AMC's The Walking Dead is two months away from unspooling its fourth season and its first under new showrunner Scott Gimple, who will bring a "greatest hits" approach to the beloved comics that serve as source material for the zombie drama.
"I'm excited to tell stories in the book that I love," Gimple said. "We're catching up to some of those. We're taking the greatest hits approach of all the things I loved that we've done and grabbing from all the different seasons and working it up. There are a lot of characters that are dead on the show that aren't dead in the books. There are a lot of characters on the show that aren't in the book. It's a remixing of a lot of elements from the book in different context; different characters a lot of the time but taking the emotional thrust of those elements and putting them all in a different rhythm. People will see stuff from the comics and they'll know exactly where it came from but it'll be in a different context -- it has to be. You'll also see stories that are totally outside of the comic that have never been seen before. But the basis for those stories are totally from the spirit of the stories told in the comics."
After the cast and crew teased a mysterious new threat at Comic-Con, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with them to get the scoop on what's ahead. Here are 14 teasers of what to expect when the series based on Robert Kirkman's comics returns.
Big comics episode planned
While the series is taking the above remix approach, EP Greg Nicotero previewed that an episode coming up later in the year is "almost verbatim" with one issue of the comic. "It's really fascinating to make those slight departures, introduce new characters and then get to a situation where you take one episode and you really stick to the source material. You'll be surprised about the way the characters lay out."
The new prison community
Nicotero warns that after Rick (Andrew Lincoln) brought back a bus full of Woodbury residents to the prison, not everyone will gel with his group's way of life. "Some people buy it and some people don't subscribe to it and some don't really conform to it," he says. "It allows for some interesting character work." Adds EP Gale Anne Hurd: "The focus really is on characters, the conflicts. It's a larger group now and it's harder. We're integrating a group that when we ended last season was at war and shooting each other." Says co-star Steven Yeun (Glenn): "The community is growing and that mixes with the fact that there's less of a dictatorship than there has been."
Rick will focus on fatherhood first
Producers say the season three finale, where Carl (Chandler Riggs) questioned his father's decision to let the Woodbury survivors into the prison, serves as the jumping-off point for the season. "He's a man that is wrestling with a motor that didn't work last season," Lincoln says. "He's trying to suppress the brutality for the sake of both of his children and trying to be a parent in an apocalypse and trying to return to the man he once was." As part of that push, Rick has realized that the pressure of being the group's leader has taken him away from being a father. "He focuses his energies on something that's completely different but is still helping the people of the community," he added, keeping mum on what his new focus is. Adds EP Dave Alpert: "He's trying to find a way to add value and help and try to find a place for himself inside the community where he can do that without having to be the alpha male making all the decisions.… This is a very different Rick. How long that can last, however, is another question."
Could Rick lose a limb? (Spoiler alert!)
While Rick and the Governor (David Morrissey) are yet to have their epic face-off -- the first of which in the comics [SPOILER ALERT] ends with the former's hand being brutally chopped off -- Alpert says that may still be in the cards. "It was one of those things where, given all the other things going on [in season three], we decided it was too much to put on. That's not to say we're not going to do it later, but there's too much of a burden." Adds Lincoln with a smirk: "I keep saying we should do it, so maybe that's going to happen!"
Would The Walking Dead ever kill Rick?
"In my dreams, at some point, Rick dies and Carl takes over, has kids of his own and then we get to Season 50," Alpert jokes. "The show should be able to continue on for a long time. Everybody is on the table but it's really what direction the story goes."
Will Rick's visions of Lori continue?
"Lori's death was incredibly well-explored last season and I'm one of these actors that doesn't like repeating things," Lincoln says of the visions that featured Sarah Wayne Callies returning in a stunning white dress. "One of the great strengths of the show is that we don't like to repeat things. Perhaps we won't see any white-dressed wives appearing this season -- but who knows!"
