abraham and Tyreese because in the comics we never had a world where Abraham and Tyreese were together. And I’m really looking forward to where the relationship with Abraham and Sasha goes. All of these characters are constantly moving forward.”
Is is it difficult to play an buffoon but make him loveable at the same time?
MC: [laughs] “Loveable. Yeah, that’s hard.”
GAH: “He says what other people think. He has some of the best lines in the entire show and Michael delivers them better than anybody.”
When a show gets through as many showrunners as quickly as The Walking Dead has, normally y0u’d assume that show was in trouble. But The Walking Dead just gets more popular. Is it showrunner-proof?
GAH: “I think what people forget is that Robert Kirkman has been a constant through all of it. And it’s based on his comic book which he is still writing. So I don’t think it’s a surprise that the show has survived. He created the universe and he’s a part of every decision.”
That’s when a guy in the background starts making slicing motions with his hand. We assume this means our audience is at an end and not that we’re about to sleep with the fishes for crossing some invisible line of questioning.
Later at the Edinburgh TV Festival panel Hurd also addresses a question about the ending of the show from the audience.
GAH: “The graphic novels are still ahead of us. Quite a way ahead of us. Thankfully it doesn’t take Robert Kirkman as long to write a 30 page comic as it does George RR Martin to create his amazing worlds. At this point Robert has no intention of ending The Walking Dead. So at this point as long as the fans want the show we hope to keep on making it.
But what if Kirkman stopped making the comic? Who controls the franchise now?
GAH: “It think it would be a mutual agreement. I don’t think anybody’s going to say to Robert Kirkman we’re going to keep going even though you don’t want us to.”