When "The Walking Dead" ended its third year on AMC, the community of Woodbury had just disintegrated, Andrea had met her end, and Rick was slowly learning to adjust to his role as the father of newborn daughter. During Comic-Con International in San Diego, stars Andrew Lincoln and Chad Coleman, along with executive producers Gale Anne Hurd and David Alpert, spoke with the press about where the series left things at the end of Season 3 and the many changes the characters face once Season 4 kicks off in October.
With many of the Woodbury's surviving citizens now huddled at the prison, Coleman said it will be a struggle for Tyreese to settle in. "The prison is claustrophobic and he's trying find his way in the new community; find his footing and what his real role is in juxtaposition to what's been established," the actor explained. "He's always confronting the gross violence and trying to hang onto this humane way of dealing with it, but the walls are closing in."
"You find out so much more in these first five episodes about Tyreese," Lincoln said of the fan-favorite character. More light will also be shed on Sasha, Carol and other survivors as the action of last season gives way to a not-quite-as-hectic pace. But while less emphasis will be placed on action, Lincoln said the series' signature tension will remain intact. "Something happens [in the story] that Scott [Gimple] and the writers have done that puts pressure on the group. It also made the zombies a real threat again. The group dynamic gets more combustible and the pressure certainly builds."
Gimple takes the reins from departing showrunner Glen Mazzara; the third in the show's four year lifespan. Asked about the transition, Hurd said it was not as sensational as press reports suggested. "We are all a family," she explained. "Unlike other shows, we promote from within. It's not like we're bringing in someone from the outside who's going to reconceive the show." Indeed, Gimple has a history with the show, with writing credits that include such pivotal moments as Shane shooting Otis, Shane and Rick going head to head, Morgan's return and Sophia's re-appearance.
As far as the onscreen drama is concerned, Lincoln said the loss of his wife Lori will heavily affect Rick's emotional state going into the new season. "He'll always be changed by the events [of last season] and losing one of the most important reasons that drove him to keep moving forward in this world," he said. "I think you meet Rick in a completely different place. He has, for the sake of his children, had to renounce leadership and try to subdue the brutality of the world and the brutality that's inside of him." Considering his next thought, Lincoln looked at Hurd and said, "He ... uh, I can't say anything, can I?"
"I'm too far to kick you," the producer responded.
After an exchange of laughter -- and Coleman suggesting Hurd could throw a water bottle at Lincoln -- the actor continued. "I think he was so far lost last season, that it was an important thing for the hope and moral compass of the show [to reposition him]. If you lost him too far, you lose the comic book as well, because he's always had that central role."
Alpert emphasized the importance of remaining true to the show's source material, though that doesn't mean they will ever find themselves slavishly recreating events and stories from the comic book. "We're going to use milestones in the comic as milestones for us, but how we get there in-between, we don't really know," he said. For example, while the show tracked the group from the fall of Atlanta, to Hershel's farm to the prison, it skipped the group's time in Wiltshire Estates while characters like Andrea and Dale have died on the AMC series even though their comic counterpoints survived to this same story point or beyond. And, of course, the show also features Darryl Dixon, a character who has never been immortalized by series artist Charlie Adlard. "There's definitely [some] changes," the producer continued, "but [during] the progression to where things are going, we'll see a lot of the milestones from the comic."
"Sometimes we'll speed up and sometimes we'll slow down," Hurd added. "That's where the character's stories come from."
"What I've noticed in the first scripts we've been working on is how the world is psychologically changing these people," Lincoln said. "Chad has been doing some incredible work this season. I'm grateful to be working with this guy. There's a couple of episodes where I've just been blown away [by] the writing for him this season and it is all from character."
PReviously known best for his critically acclaimed turn as Dennis "Cutty" Wise on HBO's "The Wire," Coleman said he now gets recognized as often for Tyreese as his earlier role. "Now I'm Tyreese or a dual deal."
"A 'Tutty?'" asked Lincoln.
"That's how we knew who you were!" Hurd exclaimed. "Then we wanted to work with you!"
Asked how Rick will cope with his son Carl, who is effectively a murderer at this point, Lincoln said, "That's a huge change in this season. He's taking responsibilities as a father figure. You see a man attempting change or returning to the man he once was to save his kid. That dynamic has always been one of the great fascinations for me from the comic book."
Continuing the family theme, Alpert shared some of the reasoning behind keeping the baby on the show when it was lost with Lori in the books. "We didn't want to undermine the impact of Lori's death. It was such a traumatic thing," he explained. Making that choice, the writers saw opportunities for new types of jeopardy previously unseen in the series. "Kids make noise. They need constant food and constant attention. They interrupt your sleep and the way these things play out just adds a great strain. We wanted see how that plays out for Rick."
Lincoln also tackled the question of Rick's love life, as one of the new characters in the upcoming season is rumored to be a single mother. "Apparently, [the fans want to see me with] Michonne," he said with a laugh.
Finally, Coleman was posed with the question asked of every actor brought on to the series./ Namely, how long he expects Tyreese to survive. "I don't make any assumptions about the lifeline of any character," he answered. "I'm just taking this journey and what they put on the page is so compelling. I stay in that mode and let the rest play itself out. If I go, I'm sure it will serve the story."
"The Walking Dead" returns October 13, 2013