Andrea's death will continue to have an impact
Producers insist they don't kill off characters for shock -- and ratings. Hurd says Andrea's (Laurie Holden) early death -- the character is still alive and kicking after more than 100 issues of the comic
-- was an example of the organic evolution of characters on the series and prompted Rick to bring the Woodbury survivors back to the prison, setting the stage for season four. "It's never just, 'Oh, let's shock the fans. Let's just throw something in to titillate people for shock value,' " she says. Nicotero echoed the approach and said Gimple's pitches are always grounded in what's best for the story. "I miss Laurie Holden and I wish she was still around. I feel like there was a lot we could have done with her character. I feel like the end of season three, her character got a little lost and I wanted to see her around more and see her rejoin our group. It was a really sad departure for all of us and Scott is very thoughtful about those moments."
Michonne is on a mission
Kirkman says Michonne (Danai Gurira) is very invested in what happened with her late best friend, Andrea. "More than any other character, Michonne is driven to find the Governor and find out what's going on with him; where he is, what he may be plotting and bringing him to justice.
The Governor will be different
The eye-patched villain will have gone through "some very heavy stuff," Gimple says. "It will weigh upon him and it will change him." Adds Morrissey: "He doesn't carry what happened at the end of season three very lightly. He was a man that recognizes a switch went off in his head and even though he's done terrible things, that ramped him up to somewhere else and he was out of control. That's a very worrying thing for him and that switch takes him into this dark place." While some time has passed between seasons, Morrissey said fans will have to "wait and see" if the Governor's look has changed to be more in line with his comic book counterpart. "It's about how he deals and comes to terms with the man he is and what he's capable of and which side he's going to fall on," the actor said. "That's the choice he has to make."
The new threat
"It's someone we haven't seen before. Someone unusual; you can't stab them in the face, you can't reason with it. It's a force that would be dangerous in this world and in the world of The Walking Dead, it's terrifying," Gimple said.
The zombies will be more threatening.
Nicotero says season four will feature walkers that aren't as manageable as they became in season three. "Our group became very proficient at killing walkers, so one of the things that Scott and I talked about after season three was we wanted that threat to be ever constant and ever present," he said of the group's ability to swiftly eliminate a horde of the undead. "We've devised ways to put our characters in instantaneous jeopardy without them being prepared for it. Danger could come from anywhere, and it was really important that we re-establish the rules of our world."
Maggie and Glenn will embrace their larger community
Lauren Cohan (Maggie) says the Woodbury injection creates "some semblance of community and a life," which will bring a greater sense of stability. "There's some hope beyond Maggie and Glenn being in love now. As important as that was, there's also hope that this could be OK and that [civilization] could be starting again," she says, noting the couple are in a "really cool place" at the start of the season. As for if a "formal" wedding is in the cards for the newly engaged pair, Yeun says that may be a part of the old world that no longer exists. "Even within the conflicts of that engagement, it was a solidifying, purposeful move together to say, 'We're together,' " he said. "The old world is the old world and the new world is the new world, and pomp and circumstance only go so far and we'll see what that means."
Really get to know Tyreese
In the comics, Tyreese becomes Rick's right-hand man and now that he's part of the prison community, producers say the character will take center stage after Chad Coleman was promoted to series regular. "You meet a Tyreese you haven't seen before on many different levels -- it's some jaw-dropping stuff and there are other opportunities to make different characters face harrowing situations that expose so much more about who this man really is or what he's wrestling with," Alpert says.
With the season again split into two groups of eight episodes each, Nicotero said there will again be a story that essentially concludes in the midseason finale as a second story begins. The path for that story will be set up in the season premiere, which establishes new characters and introduces the mysterious new threat. "It's really the one episode of the season where there's a little bit of lightheartedness before the shit hits the fan," he says. "It doesn't last very long."
The Walking Dead returns Sunday, Oct. 13, at
9 p.m., followed by the season premiere of The Talking Dead. The second half of both seasons is slated to resume in February. Hit the comments below with what you're looking forward to seeing.